Background: Health-care systems nowadays rely on complementary patient care by informal caregivers. The need for, and burden on, informal caregivers will likely increase in the upcoming years. This study aimed to examine the burden on caregivers when providing care for elderly patients undergoing major abdominal surgery. Methods: A single-centre longitudinal cohort study was conducted between November 2015 and June 2018 in the Amphia hospital in Breda, the Netherlands. Patients aged 70+ undergoing elective surgery for colorectal carcinoma (CRC) or an abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA) were included in this study. Informal caregiver burden was assessed and compared over time using the Caregiver Strain Index (CSI) at the outpatient clinic visit, at discharge, 2 weeks post-discharge and after 6 and 12 months. The effects of patient- and caregiver-related factors on the experienced caregiver strain were examined. Results: CSI scores of 248 caregivers were significantly increased at discharge (3.5 vs 2.6; p < 0.001) and 2 weeks post-discharge (3.3 vs 2.6; p < 0.001). After 12 months, scores dropped below baseline scores (1.8 vs 2.6; p = 0.012). The highest strain was observed 2 weeks post-discharge for AAA patients and at discharge for CRC patients. Older age, physical or cognitive impairment and burden of comorbidity were associated with an increased caregiver strain at baseline. Type of surgery was independently associated with the change in mean CSI scores over time; a bigger change in caregiver burden is observed after open surgery. Conclusion: In the early postoperative period, perceived caregiver strain was significantly increased. Psychological support for caregivers may be advisable, with timing of this support depending on diagnosis and patient-related factors. Trial registration: This manuscript was retrospectively registered on 05-04-2016 in the Netherlands Trial Register (NTR5932). http://www.trialregister.nl/trialreg/admin/rctview.asp?TC=5932.