Just like house cats, a stray or feral cat may develop an infection in their incision following a spaying or neutering procedure. Unfortunately, these cats often have more in common with wild animals (vs. your household kitty.) And like most wild animals, they rarely expose their abdomens or genitalia, especially when there is an incision or another injury present — it’s a tactic designed to protect these vulnerable areas.
This can make it extremely difficult to monitor a cat after a spaying or neutering surgery, performed as part of a TNR (Trap, Neuter/Spay and Release) program. Males tend to heal fairly quickly and they rarely have complications, but females are more prone to developing infections and other problems, like premature removal of the stitches. Complications are also more dangerous for female cats, since the incision is located close to the animal’s vital organs.
There are several strategies that can be used for monitoring a feral or stray post-spaying/neutering. These strategies can be used for cats who are released the morning after surgery and they can also be employed for cats who are kept in a kennel during the healing period. (See our related article for information on why and when to release or keep a feral cat for monitoring after spaying or neutering.)
These monitor strategies include the following:
Monitor the cat’s food and water intake. Of course, this is easier when the cat is still in your care, but it’s also possible to monitor the pet’s food and water intake after they’ve been released. If a cat is not eating and drinking, this is usually a sign of a serious problem. In a feral cat who has been released, the animal may fail to show up for meals. This is a situation when you should bring the cat to the vet for a follow-up appointment.
Watch the cat as he/she walks, sits and moves. After a few days, the cat should move and walk fairly normally. Differences tend to be more pronounced in females, since the spaying procedure involves cutting the muscles of the abdominal wall. If the cat appears to be tender, moves slowly or abnormally, this is often the sign of a problem.
Monitor the cat for excessive licking of the incision. An occasional lick is not uncommon, but frequent or excessive licking can signal a problem. Often, this is a sign of an infection. The cat grooms the incision more frequently to remove pus and discharge. Alternatively, frequent grooming can actually cause a problem. So whatever the case, if you observe this behavior, it’s best to trap the cat and take him/her to the veterinary clinic for a follow-up.
Whenever possible, it’s best to determine where your feral cats and strays go during the daytime — their “home base.” This will enable you to check on the animal if he or she fails to show up for dinner after a spaying or neutering surgery.
Caretakers should also attempt to monitor the incision visually. Look for excessive redness or swelling. Males are fairly easy to monitor, since you can view the incision area whenever they lift their tail. Female cats can be more difficult to monitor since the incision is on the lower abdominal region. One strategy involves using a flashlight and binoculars to get a close-up look of the area while the female is laying on her side or sitting upright (like the cat in the accompanying photograph.)
Alternatively, place a large mirror on the ground beside the feral cat’s feeding area. When the cat walks over or stands on the mirror, you will be able to view her “undercarriage.”
Mirrors can also be used to monitor the belly area of a cat who is still in your care during the recovery period. Simply slide the mirror over the floor of the kennel for a few minutes, while you attempt to look at the incision site.
Also, look for unusual behavior in the recently-fixed cat and the fellow colony members. Other cats may be unusually protective of a sick or injured cat. Alternatively, others may shun a sick or injured animal (this strategy is helpful in the wild, as the unwell animals tend to be a liability, since they tend to draw predators’ attention to the group as a whole.)
If you’re caring for a stray or a fairly tame feral cat during the recovery period, use white or light-colored sheets as bedding in the kennel. Change the sheets daily and inspect them for signs of blood and discharge. A small amount of discharge is common in the first 24-36 hours, but it should abate shortly thereafter.
If you have a cat in your care, it’s much easier to monitor the incision, since you can closely observe food and water intake, behavior and so forth. This also makes it easier to obtain follow-up care for the animal. But as we discussed in yesterday’s article, it’s often best to release a feral cat the morning after surgery because captivity can be extremely stressful or even dangerous.
Photo Source: Aljabak on Sxc.hu