Helpful Ideas to Survive Post Surgery

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Introduction: The help I received reading the Tripawds site and ebook was truly priceless in preparing me for my cat’s surgery and preparing our home for his return.   The oncology vet told me about Tripawds, and I couldn’t thank her enough.  I read and read and read and…worried and cried a little….and read and read and read. In this blog I’d like to share a few practical things that were especially helpful , adding to the vast knowledge already on Tripawds.


First I want to thank all of you who post on Tripawds, and our site administrators.  Tripawds is amazing.  It takes true dedication on the part of the administrators to keep the site current, to cover so many topics and to encourage us through chat. You rock folks!

So here are the helpful hints I found important:

The pick up: Be sure to have a driver when you pick up the pet post-surgery.  I had not even thought about trying to drive home 1 hour with my cat. I’m sure my mind would not have been on traffic. Fortunately, my friend offered to drive us. Being able to console my pet and give him reassuring pets was comforting to him….. and to me.  I suggest finding someone to help you too.

The recovery room: The advice to stuff any area that the cat can hide in such as under the bed, behind furniture was right on spot! The first thing he did when we got home was try to hide.  After a few days I left the closet door open so he could hide in there, yet still be reachable at medication time.

Making the cardboard litter box with very low entrance also proved important (See Purrkins page 45 of the current Cool tips for Tripawd cats book). It was much easier for Kal to get into as he was just starting to learn how to do this missing a limb. After a few weeks I placed a small litter box in the room so he could try the bigger box when he was ready.

The vet recommended keeping Kal in a medium dog cage for at least the first 2 weeks unless I was attending him.  I bought a cage, filled it with a bed, cardboard litter box and a bowl of water and food.  It just barely fit.  What didn’t hit me until I brought Kal home was that the bowls were in the corners of the cage and with his cone he could not eat or drink.  A brilliant friend of mine suggested I put 2 cages together.  I aligned the side opening on one cage to the end opening on the other, like a T.  I used string to “sew” them together so he could not get a paw caught, and for over-kill, I strapped them together with a few bungy cords. This last step was probably unnecessary.  I put the litter box and food close to 1 of the remaining opening so I could get to it easily without the cat trying to escape.  The other cage had his bed and open space. This two cage technique worked beautifully, giving him room to move yet confining him to a small space for healing (see photo).

The placement of the cage in the room should be considered.  Initially I placed the cage near the window so he could have sun and see the sky.  This was not a smart move because that window gets the hot afternoon sun. He could have gotten too hot.

Two cages sewn together

Two cages sewn together. Note the elevated food bowls.

Medication Time: Medicating Kal was a challenge.  I did not have a second human to help hold his head in place while dispensing the liquid into his mouth. The cone made this even harder.  In retrospect, I should have taken  the cone off just long enough to dose him.  It definitely helped to know that I should syringe the liquid between his cheek and back teeth.   When I got this trick down, more of the Gabapentin went into, rather than onto, the cat.  I purchased baby wash cloths as they are softer than adult cloths.  When it was time to dose, I made sure to have a wash cloth wetted with warm water, and a dry one.  After dosing I could wipe him off as best as I could. Kal liked this form of “petting” him.

Another suggestion I was given is to have a syringe of water when you dose.  If you don’t think he swallowed the medication, syringing water into his mouth may help him to swallow.  IT IS VERY IMPORTANT when putting any liquid into the pet’s mouth to keep it from going into the lungs or airways. Be gentle and slow.  Just a little bit at a time. I didn’t need to use water once I got the trick down to place the syringe between the cheek and back teeth.

If you feel your pet is not getting pain relief, or you have any concerns at all, do not hesitate to call your vet.  When I had to decide to have Kal’s surgery at the specialty vet 1 hour away, one of the deciding factors was that the specialty vet had 24/7 life staff. I called them twice.  When I removed Kal’s Fentanyl patch, he got really spacy and his breathing rate changed. I was afraid that while removing the patch, he may have gotten extra drug.  It was 11 pm and the vet was available to answer my questions, to provide me guidance on what to watch for, and to calm me down.  Please please remember that they are there to help you and your pet through this experience. They are your partners.

Nourishment and Hydration: Another suggestion was to buy food that would encourage him to eat.  Sometimes after surgery, pets don’t want to eat. It’s time to wake up his digestive system. I bought wet foods he liked to get him to eat again.  To encourage drinking, I bought some of the broth containing food pouches and added some water to the broth.  This mixture disappeared into his little belly quickly.  Other good hint from Tripawds was to elevate the food and water dishes.  With the cone on, it was difficult for him to get the cone around the dish and to reach the food.  I took dog food bowls and turned them upside down, duct taping the cat bowls on top (see cage photo).  This worked really well.  Again, you want to make sure there is enough room around the bowl for the cone.

The Cone: Speaking of the cone, one size does not fit all.  My cat was sent home with a #10 cone.  He was limber enough to manage reaching the stitches around the cone by pushing the cone up on his neck making it essentially shorter. I had to pick up a #12 cone which is a little longer. That did the trick.  Where he licked the stitches, they were indeed thinner due to the roughness of his tongue.  So keep an eye on the effectiveness of the cone.  If you need a bigger cone, pet stores and your vet may have them.

