Follow Post-Op Instructions Closely
Dogs and dog parents alike are likely to feel at least some stress around their scheduled surgery date, with the preparations, change in routine, concern for your pet's health and well-being, and ensuring they have everything they need to recover properly. That said, understanding how to look after your dog once they come home is critical to helping them get back to their normal routine as quickly as possible.
After your dog's surgery, the veterinarian, veterinary surgeon or veterinary nurse will give clear and detailed instructions about how to care for your pet when they arrive home. It is important to follow your vet's instructions carefully. If the instructions indicate anything you do not understand, please ask. Even if you realize after you've arrived home that you've forgotten how to perform a specific task, call your vet for clarification.
Your team of veterinary professionals want the very best for your dog and will be happy to help you understand the post-op instructions provided. Below, we'll offer a few basic tips to help you keep your pet safe and comfortable as they recuperate at home.
After-Effects of General Anesthetic
General anesthetic will be used to make your pet unconscious during most veterinary surgical procedures and prevent them from experiencing any pain. However, anesthesia can take a while to wear off after the surgery is complete.
The anesthetic may cause your dog to feel temporarily shaky on their feet or sleepy. These are normal side effects that should disappear relatively quickly after they've had some rest. Temporary lack of appetite is another common side effect of general anesthetic.
Feeding Your Dog After surgery
Some owners find themselves concerned if their dog won't eat after surgery. Keep in mind that your pooch may feel somewhat queasy and lose their appetite briefly due to the general anesthetic. When feeding your dog after surgery, start by offering a half-size portion of a light meal such as rice or chicken, which may be easier to digest than regular store-bought dog food.
Watch for your dog's appetite to return within about 24 hours after their procedure, at which time you can gradually begin to phase their regular food back in. If you notice that your dog's appetite hasn't returned within 48 hours of the operation, contact your vet or veterinary surgeon. Loss of appetite can be a sign of infection or pain.
Managing Your Dog's Pain After Surgery
Before you leave the hospital with your dog after he's had surgery, a veterinary professional will dedicate time to explaining the medications that have been prescribed to help manage your dog's post-surgery pain. They will review the dosage required, how often you should give your dog the medications, and how to safely and correctly administer the meds. To prevent any unnecessary pain or side effects while your dog recovers, follow these instructions closely. Ask your vet to clarify any instructions that seem unclear.
Pain medications and antibiotics are often prescribed for pets following surgery to help prevent infections and relieve post-op discomfort. If your pup tends to be high-strung or suffers from anxiety, your vet may also prescribe a sedative or anti-anxiety medication that will help your dog remain calm as she heals.
Never give your pet human medications without first consulting your veterinarian. Many drugs that can help humans feel better are seriously toxic for dogs.
Keeping Your Dog Comfortable When They Arrive Home
After surgery, it's important to create a quiet, comfortable space for your pet to rest, away from other pets and children. Giving your dog a soft, comfortable bed with plenty of room to spread out can help prevent pressure on any sensitive or bandaged parts of their body.
Restricting Your Dog's Movement
After your dog's surgery, your vet will likely recommend limiting your pup's activities and movement for a period of time. Sudden stretching and jumping movements can interfere with the healing process and may even cause the incision to reopen.
Fortunately, most operations will not require significant confinement such as complete ‘crate rest’ to aid in recovery, and most dogs cope well with being kept indoors for a few days (with only essential trips outside for bathroom breaks). That said, it can be difficult to prevent your dog from jumping up on furniture that they love to sleep on, or climbing stairs. Preventing these behaviors for a few days may require confining your dog to a safe and comfortable room when you are unable to supervise them directly.
Helping Your Dog When Cage Rest (Crate Rest) is Necessary
While most surgeries do not require crate rest, orthopedic surgeries do often require strictly limiting your dog’s movements so they recover as expected. If your vet recommends crate rest for your dog following surgery, there are ways to help your dog adjust to this strict confinement so that they become more comfortable with spending long periods of time in a crate.
