What to Do After Surgery

Steps to take following having a feral cat spayed or neutered


  • Spread a plastic liner on the floor covered with a layer of newspaper on top of it under trap in case the cat has an accident overnight.
  • Keep the cat in the trap lined with clean newspaper throughout the recovery period. Only transfer to a cage the following day if they are kittens or cats you plan to socialize. Keep the trap covered with a sheet or towel at all times to help keep them calm and to reduce their stress.
  • Hold the cat in a quiet indoor room, i.e. a garage or bathroom, in a comfortable environment. They are susceptible to heat and cold while recovering from the anesthesia. Kittens must be kept warm because they are vulnerable to anesthetic-related hypothermia.

As the Cat Wakes Up

  • The cat will be groggy and need to sleep off the anesthesia overnight.
  • Do not disturb the cat by reaching into the trap – they may overreact and bite. Do not try to touch the cat.
  • Normal behaviors during recovery include: deep sleep, head bobbing, wobbly movements, fast breathing, and shivering. Bleeding from the right ear tip is expected, but should stop by the next day.
  • Abnormal behaviors include continual bleeding from the surgery area, prolonged recovery time (still inactive and lethargic, 6+ hours after surgery), vomiting, difficulty breathing, or getting drowsy or weak again after waking up. Contact your veterinarian.
  • If a cat is vomiting while still unconscious, her head should be turned to avoid choking. Sometimes you can do this by tipping the trap to change the cat’s position.

Feeding the Cat

  • Provide water once the cat regains consciousness.
  • Kittens are usually ready to eat four to six hours after surgery, or shortly after waking from the anesthesia. Feeding them before release is recommended to prevent hypoglycemia.
  • Adults can be given a small amount of canned food eight hours after surgery which is easier to digest than dry food but the cat may not have an appetite.
  • Mix a little water in with the wet food. Be careful when opening carrier or trap that the cat does not try to escape. Open the door ever so slightly – just enough to slide the can in. Keep hand out of the trap and always relock the trap door.

Returning the Cat

  • Your veterinarian should use dissolving sutures so that the cat does not need to return to the clinic.
  • Cats, male and female, including females who are pregnant, can be returned to their colony site only if alert and clear eyed, barring severe, inclement weather, and the following guidelines are recommended.
    • Release the cat ONLY if they seem healthy and stable following surgery!
    • Males: Release next day (24 hours after surgery)
    • Females: Release after 2-3 days unless they are lactating. If cat is lactating, release 24 hours after surgery. Even young kittens will survive overnight without nursing.
  • Release the cat at the site where they were trapped. Provide fresh water and food. The cat may disappear for a few hours or a day but they will return after they have calmed down.
  • Open the front door of the trap and pull back the cover. Or, if the trap has a rear door, pull off the cover, pull that door up and off, and then walk away. Do not be concerned if the cat hesitates a few moments before leaving. She is simply reorienting herself to her surroundings.
  • Make sure you have the number of your veterinarian or a nearby emergency clinic handy in case it is needed.

Next Steps

  • Thoroughly clean the traps with a bleach solution once the cat has been returns.
  • After a short break, trap the remaining members of the colony to complete the colony’s trap-neuter-return effort.
  • Be prepared for the fact that you may re-trap cats that are already ear-tipped. If you do, it is sometimes best to hold that cat in the trap until the cats you are aiming for have been trapped. It is essential to fix every cat in the colony, even the males.