Bringing a beloved cat into your veterinarian’s office for any type of surgery—elective or emergency, big or small—can be very stressful, especially if you don’t know what to expect.
This primer will give you an idea of what will happen when your cat goes under the knife, from the reasons your pet may need surgery, to post-surgery expectations. We want you to be able to worry a bit less so that you can focus on caring for your pet.
- While individual costs vary depending on the specific procedure your cat needs, expect to pay upwards anywhere from $500–$5,000. Also consider the additional costs of x-rays, tests, examinations, and an overnight vet stay.
- A base Lemonade Pet policy will help cover the costs of the diagnostics, treatments (including surgery), and medications related to a covered accident or illness.
- Cats may experience negative side effects from anesthesia, but these are extremely rare.
- For the first 24 hours after surgery, keep your cat in a safe, quiet, and warm place to rest until the anesthesia fully wears off.
In this article, we’ll cover:
- The costs of feline surgery
- Risks of surgery
- What to expect during the surgery
- How to care for your cat post-surgery
The costs of cat surgery
The costs of surgery can vary a huge amount depending on what type of surgery your cat is getting, how old your cat is, and even where your vet is located. A spay or neuter procedure can cost anywhere from $50–$2,000, depending on a wide range of factors. A dental extraction may cost you from $150–$600.
|Name of procedure||What it is||How much it costs|
|Orthopedic procedures||Treating joint problems, ligament damage, or setting fractures bones||$2,000–$5,000|
|Exploratory laparotomy||An incision to the abdominal cavity to check for a foreign object or diagnose a different problem||$1,500–$4,500|
|Cystotomy||Removal of bladder stones||$1,000–$3,000|
|Mass removals||Cutting away cysts or benign tumors||$500–$2,500|
If you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed by the costs, we understand: Keeping your fur family healthy can be expensive. We never want the fear of maxing out your credit card to be the reason you dread a vet visit.
Pet health insurance can be an economical way to recoup many expenses you might encounter if your cat needs surgery. A base Lemonade Pet policy can help pay for diagnostics, procedures (including surgery), and medication in the event of an accident or illness. On top of that, you can opt for Lemonade’s preventative care options to help cover the costs of routine care that you’re likely already paying for.
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There are many health conditions your cat may have that would require surgery. You may bring them into your vet’s office to be spayed or neutered, or they may have a skin laceration or abscess that needs to be treated.
Cats can also be prone to swallowing things that they shouldn’t and as a result have an intestinal blockage. Your pet may have suffered a broken bone that requires a fracture repair. In addition, sometimes surgery is needed to remove cancers.
These are just a few of the many reasons your cat may need surgery, but in general, surgeries can be divided into three categories: elective, non-elective, and emergency.
Elective surgeries are surgeries that are done for your pet’s health, but are not urgent, or even life-saving. These are surgeries such as neuter/spay surgeries, or dental care.
Non-elective surgeries are surgeries that are necessary, but are not time-sensitive.
Finally, there are emergency surgeries—procedures that must be done immediately in order to save an animal’s life.
The risks of surgery
The truth is that the risks to your cat during surgery are very low. Only about 1 in 100,000 animals have an adverse reaction to general anesthetic. Still, putting your cat under can be scary. It’s important to know the risks and how to mitigate them.
Adverse reactions in animals to anesthetic can range from the innocuous (such as swelling and irritation at the site of injection) to the deadly (anaphylactic shock), although fatal reactions are extremely rare. According to Lemonade’s vet Dr. Stephanie Liff, the most common risks of a cat going under anesthesia include infection, cardiac issues, aspiration pneumonia, and blood clots.
Obviously, if your cat is older, or has prior medical conditions, the risks associated with surgery go up. However, as mentioned above, even in cats with prior conditions those sorts of reactions are very very rare. Statistically speaking, the car ride to the vet’s office is more dangerous than the risks of the surgery itself.
The first way to lower potential risks associated with general anesthesia is to make sure that your cat undergoes a pre-surgery evaluation. The veterinarian needs to make sure that your pet is up to date on all their vaccinations and that they do not have any underlying issues that can make surgery more risky. Sometimes these involve blood tests or even chest x-rays or EKGs.
In addition, it is important to follow the pre-surgery instructions given to you by your veterinary team. Likely, they will have your cat fast for a number of hours before the surgery.
Finally, it is also important to give your veterinarian your pet’s full and comprehensive medical history so that the veterinary team can take all factors into account.
What to expect during surgery
The best thing you can do for your cat on the day of their surgery is to remain calm and collected. Don’t make a big deal of leaving them behind at the vet’s office. It will only stress them out.
At the vet’s office, your cat will get prepped for surgery. The veterinary team will give your cat a pre-anesthetic evaluation that includes checking their hydration levels. In most cases, cats are given what is called “balanced anesthesia,” which is a mix of sedatives and anesthetics that is best-suited to each patient. Once your cat is unconscious, they will be intubated, which allows for the delivery of anesthetic gas and also keeps them from aspirating while the surgery is taking place.
The length of the procedure will vary depending on the type of surgery that is being performed. Neuter surgeries on male cats can take as little as a few minutes, while spaying a female cat can take up to a half an hour. Obviously, the more complicated the surgery is, the longer it will take.
However long the surgery, though, the surgical team and veterinary technicians will monitor your cat carefully throughout the process: checking their heart rate, blood pressure, core body temperature, and other measurements to ensure that your pet is stable and doing well.
When the surgery is done your cat will be given anesthetic reversal drugs and will be woken up. Usually this only takes a few minutes. Once they are awake, they will be moved to somewhere quiet and warm where they can be monitored as they return to full consciousness.
Unless a surgery is very complicated, you will likely be able to take your cat home the day of the surgery.
Your cat will probably still be a little loopy from the anesthetics when they get home. They may sway and have some trouble balancing, or they may just want to sleep a whole lot. Either way, make sure your cat has a comfortable, warm, and safe space to recover in. Usually the effects of anesthetic wear off in about 24 hours.
In all likelihood your cat will come home with an “Elizabethan collar” (the proverbial “cone of shame”) to keep them from licking at the suture site. They may also need to have their bandages changed, their suture site cleaned, or may need some pain medication for a few days after surgery. Your veterinarian will give you instructions for post-operative care depending on your cat’s specific situation.
The time table for a full recovery depends on a number of factors including the complexity of the surgery, the age of your cat, and how successful you are at making sure that your cat is resting while healing (which, we all know, is much harder to do than it sounds), but with proper rest your cat will be back to their old self in no time.