How to Care for Your Cat After Orthopedic Surgery

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Published: July 27, 2021

Orthopedic (bone) surgery is a commonly performed procedure in cats that have experienced medical conditions like broken legs or broken jaws due to trauma, neoplasia (abnormal cell growth/cancer), or even infectious disease. 

Surgery may include implants to help stabilize a healing bone or the removal of a painful joint or limb (amputation). 

Surgery for Broken Jaws, Legs, and Other Bones in Cats

Fracture repairs to fix broken bones in cats depend on the type and location of the fracture. 

In many cases, depending on the location and broken bone type, fracture repair will return the broken leg or other bone to complete function with little to no issues. Recovery from a fracture can be a long process, since broken bones in adult cats can take anywhere from 6 to 12 weeks to fully heal. 

After the surgery, your cat should be using their limb normally with no secondary complications, such as: 

  • Persistent pain 

  • Infection (swelling of the limb, warmth, or edema [excess fluid] when touched) 

  • Surgical implant failure

Speak with your veterinarian about the recovery process to help determine the procedure and postoperative care that is best for you and your cat. 

Monitoring Incisions

Part of the recovery process will be monitoring your cat’s incision for the first 10-14 days after surgery, at minimum. 

Once the incision is healed, your veterinarian will advise you on how to slowly increase activity over the next 2 weeks to 2 months, depending on the procedure that was performed.

Physical Therapy and Rehab

Your vet may recommend physical therapy and other rehabilitative therapies to help with recovery, such as passive range of motion (PROM) exercises.  PROM exercises help lessen stiffness and muscle wasting in the affected joints. 

You must receive appropriate training before performing PROM, as inappropriate manipulation of the joints can lead to more inflammation and pain.

Your vet might also refer your pet to a physical therapy center to help determine a long-term treatment plan. Physical therapy can help maintain strength, thus decreasing muscle atrophy and speeding healing.

Changing Bandages

Some cats may also need to have a splint, cast, or bandage placement after surgery. 

Make sure you discuss regular bandage changes with your veterinarian, as bandages can have risks if they are left on too long or are removed too early. Pressure sores, constriction of blood flow to the tissues, and infection are just a few side effects that can occur from poor bandage management. 

Post-Surgery X-Rays and Rechecks

Many cats with broken bones will require postoperative x-rays to ensure that the bone is properly healing or to ensure that there are no signs of infection or inflammation with the surgical implants. Scheduling rechecks with your veterinarian at the time of discharge ensures proper follow-up and care.  

Cat FHO Surgery and Amputations (Hip Joint)

Surgeries like a femoral head ostectomy (FHO), where the “ball” of the hip joint is removed to leave an empty socket, and amputation of hip joints, can very traumatic and overwhelming for your cat. These surgeries, which are considered “salvage” procedures, will require extensive postoperative care.    

Due to the large area involved in the surgery, monitoring for swelling and discharge is very important, as these surgeries can have postoperative complications such as seromas (areas of fluid-filled space). Seromas can slow healing and turn into abscesses (localized infections that contain pus). This can affect your cat systemically if the infection spreads.  

These procedures require the same type of soft tissue aftercare, including restricted activity, pain management, and daily monitoring of the incision as well as your cat’s behavior. Physical therapy is a resource that can help aid your cat’s recovery and ensure that muscle loss does not occur.  

Return to your veterinarian for all follow-up visits, even if your cat is using the limb normally and seems to be recovering well. Since infections and irritation from the implants can occur, follow-up X-rays must be taken to confirm there are no secondary complications.