The cone is no more… oops!

Day 116

Is this not supposed to be on Mitsy’s head…? Oops!
iPhone flash makes her eyes look a bit weird here, but is there a look of satisfaction here, post-cone, or am I imagining it?

Just last night I spoke to the vet who performed Mitsy’s spaying; he had the results of her bloodwork. She is as healthy as a horse and even though we have now stopped the pain meds, she shows no signs of discomfort caused by the incision. We also asked about the cone and the vet urged us to keep it on until Thursday, which makes it 7 days after surgery, the minimum vet-recommended cone-time… He also said to discourage too much activity… Just this morning, Mitsy had a different opinion and took it off herself, right before we brought her breakfast. And then she engaged in active play…

First things first: how did she do it?

Well… it was unintended. The break-away collar that held the cone in place honoured its name. It broke away. We checked the cat cams and saw that Mitsy had been pawing and clawing the cone right before 6am and she must have put enough pressure on the collar for it to unsnap. It took another 20 minutes for the cone to come off. Mitsy was not aware that the thing was loose. The collar was hanging down her shoulders and she started playing with it, because it was like a toy following her around. After 20 minutes, she was lying on her side, and when she got back up, it just fell off. You can see her looking at it with surprise. And not long after that Wim arrived with breakfast… and got into a bit of a panic.

The healing of the wound

So how is the healing of the wound going? When Mitsy stretched out on the ground, we always had a quick look in the past days. And to be honest: there was nothing much to see from the very start; by now, the hair is growing back, there is minimal swelling, no redness and she seems to feel pretty good. The incision is thin and colourless, almost like a white line. The wound must not be causing her any discomfort at all, it must not be itchy and it must be healing because she did not immediately go for it after the cone was gone. We sort of surveilled her all morning. Wim tried to put the cone back on her head once, but of course she would not let him, and he did not insist after that. If only we had come in 20 minutes early this would not have happened, or else we would have seen it happen. Or not. We don’t know for sure.

Mitsy’s new ‘cleavage’: it looks healthy and you can see the line of the incision… I don’t know how the vet did it, but it looks like a beautiful job! Wim’s hand keeps her from falling off the bench and gives an idea of proportion.

Miss No-Cone Mitsy, in the meantime, was feeling on top of the world. She was extremely playful, did not feel like going for a nap so we decided to stay in the room and play with her in a way that was as safe as possible, in the meantime hoping to get her tired enough to go to sleep. We tried to keep her from jumping up and down and limited play to little balls on the carpet. We know from experience that she is the Queen of Naps. Once she starts, we have 4-6 hours of peace and quiet. It took 6 hours to get to that point today… First she had breakfast. Then we had breakfast too, in her room. Then we oversaw how she played. In between she groomed herself, used the litter box, looked out the window for a bit and then went back to play. This went on for quite a while before we saw her finally getting tired around noon. Thank God! So what now?

To interfere or not to interfere: that is the question

We are inclined to not interfere. Why?

Truth be told: we are no heroes when it comes to trying to handle a cat that does not wish to be handled. Mitsy is 100% more approachable compared to when we started working with her. I would say she is 80% socialised. The last 20%: that will happen with time, or never. Who knows. And it is that last 20% that determines how easily we can impose something on her that she does not like. Such as picking her up, putting her in a carrier and, in this case, putting the cone back on. I used to have a cat that was hard to handle, but the advantage at the time was that I had had her from a young age, so I knew her and she knew me through and through. That gives you more, how shall I put it, authority? Self-assurance? I don’t have that yet, not fully, with Mitsy and neither does Wim.

