Spaying your cat is a wise way to protect them against certain diseases while offering plenty of other health benefits. Many veterinarians recommend pursuing this procedure in cats at around four months old.
If you are thinking about spaying your cat, you likely have many questions, including what the recovery process may entail. After surgery, it is important to pay attention to your pet’s incision site, since there is the potential for infection. What should a healing cat spay incision look like?
Types of Cat Spay Incisions
There are different methods of closing a surgical incision when spaying a cat. A common closing method involves placing the sutures on the surface of the skin. You may see stitches or staples on a healthy incision site. Skin sutures may require a return visit for removal in 10 to 14 days.
A spay incision contains different layers, such as the abdominal muscles, subcutaneous tissue, and skin. Each of these layers is typically closed individually. Some veterinarians choose to close the incision with intradermal or, buried sutures. With this method, the skin sutures are not visible from the outside but rather buried beneath the incision using an absorbable material. , This type of stitch is preferred for more aggressive cats since it eliminates the need for suture removal, reducing the chances of an aggression-related injury at the recheck appointment.
What Should a Healing Cat Spay Incision Look Like?
A healthy incision site will appear clean and pink immediately after the surgery, with both edges of the incision touching each other. You may or may not be able to visualize sutures. While slight serous oozing may be present postoperatively, there should be no active bleeding or discharge from the incision site when you arrive home. A little swelling is normal and can be expected in especially active cats.
The skin in and around the incision may appear slightly red or pink as it heals.
It is not unusual for particularly fair-skinned cats to have visible bruising around the incision site in the days following surgery. In either case, the color surrounding your cat’s incision should return to normal toward the end of the recovery period.
What Does an Infected Incision Look Like?
One potential postoperative complication of a spay procedure is an infected incision when bacteria contaminate the surgical area. As the incision site heals, it can become slightly inflamed and itchy, causing your cat to attempt to lick or bite at the area. As a result, there is a risk of bacterial translocations from the mouth to the incision site. Pets can also develop incision infections if allowed to run or play before healing is complete.
An infected spay incision will likely be quite red and swollen. You may also observe drainage from the area, including blood or purulent discharge. Sutures may be missing and you may even notice underlying tissue protruding from the wound.
An infected incision is not only painful for your cat, but it can also delay healing, taking affected cats longer than the standard 10 to 14 days to recover fully from surgery.
Signs of Spay Incision Infection
Incision infections are one of the most common spay complications, especially in the first week following surgery. It is necessary to monitor your cat’s incision for warning signs. Detecting an infection early and alerting your veterinarian can prevent delayed healing, discomfort, and most importantly, a more complicated issue.
Common signs to look for include:
- Fluid buildup. A seroma is a pocket of fluid that forms within the layers of tissue around the incision. Seromas are common in spay incisions and may develop secondarily to a minor suture reaction or when a pet is too active in the postoperative period. A seroma may lead to mild or moderate swelling and while not typically painful, could put your pet at risk for infection. If you believe your cat has a seroma, see a veterinarian to determine the next step.
- Pain. Your cat’s incision may feel slightly irritated as it heals, but it should never be painful. If your pet shows signs of pain upon touching the area, then this could be a sign of infection or inadequate pain control.
- Bleeding. A small amount of blood may ooze from the incision during the first 24 hours of surgery. If bleeding continues, your pet may have an infected spay incision or other complication.
- Erythema (reddened skin). Skin that has a light red or pink hue near your cat’s incision is normal early in the healing process. However, the skin should not be considerably red or otherwise discolored. Excessive redness that persists may indicate infection or another condition.
- Abnormal heat. Your pet’s incision should feel warm, but not warmer than the rest of her body. If the area feels hot, contact your veterinarian to determine the next course of action.
- Odor. A clean, healing incision should never smell foul. When checking your pet’s incision each day, ensure there is no odor, which is a tell-tale sign of infection.
How Common Are Spay Incision Infections?
While infections are one of the most frequent post-surgical complications, they aren’t exceedingly common. Thanks to advancements in surgical technique and a sterile environment, the chances of infection during surgery are minimal.
Risks of incision site infections increase whenever the patient licks or bites this vulnerable area. If sutures are chewed off or otherwise missing, this can leave a gap in the closure, potentially inviting contaminants and increasing the chances of infection.
Again, the risk of infection is rare and studies have shown that only around 5.8% of incisions develop an infection/inflammation in the days following the surgery. However, being cautious and attentive to your cat’s postoperative healing is paramount in ensuring she doesn’t develop an incision complication.
