How to Help Foster Cats and Kittens Recover from Spay and Neuter Surgeries

Spay and neuter surgeries cause stress and confusion for cats and kittens. You need to plan ahead for the morning of and night after spay and neuter surgeries. Be prepared to keep a clean space, to act accordingly if the kitties are hyperactive, and to help them recover as calmly as possible. Most importantly, you must monitor the incision site(s) to make sure they are clean and free of any signs of irritation or infection.

Continue reading to learn about what these surgeries involve, what you can expect when the animals are recovering in your home, and how you can prepare for the wide variety of chaotic situations that may occur.

What You Need to Know About Spay and Neuter Surgeries

Spay and neuter surgeries are the medical procedures in which cats and kittens are reproductively sterilized. This means that cats and kittens who undergo these surgeries will be unable to breed.

Cats must be in good health, weigh at least 2 pounds, and be around 8 weeks old in order to be eligible for these surgeries. 8 weeks is the earliest age that many clinics and shelters will perform these procedures. During the appointment, each cat is put under anesthesia and the surgical area is shaved. Females’ abdomens and males’ abdomens and genital areas are shaved so that the incisions on these respective areas can be made cleanly. 

For females, the ovaries and uterus are removed. For males, the testes are removed. The exception to this rule is cryptorchid males. Cryptorchid males are those who have one or two testicles that have not yet descended. In these cases, surgical incisions will be made on the abdomen to remove the reproductive organs. If you foster cats and kittens, you’ll be involved in scheduling these procedures and helping them recover afterward. 

Each cat is given a blue or green tattoo on their abdomen to indicate that they’re already spayed or neutered. For recovery, each cat is also given a dose of a slow-release pain medication. The medication can last for around 72 hours to make the cats more comfortable. 

Toulouse showing off his cryptorchid incisions and his blue tattoo.

How to Prepare for Surgery Day

The night before the cat or kitten is scheduled to undergo surgery, they will need to go through a fasting period or simply have an eighth of their normal breakfast, depending on their age. The reason for fasting or having a much smaller meal is because there is a risk of the animal vomiting during surgery. If they have enough food in their systems to vomit, it can cause complications like aspiration and pneumonia. 

You may also need to label and apply paper collars to each kitty so the clinic can identify the animals individually. Even though you can confidently tell your cats and kittens apart, the clinic staff is likely not as familiar with them. 

After dropping them off at the clinic for surgery, please mentally prepare for the chaos that may ensue at pick-up. The post-operative care can be a really hands-on time, so you should try to clear your schedule in order to be present with the cats while they recover. 

The anesthesia and pain medications will take hours and days, respectively, to wear off, meaning that you’ll have very loopy and confused felines on your hands. They may not recognize you at first, they’ll be very hungry, they’ll be extra clumsy, and they might have some unideal stools. 

Have plenty of extra unscented baby wipes on hand for the inevitable messes, and do your best to keep their room and supplies as clean as possible. If you’re bringing home multiple kitties at once to let them recover in your home, make a plan to keep them separated from one another in case of excessive wrestling or aggression. Doing so is in the interest of their safety and to ensure that their stitches do not open.

However, in spite of how much you try to prepare, pretty much anything can happen once you bring them home. 

Picking Them Up From Surgery

When you arrive at the clinic to pick up the cats, don’t hesitate to ask the clinic staff any questions you have. 

  • Ask what time the cats underwent surgery so you know how recently they were given the anesthesia and pain medications. This will give you an idea of when the medications will finally wear off. 
  • Ask what time the cats last ate any food so you can appropriately prioritize your care routine when you get home. 
  • Ask if there is any post-operative care information you need to know. For example, the clinic should tell you of any instances of cryptorchidism, complications during surgery, or behavior changes you should be aware of. 

Based on what you learn, consider modifying the cats’ environment before letting them out of their carrier(s). You’ll be wise to remove climbing structures, tunnels, and anything that you know makes your specific felines overly rambunctious. Not doing so may cause them to rip a stitch or get an infected incision site. 


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Any contribution is greatly appreciated!

