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Protocols: Recovery

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Community cats should not be handled when conscious and therefore require special care when recovering from spay or neuter surgery and the effects of anesthesia.

Refer caregivers to the “post-surgery” section of our How to Conduct Trap-Neuter-Return guide for instructions after the cats leave your care.

While still in your care:

  • Provide a safe heat source for cats after surgery. Limiting contact with cold surfaces by providing protected contact with surgical tables and other cold surfaces will help the cat retain heat. Warm air, a carefully monitored heat lamp, or circulating warm water can help ensure adequate body warming during recovery. Cats should be allowed to recover on a secure, level surface. Recovery areas should be clean, dry, warm, and noise should be minimized.

  • Post-surgery and after cats have been through the other stations (which could include vaccination and grooming stations), return the cats to the exact traps they entered in. Traps should be clean and have fresh newspaper in them. Leave the cats in the traps or carriers at all times and cover the traps with a sheet or towel leaving only enough open so that the cat can be carefully monitored as she regains consciousness. Do not try to touch or otherwise handle the cats. Do not open the trap door.

  • Once cats regain consciousness and their eyes are no longer glassy, they can be handed over to the trapper or caregiver for further recovery. Ensure that whoever is holding cats for recovery keeps the cats indoors in their covered traps in a location that is dry, temperature-controlled, and away from loud noises or dangers such as toxic fumes, other animals, or people. When the cats are recovering from anesthesia they are unable to regulate their body temperature. It is important that the recovery location is temperature-controlled to keep the cats from getting too hot or too cold. A basement or bathroom will usually do the trick.

  • Ask caregivers to look in on the cats every hour to check their progress. The cats will be groggy as they recover from anesthesia. The anesthesia could have hallucinogenic effects and cause the cats to overreact to normal stimulation or to become aggressive. The anesthesia will wear off after about four to 24 hours. There should be no signs of bleeding.

  • Caregivers leaving the clinic with cats should receive clear, written instructions and contact information. Make sure that caregivers know what to look for in a cat recovering from surgery. Provide them with veterinary contact information if a cat is found to be bleeding, vomiting, having difficulty breathing, or not waking up after many hours.

  • Let caregivers know when cats can be fed. Alley Cat Allies suggests that kittens four months old or younger can be fed immediately after waking up from anesthesia. Adult cats should wait to eat until at least eight hours after surgery.

  • Provide specific caregiver “return” times for each cat depending on their surgery. Cats usually can be returned to their outdoor home within 24 hours after surgery, depending on recovery speed. Male cats and often females can be returned to the trapping site 12 to 24 hours following surgery, as long as they are fully awake and do not require further medical attention. In some cases, females may need 48 hours of recovery, depending on their specific circumstances. Caregivers may return nursing mothers as soon as possible, once they completely regain consciousness so they can get back to their kittens. Make sure caregivers know how soon each cat can be returned to his or her outdoor home based on the type of care you provided them. Cats should be fully conscious, clear-eyed, and alert before release.

  • If it is necessary to hold a cat longer than 24 hours after surgery, make sure caregivers have proper accommodations. Traps should be cleaned once to twice a day and cats should be fed and provided clean water. Caregivers should have a cage with litter box and community cat den

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