With Mitsy we have only just entered the realm of cuddling. She still lets us do that, I am happy to report, even without the cone, but we can see that she is wide awake, responsive and attentive. She has of course slept for most of the past 4.5 days, so she is full of beans, as the Australian saying goes. Lots of energy. It seems to me that this indicates she that is doing well and feeling good. She is quick too! You better have good reflexes when playing with her or you will accidentally get clawed. Not because she attacks in any way, she is just lightning fast. And she now has both her 4 claws and her teeth back to tell is when she has had enough. It never comes out of the blue, there are signs that she uses to communicate her opinions, but if you do not pay attention to them, she will make you feel what she means…

We cannot lull her into a position that allows us to put the cone back on, I think. You’ve gotta come at her from the front, right in her face, and she has always been hesitant with contact in that zone. Our own resident cat Suzi has always been and still is an enormous scaredy-pants. Or should I say that she suffers from PTSD? She is doing well at the moment (knock wood and thank you God), but there have been times when we had to administer medication. Tablets were a no-no, we found out. The fight to get drops in her cheek-pouch was also gigantic and it left her (and us as well) a mess. Eardrops were not a joy either. Liquid on food is what we need. Because Suzi is less strong and less confident than a cat like Mitsy, I was always able to ‘lock’ her between my legs, while sitting on my knees on the ground. Cats always try to move backwards to get out of a situation and in this position Suzi had nowhere to go. Then I had to firmly take her front legs in one hand, and do the drops with the other. It left us both miserable and stressed.  Suzi would almost go into fits, shocks went through her whole body, she was drooling from stress and trembling. No fun. And also the reason why I could never be a vet…

Feral comparison and balancing our odds

When we think about feral cats that are usually confined to their traps or to a small crate during recovery, and then are released after just 72 hours, we are thinking that maybe we will be lucky. Mitsy has more care surrounding her than any feral after all…

So here is what’s on the balancing scales:

Considering that she is still sleeping as I write this (putting 5 napping hours on the clock already) and that we were with her most of the morning, she has not messed with the incision site for 5 days. Today was the first day of uninhibited play, but not to the point of panting like before the surgery and without excessive running and jumping. So we are just 2 days away from the original planned official de-coning day.

Put the cone back on (or try to) = beaucoup stress

We can try to put the cone back on and use a non-break-away-collar to keep it in place. I already know that this will cause an upset, tensed up muscles in her whole body, including the wound. Not my preferred option.

Go to a vet to have them put the cone back on = also stress

The same will happen when we manage to get her in a carrier and drive to a vet to have this done.

With the exception of the day after surgery, I was never allowed to touch her face when the cone was still in place. I think I mentioned that we fed her Kitten Milk, post surgery. She loves that stuff and when she laps it up, it splatters all over the cone. I wanted to just quickly wipe it off from the inside of the cone with my fingers. Same with some stray hair and filth around her eyes that she was of course unable to clean herself because her paws could not reach her face. And she freaked out!

She detested the sound and the tugging, even if ever so lightly… The first time this happened, it was after she had slept for hours. I felt her starting to tremble, like when you have the chills. And I thought she did. There was a definite draft on her window bench because of the temps outside getting colder. So I covered her in a blankie and used a small room heater to warm things up. She loved the blankie on top of her and I thought I had it figured out. But the next time I tried to clean the inside of the cone, the room was warm. And the same stress reaction happened. So I stopped doing it… And then she learned how to lick the inside of the code and make it turn around. Self-cleaning solution found, no need for humans!

Let it be and hope for the best

Or… we can keep a close eye on the incision site whenever we can, reign in her activity level where possible and use our own best judgment, hoping the healing will continue to go well…

Time will tell… But for now, the sun has set on the cone…

You can see the buildup of ‘stuff’ close to her ears in this picture. And the blue of the blankie I covered her with because I did not realise she was trembling with stress instead of with cold…
Sunset picture on the window bench, with a streetlight adding an orange glow

Our experience and some practical suggestions for aftercare

No-one gave us definite advice or best practice information, not the rescue people, not the vet. It must have something to do with liability, I am thinking. My natural impulse is to turn to vets for the best practice guidelines, but that simply does not always work because they might be afraid you can sue them when things go wrong. What a world we live in…

So here are some pieces of personal experience for those who are preparing to go through spaying with their cats. Let me tell you: it is probably more stressful for the owner than for the cat. It certainly was and is for us, so be ready for that!

If your cat is hard to approach when in a stressful situation, prepare and maybe invest in a few things to keep your cat and yourself safe and prevent unnecessary stress. Every animal reacts differently, think about what works best for your cat so you can make informed choices.