The Reality of It All:  Before Kal’s rear amputation surgery, I read as much as I could to prepare. I saw several front amputee photos, but none of rear amputees. I wanted to be prepared for what he would look like.  For this reason, I’m including a photo of the incision site for a rear amputee. It’s important that our pets don’t sense our worry and I think seeing a photo like this would have helped me remain positive.  In addition, the back of his head was shaved to put the Fentanyl patch on. And a portion of his forelimb was also shaved, I  believe for the IV.

Don’t worry about your pet’s looks.  Don’t let it get you down. This is only temporary and 5 weeks later the fur will be growing in.  The next photo is 5 weeks post-op and you can see how much fur has returned.  One humorous part of all this is I learned my cat has freckles!

The other reality I needed to accept was that the personality of my cat took time to return. For the first few months I didn’t see happy, bug chasing, hunter-stance Kal.  He didn’t want to sit on my lap, nor did he respond much when I addressed him. Be patient.  He may not want to play or cuddle but he will return! He will be your ol pal again!

Alternative Therapies: Acupuncture, Chiropractics, Magnetic Therapy:  My cat is having a little rocky road in his recovery.  He was doing well, then seemed to have a higher level of pain again.  He wouldn’t lie on his good leg, didn’t want me touching his leg or hip or spine.  He was walking with a curved shape (and still is).  By that I mean his remaining leg was out of alignment with his body, forming a curvature.  He does not have control of his leg all the time (at which point he swears).  It was recommended to try alternative therapy.

Kal’s spine was twisted.  This makes sense in retrospect.  During the early part of his recovery, when he would fall, sometimes the head and upper body were facing down and the lower body facing up. The alt-vet was able to perform chiropractic adjustments to put his spine and his pelvis back in alignment.

Kal also receives acupuncture.  It is odd for a cat to sit still for 20 minutes with a bunch of tiny needles in him, but fortunately for me and Kal, he gets quiet and still in the vet’s office so we could keep him mostly still long enough.  I held his leash close to his collar to help keep him stationary.  He did get up and walk a little one day but settled back down again.  He has received acupuncture four times now, and chiropractics twice.  After every treatment, he feels better for about a 7-9 days.  It truly is helping.

In our last visit, magnetic therapy was performed in addition to acupuncture.  In this therapy tubes were placed on either side of his pelvis for 10 minutes or so.  The tubes are connected to a controller where the vet can increase or decrease the strength of the magnetic field (or at least that’s my take on it).  He seemed to find this soothing and almost fell asleep. If this treatment proves helpful, they sell a home unit.  Magnetic therapy relieves arthritic pain and is supposed to help phantom pain, so it may be very helpful to our tri-pets.

In addition to acupuncture, chiropractics and magnetic therapy, a supplement to decrease inflammation and help build muscle was recommended.  Unfortunately, I think Kal is allergic to it.  There are many supplements that help tripawds. Hopefully another one will help Kal.

I continue to see that these treatments help Kal be pain free or have lower pain level.  We started out with 3 appointments 1 week apart and are now 2 weeks apart.  The first 2 weeks period, after about 1 week I could see some loss of control of the leg and more curved walking return.  After this last appointment where we used magnetic therapy, he’s made it 10 days prior to the pain returning. Kal is living proof that for some animals there is value in all three of these modalities.

If you decide to pursue alt therapy, ask for information about the cost of each modality and about the treatment plan (i.e. how many visits, how far apart?).  Some vets will even come to your home for a fee, if that works better for you.

The Unexpected Surprise: Kal’s regular vet advised that we take X-rays to make sure there was no reason for Kal’s pain that we missed in the pre-surgery X-rays.  The new X-rays indicated that he has arthritis starting in his L5/S1 (where the spine meets the sacrum/pelvis).  From what I’ve learned on, arthritis may come sooner in Tri-pets.  Acupuncture may become part of his life long pain management.  The other unexpected surprise is that he was/is constipated! Even though he “goes” every day, he needed to go more. How funny is that! This could be part of the pain he’s experiencing so it’s not really funny. We are moving to a prescription diet specifically designed to help with this issue.

Well, I hope some of this novel helps you prepare for your journey.  Kal is 9 years old, and I’d do it all over again if I had to! He has his 3 month ampuversary this week.  He is doing so much better than he was a month ago.  I just want to encourage you not to lose heart!  It’s tough at the beginning, but every day is one step closer to full healing.  Hang in there! Call the vet when you need to! Tripawds community is here to help! Lastly, remember to take care of yourself too while you are caring for another being.  Before you know it, you’ll be chasing  bugs and pouncing leaves again!

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One thought on “Helpful Ideas to Survive Post Surgery”

  1. Thank you for sharing these details! We look forward to following Kal’s progress. Your future blog posts and pages will publish immediately without requiring moderation.

    You will find much more help and feedback in the discussion forums or by searching the member blogs. Start here for help finding the many Tripawds Resources an assistance programs.

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