– $6.00 allows us to buy a bag of litter
– $25 helps us buy 12 cans of cat food
– $100+ allows us to fund general medical procedures for any felines that we foster on our own

Thank you so much for considering a donation! 🙂

Any contribution is greatly appreciated!

– $6.00 allows us to buy a bag of litter
– $25 helps us buy 12 cans of cat food
– $100+ allows us to fund general medical procedures for any felines that we foster on our own

Thank you so much for considering a donation! 🙂

Any contribution is greatly appreciated!

– $6.00 allows us to buy a bag of litter
– $25 helps us buy 12 cans of cat food
– $100+ allows us to fund general medical procedures for any felines that we foster on our own

Thank you so much for considering a donation! 🙂

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Keep the Peace

Once everyone is home, do your best to keep the environment calm and quiet. Consider lowering the amount of lights to encourage sleep. You can even play soft instrumental music and see if it helps the cats calm down. If nothing else, keep them separated from your resident pets, even if they’ve already been introduced to one another. 

As mentioned before, it might also be in the best interest of the cats to keep them separated from each other for a few hours while they decompress. Combined with a calm environment that’s free of hazards and exciting stimuli, the separation will encourage the cats to sleep. 

Being prepared to separate each cat will also mitigate what’s known as nonrecognition aggression. Nonrecognition aggression occurs when, after a period of separation, one or all cats involved fail to recognize each other. They see each other as threats instead of as familiar presences. This sometimes happens to cats after vet visits. It can be minor in some cases and result in a simple hiss or two. However, when nonrecognition is combined with intense mind- and body-altering medications, things can get ugly.

In the end, once the cats get their first solid round of sleep in, you’ll know that you have made it over the biggest hurdle. They start to behave more like their true selves once they’ve given their bodies a longer chance to rest. And remember, the anesthesia can take 12 to 24 hours to wear off, and the pain medication can take up to 72 hours to wear off. You’re in for a day or two of funky behavior, but the first night is always the worst of it. 

Keep Them Healthy

Your main post-operative goals are to make sure the incision sites stay intact, make sure the incision sites stay clean, and to make sure the cats return to their normal state of health and behavior. 

The incision sites

Keep the incision sites in tip-top shape by continuing to remove opportunities for climbing, jumping, and wrestling. As mentioned previously, you can separate the cats if, for instance, you have a litter of kittens who won’t stop roughhousing. For a few days, you should remove climbing structures, tunnels, and other objects that can be jumped onto. In addition, keeping their litter boxes extra clean can help keep anything unsanitary from coming into contact with the incision sites.

Also observe the cats to make sure they aren’t over-grooming their incision sites. Use a small cone or comfort collar if needed. In case they need help with grooming, please use unscented wipes and a damp cloth if needed, but never apply these anywhere near the incision sites. Kittens can create quite a mess in their post-operative state, but please know that you should not bathe them for at least a few days after their surgery.

Monitor the incision site for signs of infection for at least a week. Signs of an infected incision site are redness, swelling, blood, or puss around the area. Contact the clinic if any of these signs are observed. The kitty may be prescribed an oral or injectable antibiotic to clear the infection. 

Health and behavior

It is normal for cats and kittens to experience loose stools after having surgery. Follow any post-operative instructions that the clinic gives you, but you want to gradually return to normal feeding times and amounts. Feeding them too much too soon can cause even more gastrointestinal upset. Consider adding probiotics to their diet once a day to boost healthy digestion. 

Once again, don’t feel bad about keeping the kitties in their own separate playpens to keep everyone calm.

After a few days of settling in and letting all the medications wear off, you can gradually re-introduce climbing structures and really exciting toys. If at any point a cat or kitten is not acting like themselves, contact the clinic right away. 

My Foster Kittens’ Surgery Recovery Stories

During my fostering journey, I’ve experienced everything from zero complications and modifications to having to completely tear down my foster room and supervise everyone for four hours straight. Here, I’ll share how I handled the more complicated situations and what I will do differently in the future.

