The big day was traumatic (as are a couple of the pictures below, so be prepared). Harry was checked in first thing in the morning, with some confusion over whether he would come home the same day or not – usually, they don’t.
Harry was sedated, almost immediately, because he is highly anxious and hates the vet. Some blood tests were run to check organ function before he was put fully under for the surgery. One of these showed significantly elevated blood sugar and the vet requested permission to do a urine test for diabetes. Fortunately, that came back negative and everything else was in good shape for the operation. At this point, the vet had a word with me about Harry’s stress levels – which were responsible for the high blood sugar, and manifesting in non-stop growling and intermittent hissing – and suggested that if everything went smoothly with the amputation he would be better able to rest and heal at home that night. I was eager to get him home so I consented, even though I was worried about early recovery.
Still, everything went very well. Harry had his right forelimb removed at the shoulder and was patched back up without complication. I went to get him in the afternoon. The poor beast was in his cage with a cone of shame on, and I didn’t get a good look at him in hospital. I was sort of glad that I’d be able to have my horrified reaction in private.
Harry would be coming off his surgery meds for the rest of the night and I was told to continue his daily Metacam (which is an anti-inflammatory) dose, and add Gabapentin (which is for nerve pain and reduction of phantom limb issues) three times per day. I was immediately concerned that this was not enough pain management considering my cat had just had a limb chopped off, and was told I could try to continue using the Tramadol (an opiate for moderate to severe pain) they’d given me for the cancer as needed if I wanted, but that the two meds should be enough. To be fair, it was an assistant rather than the vet who did our discharge and Harry is difficult to get Tramadol into, but this still didn’t seem quite right. A bit of research, Harry’s behaviour when I got home, and a call to the after-hours on-call vet assured me that I was right to question.
Harry came home and weaved drunkenly out of his cage, looking like this:
Of course my heart shattered for him. Poor little soul. He barely knew where he was, however, apart from seeming more comfortable – not growling, etc. And, happily, he was eager to eat right away.
If you’re preparing for a similar operation with your pet, expect him to look devastating, and expect him to flop around a bit – especially if he is still stoned when you bring him home. It is brutally upsetting, but if you’re on top of pain management and keeping his wound clean I think you can trust that he is healing.
After eating (his first dose of Gabapentin in his food), Harry started fussing. He yowled and grumbled and rolled around on the floor. He wasn’t aggressive. He still purred when I pet him. But he wasn’t comfortable. I didn’t know whether this was pain or the disorientation of coming off his surgery meds, so I called the on-call vet to ask. At this point she said to give him his Tramadol dose and see if that helped. It absolutely did. Harry was still fussy as he came off the meds. The rest of the night was not a picnic and I recommend preparing for some loopiness and confusion, but he wasn’t nearly as vocal or fidgety.
I’m not an expert, but it’s clear in Harry’s case that the opiate is an important factor in keeping him comfortable to begin with. Other tripod Mamas I have spoken to via an excellent support forum I found (which I will talk about later) confirmed that in Canada it is heard of to give only Metacam and Gabapentin following surgery, but that that should not be considered enough for something so major. Elsewhere, most personal accounts I’ve read involve those two (or just the Gabapentin) AND a major painkiller.
GETTING THROUGH THE NIGHT
The night was still rough. I was told to keep Harry in his cage, with his shame cone on while I slept (or tried to). I put his cage close to the bed, where he could see me and I him. He tossed and turned, and threw in the odd meowl. His collar was clearly making it hard for him to get comfortable and it looked like the hard plastic edge was digging into his incision when he was in certain positions. So, when I took him out to re-medicate at 2am (Gabapentin), I switched his collar for the onesie I mentioned in a previous post.
This made a big difference. So far he hasn’t shown any interest in his stitches, but the shirt will serve the same purpose as the collar if he does. I also moved the cage onto my bed, by my head, after noting that he was calmer when I was on the floor with him (if you do this, make sure your bed is against a wall and the cage is on that side. The last thing you want is your injured baby toppling cradle-and-all to the floor). This also seemed to help. He wasn’t sleeping yet, but was able to lie comfortably and stare into space calmly. He continued to fidget a bit, but not nearly as much.
By this point, I should also mention, Harry was already able to hop/wobble about a bit when out of his cage. Although he got tired quickly, he wasn’t faceplanting. He did, however, try to curl up in his litter box to sleep…which I decided was unsanitary.
At 4am, when I pulled him out to do his next dose of Tramadol, he actually used the litter box – even though he got worn out halfway through peeing and sat in it, I still think he’s a champ. He flopped out on the rug for a bit then and I cleaned him up. Moments later, he hoisted himself up onto his remaining feet, wobbled over to the bed and jumped up (!). I had taken my box spring and mattress off the frame so he wouldn’t hide underneath, which made this a bit easier, but he’s still a trooper to be getting around like that a mere twelve hours post-op.
He’s adjusted his placement a few times, but has been on the bed ever since. Even better, he finally started to sleep around sunrise. Phew. I’ve brought him food and drugs in bed, and placed a cold pack on his wounded side to combat swelling (vet suggested):
He’s not quite happy, but he’s resting and healing; and that’s all I can ask for, one day in.