Complications of Infected Cat Spay Incisions
As with any other infection, contact your veterinarian if you notice signs of an infected incision in your cat. Once bacteria enter the wound, your pet becomes at risk of developing serious medical complications without prompt treatment. When left untreated, an infected spay incision may lead to dehiscence (when a wound or incision splits open), potentially allowing abdominal organs to protrude from the wound. Additionally, untreated infections could lead to a life-threatening condition known as septicemia (when bacteria enter the bloodstream). Fortunately, this is not a common surgical complication.
If your cat develops a fever, lethargy, or inappetence in the days following surgery, notify your veterinarian immediately. Keeping the incision site clean and dry will help minimize the risk of these serious problems.
What to Do When a Spay Incision is Infected
A surgical site infection may seem frightening at first, but it can be treated with the right care. If you suspect your cat’s incision is abnormal, contact your veterinarian for instructions while closely monitoring the area.
Depending on the severity of the infection, your veterinarian may recommend different treatments. For minor infections, a course of oral antibiotics will likely do the trick. However, more serious cases may require surgical debridement (removal of infected tissue) and reclosure. In some cases, a drain may be placed in the area to decrease fluid buildup. If your pet is diagnosed with septicemia, she will require intensive care and hospitalization.
Your veterinarian will guide you on the best course of action for your pet, including incision care at home. Do not use any harsh chemicals including hydrogen peroxide or alcohol to clean the incision. Rather, use clean, warm water or a disinfectant solution prescribed by your veterinarian to clean around the wound. Most healthy surgical sites do not require cleaning, though, so consult your veterinarian to see if this step is necessary. If you are sent home with medications for your cat, ensure she receives all doses as instructed.
How to Prevent an Infected Incision
Luckily, there are various preventive measures you can take to keep your cat’s spay incision clean and infection-free. You will receive post-surgery instructions from your veterinarian that you need to follow, including preventing your cat from licking her surgical site and restricting certain activities. Here are a few tips to avoid an infected incision:
- Keep the cone collar on at all times. Cats can reach most areas of their body with ease, as you can see when they groom themselves. Cones (also known as Elizabethan collars) are helpful tools to stop them from licking their incision. A standard plastic cone is a good option for most cats, although many will not like wearing one. While some cats will adjust quickly, others may try to remove it. If the cone keeps slipping off, try a softer cone or an inflatable donut, ensuring your cat cannot reach her incision site while it is on. Consult your veterinarian if you need help with cone fitting or for other suggestions.
- Restrict movement and exercise. To ensure her recovery goes smoothly, you may need to restrict certain activities. Running, jumping, and climbing can put significant strain on a healing incision, so confine your cat to a small, quiet room during the healing period (approximately two weeks). If your pet normally goes outdoors, you will need to keep them homebound during their recovery. It is not uncommon for cats to hide after getting spayed, so try to block off as many hard-to-reach areas as possible so you can keep a close eye on her.
- Monitor the incision. Check the incision at least once a day to ensure the area remains clean and dry. The incision edges should be touching and all sutures should be intact. If your cat has external sutures, count them when she is discharged from the hospital so you’ll know if any are missing. Keep note of your observations to determine if there are any concerning changes or trends, keeping your veterinarian abreast of any signs of infection. If your veterinarian placed a bandage over your pet’s incision, follow their instructions on bandage care. Avoid applying any ointments or creams to the incision site, unless directed by your veterinarian.
- Do not bathe your pet or get the incision wet. By inviting moisture to an incision via bathing or allowing your cat to play in the sink or water bowl, you may put her at risk for infection. Water may not only disrupt surgical glue at the incision site, but it may also attract moisture-loving bacteria. If your veterinarian directs you to clean your cat’s incision, make sure the area is thoroughly dried to reduce the risk of infection.
With proper post-operative care, spay incision infections are quite rare and the benefits of spaying your cat heavily outweigh these risks. However, as a cat owner, you play a critical role in managing her recovery from surgery. Armed with good postoperative instructions and the information provided above, you can set your pet up for a calm and comfortable recovery.
A successful spay surgery starts with a great veterinarian. If you need to schedule this procedure for your cat, look for a veterinary clinic that is trustworthy, reliable, and informative. At Penny Paws Animal Clinic, we are dedicated to the well-being of your cat—on and off the surgery table. Located in Texas, we offer in-clinic, weekend mobile vaccinations, and telemedicine services. To book an appointment or to find out more about spay surgeries at our facility, contact us today.