Extreme caution

My first litter of foster kittens, Finch’s litter, stressed me out. I was told to monitor them at all times and to only feed them very small amounts of food. When I brought them home, it somehow took the team effort of four adults to monitor four energetic and hungry kittens.

They were quite loopy and wouldn’t stop wrestling. The litter of four kittens had two boys and two girls, so I was worried that between the four different incision sites, at least one was bound to get torn.

We ended up separating them for a few hours. The loopiest kitten, Robin, was left in the playpen to decompress, and the other three kittens each got their own cat carrier. Blankets and towels were used to cover the playpen and carriers to encourage them to FINALLY fall asleep, and then everything was calm.

The moral of this story is to not freak out unless you have to! I’m glad everything was fine in the end, but now that I’m more experienced, I know that I could have left the kittens together for a while longer and simply monitored them for safety. 

An infected incision site

Last summer, I fostered two torbies from Kansas named Lavender and Patchouli. While preparing them for surgery and picking them up afterwards, there was nothing remarkable. 

However, a few days after surgery, Patchouli’s incision site got infected. I’m still not sure how this happened, but my best guess is that she had a slight tear in her stitches allowing for her or her sister to get some litter or other source of bacteria into the area. The issue was quickly addressed via an injectable antibiotic, and there were no other issues afterwards. 

The messiest, wobbliest kittens

My first fosters of 2022 were two adorable kittens, Brontë and Atwood, with a condition called cerebellar hypoplasia (or CH). Cerebellar hypoplasia is a neurological condition that causes kittens to have poor balance and muscle control. I didn’t know what to expect after surgery, so I set up separate playpens for them in order to hopefully mitigate chaos.

The medications for their spay surgeries worsened their neurological symptoms, causing them to be even more wobbly. The kitten who had mild CH made a mess of her food and water every hour, and the kitten who had moderate CH was so wobbly that she was unable to make it to her litter box for the first two days after surgery. This caused her to relieve herself all over her playpen.

Since you can’t bathe kittens after surgery, I went through dozens of disposable gloves and unscented wipes to keep her as clean as I could. The poor kitty also had to endure several changes to her playpen as I went through laundry load after laundry load. But after all of the medications finally left her system, all was normal again!

Nonrecognition aggression nightmare

My first foster family of a mama cat and kittens put me to the test. Duchess and her three kittens did not recognize each other after surgery, and I learned that this is a temporary condition known as nonrecognition aggression. The clinic wisely put Duchess in her own carrier for the ride home, but the three kittens screamed and attacked each other the whole way home. I was driving alone, and I panicked the entire time.

When I finally got everyone home safe, they wouldn’t let each other near any food source, and there were constant growls, swats, hisses, and attacks. I left Duchess to decompress in her covered carrier, but I knew that the kittens needed to be separated as quickly as possible. 

As my husband and I set up different spaces for the kittens, one of them got spooked and bit my husband’s hand. The bite was minor and was easily addressed, but it broke through the skin. Now, in the middle of absolute chaos where I was constantly worried that one of the kittens was going to seriously harm the other, I had to make a bite report to Animal Control.

About half an hour into the chaos, everyone was finally separated and about to fall asleep. They each had a nice cozy playpen to themselves and enjoyed grazing on some wet food. I turned off the lights, covered the playpens with blankets, and turned on some soft instrumental music. Now four hours into the chaos, we had three sleeping kittens!

All was going extremely well until I heard a big crash. One of the kittens had decided that today was the day she was going to learn how to escape the taller playpen dividers. Clearly, the anesthesia was starting to wear off! Knowing that it was only a matter of time before the other two kittens escaped as well, we started to slowly reintroduce each kitten to Duchess. One by one, they all returned to the spare bathroom, and the six of us were finally able to get some sleep. By the morning, all was well! 

Thank you for being an amazing human who is compassionate enough about animals to help them recover from spay and neuter surgery! Please use this resource as a reference if you’re ever doubting your post-operative care routine, or even if you’re simply wondering if it’s normal to experience absolute chaos. 🙂

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. Purchases made through these links may help me earn a small commission.

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