1. Make sure that you can close the cat space (no kids and other animals allowed until they are completely healed)

2. Clear the cat space of all obstacles the animal can bump into while wearing the cone or, God forbid, get stuck and hang themselves… No toys, no cat tree… Use old shoe boxes to create steps to a favourite hangout bench to make it easier to reach.

3. Remember that the cone not only minimises your cat’s field of vision, it also dulls sound and does not warn them of an upcoming touch. It can freak them out! So move carefully, show them your hands and face before reaching out and use gentle touch at first and be ready to be refused (and don’t take that personally!)

4. Invest in 1 or 2 cat-cameras to set up in the cat space so that you can see the whole room and keep an eye on things without having to physically be into the room; this investment will pay off in the future too, because it might surprise and entertain you to see your cat’s secret life when you are not around. It can be a lot of fun to see the footage after recovery.

5. If you expect problems when you have to re-cone the cat after it got it off, do NOT use a break-away collar. Instead, buy the smallest size dog collar (or whatever fits your cat) and use that. Don’t forget to bring it to the vet on the day of the surgery! Or ask the vet to use gauze with a bow that is easy to undo for you (but not for the cat). Gauze can be risky when the claws get stuck in it when the get is pawing it to get the cone off. That is why we asked our vet to clip Mitsy’s nails while she was under. Not too much, just enough so that her nails still work but cannot do major damage.

In our case, it is remarkable that the cone stayed on for 20 minutes with the collar hanging down from it, which means that if the cat is not aware that ‘escape’ is nearby, and you notice it, you can still intervene in time and re-fasten it. We had no such luck and despite the degree of socialisation we have reached with Mitsy, re-coning her would have caused a lot of stress without the assurance that we would be able to pull it off. Stress and re-coning are not conducive to the healing process…

6. The cone usually prevents the cat from using their normal feeding bowls. Even using the litter box can be an issue so make sure to take off the cover, if you have one of those models.

@feeding bowls: In the silhouet picture above, you see a tilted ceramic bowl we eventually found on Amazon that works perfectly for the size 10 cone that Mitsy was outfitted with. Here is a link to that product:

Personally I do not understand why vets don’t have these or similar solutions for sale! I would have bought them there for sure…

7. For water, we put a flared-lip ceramic dog dish in a tupperware bowl. That raised it enough for her to drink from. Make sure you have the right materials to fit before surgery day. The tilted food bowls did not work for water because too much water would simply pour out the low end. Our big water containers with attached bowl did not work with the cone…

7. Buy Kitten Replacement Milk for the first few days

Of course there is a degree of learning involved for cats to handle the cone. They have 7-14 days at the longest to get comfortable with the thing. But when you get them back from surgery, your first priority cannot be to wait until they adjust. Cats need food and hydration after surgery and why not hand feed them in the beginning?
We did that, and it worked well, because we had done it before when the kittens were still around. Mom often got jealous of their milk and also wanted a taste. So we hand-fed her some to keep her away from the kittens.

And we used Kitten Replacement Milk for that. Don’t confuse this with so-called cat milk by Whiskas or other brands. That is a commercial product that I personally have never given to my cats, because all they need is water in terms of hydration. I am talking about true kitten milk, that you would feed a rescue kitten without a mom.

If your cat has never tasted it, you may want to do a try-out before surgery. It is nutrient-rich food that causes digestive issues in some cats. Like diarrhea. So try it out before surgery. The ready to go cans of this milk seem to contain more fat than the powdered KMR variety. The powder has the advantage that you can dilute it with more and more water as recovery continues. That takes care of food and drink after surgery.

Another advantage: I have been told that some cats get nauseous due to the general sedation. They can also have a sore throat because most (female) cats are intubated during spaying. So they will not be eager to eat kibble or even wet food. We found the kitten milk a good way to remedy both and still get some food in the cat’s stomach. Hand feeding is easy as well: just put it in a small muffin sized glass and offer it to them. Mitsy loved us for it, we could tell. The milk vanished quickly, she never threw up and her belly was nicely filled.