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What to Expect: Post-Amputation Pain in Cats

Cats and dogs share one big thing in common: they will do anything to hide pain. In our ongoing “What to Expect” series, today we’re discussing post-amputation pain in cats.

Cats are masters at hiding pain.

post-amputation pain in cats

When your cat comes home from surgery the first few days can be challenging as you try to figure out if your cat has adequate pain control, or not enough. If you’re struggling with this, here are some tips from our e-book, “Cool Tips for Tripawd Cats,” that can help you during this tough time.

Nearly every new Tripawd parent reports that their cat’s behavior during the first few nights after surgery includes rapid breathing, more vocalizing, anxiety, inappetence (refusing to eat) and just acting weird. Many cats may seem depressed and become constipated, sometimes for up to a week.

Cool Tips for Tripawd Cats book
Read for more great tips!

These behavioral changes are often from pain medication side effects. Try to remember that whenever you take a pain pill yourself, you are prepared and know what to expect. Your cat, however, has no idea that painkillers can make her see pink elephants and feel dopey. The resulting behavior is lethargy, confusion and what you might consider to be depression.

We’re not saying that your cat isn’t feeling badly, because she is. But that sad look on her face isn’t anger or regret over the amputation – animals simply don’t possess an understanding of such complex human emotions. However, that’s not to say they don’t feel pain. Just like us, they do.

Manage Post-Amputation Pain in Cats by Staying Ahead of It

post-amputation pain in cats
Pain is harder to control when you don’t stick to a medication schedule.

It’s important to manage your Tripawd cat’s post-amputation pain well and stay ahead of it. Here’s how you can do it.

Know what cat pain looks like. Cats are extremely stealth about showing weakness, even more than dogs! Here are some ways they often do:

  • Less desire to interact with people and animals
  • Sleeping in an unusual position or location
  • Unusual aggression when approached
  • Resisting handling or being picked up
  • Decreased grooming and mat formation OR increased grooming in specific areas
  • Stiffness or limping
  • Changes in personality

This pain checklist cats can help translate what your cat is trying to tell you.

Stay ahead of the pain. It is more effective to prevent pain than to try to alleviate existing pain. In other words, using pain medications in anticipation of pain is more effective than waiting until the pain already exists. Before leaving the hospital, know the right way to do this. Ask your vet:

  • How often to give the pain medications?
  • What to watch for if your cat needs more frequent doses?
  • Which kind of side effects can happen?
  • What happens if you miss a dose?

Don’t wait until the pain is so bad it’s obvious. By then, an animal is likely experiencing horrific pain that would put any human in the hospital.

Take notes, then call your vet asap to discuss what you’re seeing. Please ask your vet for a clear action plan for treating the pain. Sometimes all it takes is rest and medication. Other times managing animal pain may require additional support from a certified animal rehabilitation therapist.

If you’re not seeing improvement in your cat after following your vet’s plan, let the vet know. If the vet seems stumped, ask for a referral to a veterinary pain management specialist who belongs to the International Veterinary Academy of Pain Management. These vets are on the leading edge of pain management studies and treatments. 

post-amputation pain in cats
Fang’s mom shares more tips for dealing with post-amputation pain in cats.

Pain control is one of the most challenging aspects of amputation recovery. Keeping the lines of communication open with your vet is an important step to help your cat have a smoother amputation recovery.

People I’ve talked to about amputation (who have gone through it with their pets themselves) have been kind enough to tell me that vets have extremely different approaches when it comes to pain management. Apparently theories have changed over the years, so vets trained in the recent-ish past may not do as much to PREVENT pain as they do to treat the pain once it occurs. This is an issue, because there are things that can be done to prevent some of the pain from ever occuring. – TriKitty Fang’s story, “Pain Management – Dealing with Vets.

Recommended Reading

What to Expect When You Pick Up Your Tripawd from the Clinic
What to Expect on Amputation Surgery Day for Your Dog or Cat
Tripawd Cats Pain Management Tips and Tricks

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4 thoughts on “What to Expect: Post-Amputation Pain in Cats”

  1. This blog eased my mind. I literally just got off the phone with the ER vet with questions about the symptoms days after limp amputation.
    My cat Bella has her entire right front limb removed because of cancer. It came back a second time and needed Limb removal for survival.
    Her side effects are exactly what’s stated in the article. In fact the reason I called the ER was bc her breaths were 48 per min and I knew that wasn’t normal. I didn’t take in account she wasn’t prescribed pain meds and what was In her system left. Very thankful I found tripawds. All of this is new to me and most of the articles I’ve come across are so very accurate.

    • Lindsey, we are sorry you and Bella had to join our club but so glad you found us. Thank you for the kind words about the article. We try hard to present vet-approved information and appreciate that you are finding it so helpful. Please consider joining us in the Three Legged Cats Discussion Forum to share your experience and lean on us for support. Hope to see you there! And best wishes to you and Bella for a speedy recovery.

  2. Hello my male cat is 9 months old and gotten hit by a car and had to have his left back leg amputated we have put him in a crate at home 2 days after surgery because he stayed over night a few nights after. He’s wanting to get out I let him out to do his business and to eat because he has a cone so i have to take it off for him to eat then put it back on.. any advice when he’s able to just walk around the room I don’t want to rush things but he just seems to want to move. Thank you

    • Hi Courtney. Sorry to hear about your cat! Poor guy. Glad that he lived though! Have you seen our free Tripawd Cats Discussion Forum topic, or our e-book Cool Tips or Tripawd Cats? Both are filled with tons of tips about recovery. In short, you should always leave the cone on him unless he cannot eat with it on. Be very mindful though, cats can destroy stitches under our very noses! As for letting him move around, we recommend keeping him in a small room where he cannot get into trouble like getting stuck in furniture or under the bed. You’ll find all that and more in our Forums and book so please hop on over and check it out. Best wishes to you both!


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