My Cat Ate Before Surgery: Is That OK? (Solved & Explained!)

With surgery, you want to keep everything as normal as possible for you and your cat to remain calm the day before. But how will surgery impact their feeding schedule?

Healthy adult cats should not eat within six or more hours of their surgery. This is to ensure that their stomachs are empty of anything they might regurgitate. There could be severe repercussions, such as aspiration of vomit during surgery if your cat ate beforehand. 

But there’s no need to panic if you find your cat eating before surgery! This article will explain some whys and hows about fasting safety for your cat and what to do if you catch them snacking. Cause let’s be honest, we all get caught snacking when we shouldn’t!

Why Not Letting Your Cat Eat Before Surgery Matters

Generally, your cat will need to fast anytime a vet schedules surgery for them. The reason for fasting is because of the use of anesthesia.

Anesthesia is known to cause nausea in pets, which can result in vomiting. While your cat is under the effects of anesthesia, any regurgitation may find its way into the cat’s air passages and lungs.

Aspiration happens because the cat’s muscles relax, and they lose the ability to control reflexes during surgery or post-op recovery. They are then unable to swallow, leaving the vomit nowhere else to go sometimes. Vomit breathed into their lungs during surgery or recovery is very dangerous and could result in:

  • Infections
  • Pneumonia
  • Respiratory Distress Syndrome

You can prevent this by ensuring that your cat does not have much food in their stomach at the start of surgery. Even if your cat does regurgitate a little during the surgery, it will be minimal in comparison and thus less dangerous if they fast.

When to Start Fasting for Your Cat

Your furry friend is not going to look at the clock and know that dinner time is over until after surgery. That would be pretty cool and save you a lot of trouble- but it is unrealistic. It is up to you to keep them from eating past the point they should. 

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While your veterinarian will most likely give you advice and paperwork about a specific fasting timeline for your cat, the American Animal Hospital Association has a few helpful simple guidelines as well. 

Originally 12 hours was the standard fasting requirement. These 12 hours helped ensure that the cat’s stomach was empty by the morning of its surgery. The standard has since shifted to a roughly 6 hour period. 

Ultimately the specific time frame will depend on your cat’s health and the reason for surgery. 

Exceptions to fasting rules for cats

If your cat accidentally ate before surgery and falls into one of these categories, you have no need to panic. These types of cats may have significantly different fasting requirements than healthy adult cats:


The American Animal Hospital Association recommends that kittens not go without food for more than two hours. The ASPCA says that some veterinarians may suggest you not withhold food from kittens at all before surgery to uphold their nutrition.

Diabetic cats should not start fasting until four or fewer hours before their surgery. Like kittens, diabetic cats need food to help keep their blood sugar levels regular before a surgery.

Be sure to ask your veterinarian if you have any questions about when your cat should stop eating.

Can my cat have water before surgery?

While you may need to prevent them from eating food the morning of surgery, your fluffy feline will be allowed to drink a little water before leaving home. Water is often allowed to ensure that your cat will not get dehydrated before surgery.

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The AAHA recommendations state that a healthy adult cat, kitten, or diabetic cat should be allowed free water access at any time before surgery.

The only time your cat should avoid water is if the cat has a history of or is at high risk of vomiting. If your cat falls into this category, the AAHA recommends that you keep them from water anywhere between 6-12 hours before surgery.

If the surgery is an emergency, water should be avoided as soon as possible, according to the AAHA.

What to do if your cat ate before surgery

Accidents happen. To err is human. To eat whenever you want is to be a cat. If your cat did not follow fasting regulations, you must tell your veterinarian about it to keep your feline friend safe.

Depending on the severity of your cat’s medical history and procedure, the vet may decide to continue the surgery. Sometimes it is less dangerous to proceed with the surgery than to put it off.

In other situations, your vet may delay the surgery a few hours or even a couple of days to ensure that your cat is safe from anesthesia risks.

Best Way to Prevent Your Cat From Eating Before Surgery

The best way to prevent your cat from eating before heading into surgery is to put away all food at night. Many veterinarians recommend that you remove all food access at 11:30 or midnight. This removes the temptation from the cat and makes it easier for you to remember.

If you have other pets in the house with you, it may seem unfair to remove all their food too. Instead, consider moving the cat who will be having surgery into another room with the door closed. Leave a bowl of water in there for them as well.

If your cat is a big-time late-night snacker, you may be in for a night of hungry cries. Power through! It will be worth it for their safety during the operation.

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Depending on the specifics for a cat and their surgery, fasting requirements will change. Talking to your veterinarian about any concerns you may have is important, and letting them know if your cat ate anything before surgery is vital to ensuring your fluffy friend’s safety.