Ensure that your dog's crate is large enough to allow your pup to stand up and turn around. If your dog requires a plastic cone or 'E-Collar' to prevent licking, you may need to purchase a larger crate for your dog to recover in. You will also need to make sure that there is plenty of room for their food and water dishes, without risking spills that could cause your dog's bedding and bandages to become soiled and wet.
Your Pet's Stitches
Many vets now choose to place stitches on the inside of your dog's wound rather than the outside. Inside stitches dissolve as the incision heals. If your vet uses outside stitches or staples they will typically need to be removed by your vet around 10 to 14 days after surgery. Your vet will let you know which type of stitches were used to close your pet's incision.
Caring for Your Pet's Incision Site
It can be difficult to prevent your dog from biting, chewing or scratching at their bandages or incision site. A plastic cone-shaped Elizabethan collar (available in hard and softer versions) is an effective way to prevent your dog from licking their wound. Many dogs adjust to wearing a cone collar relatively quickly, but if your dog is struggling to get used to wearing a cone, there are other options available. Speak to your vet about effective and less cumbersome options such as donut-style collars, or post-op medical pet shirts.
Keep Your Pet's Bandages Dry
Keeping bandages dry at all times is another key element of helping your dog's incision heal quickly. Whenever your dog goes outside, make sure that the bandages are covered with a plastic bag or cling wrap to protect them from damp or wet grass. Remove the plastic covering as soon as your pet comes back inside. Leaving the plastic over the bandage could cause sweat to collect under the bandage and lead to an infection.
Don't Skip Your Dog's Follow-Up Appointment
The follow-up appointment gives your vet the opportunity to monitor your pet's progress and check for any signs of infection before it becomes more serious.
It is also essential that your dog's bandages aren't left on for too long following the procedure. Not changing the bandages at the right time could lead to pressure sores or even affect the blood supply to the area. The professionals at your pet's veterinary hospital have been trained in dressing wounds correctly. Bringing your dog in for their follow-up appointment allows your team of veterinary professionals to change your pet's bandages properly to help keep your dog's healing process on track.
Between veterinary appointments, if your dog's bandage falls off, or you notice swelling, blood seeping through the bandages, or an unpleasant odor at the incision site, make an appointment with your vet immediately.
Helping Your Pup to Stay Happy While Recovering
Dog's simply don't understand when they are in recovery and are likely to become frustrated at the reduced level of activity, the itchiness of their incision site, or just the overall lack of stimulation following surgery, so it's important that you give your pet stimulation and loving reassurance in other ways.
Amuse your pup with a rotating selection of gentle games that won't cause any stretching or jumping, such as dog-friendly chew toys or squeaky toys. Only give your dog one or two toys at a time, then switch to a different toy on a regular basis to help prevent boredom.
While treats can be a great way to cheer your dog up, it's important to keep in mind that your pup's reduced activity level means that they are burning fewer calories. Too many treats can equal too much of a good thing.
Remember that just taking some time out of your busy day to sit quietly with your pup, stroking their fur and chatting with them calmly, can help your dog stay calm and feel loved.
Typical Recovery Times For Pets Following Surgery
Animals undergoing soft tissue operations such as spaying, neutering or abdominal surgeries tend to recover more quickly than pets recovering from procedures involving the bones, joints and ligaments. Many soft tissue surgeries have typically healed about 80% after 2 to 3 weeks, and may be completely healed in about 6 weeks.
Surgeries involving bones and ligaments will likely take much longer to heal, and are usually around 80% healed after about 8 - 12 weeks, although it can take as long as 6 months for your pet to recover completely following surgeries such as those to repair a torn cruciate ligament (ACL).
Reassurance for Loving Pet Owners
Pet parents often feel guilty about restricting their dog's movements after surgery. But try to keep in mind that dogs tend to bounce back much more quickly from surgery than humans do, and by following your vet's post-op instructions you are doing your very best to help your dog recover quickly, and get back to their normal active lifestyle as soon as possible!
Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.