After-Surgery Care for Dogs Guide

Not every pet parent will have to know how to take care of their dog after surgery. If the need were to arise, our White House vets are here to give you all the information you need to get your dog back to normal in no time.

Always Follow Your Veterinarian's Post-Op Instructions

Around the time of a surgical procedure there is bound to become stressful for both you and your pet, but having the proper knowledge of post-operative care is important in helping get your pup back to normal quickly.

After your dog's surgery the veterinary surgeon, vet, or veterinary nurse will provide you with clear and specific instructions on how to care for your pet when they get home. It is essential to follow your vet's instructions carefully. If there is anything you do not understand, be sure to ask! Even if you get home and realize you have forgotten a specific instruction, call your vet for clarification. Your team of veterinary professionals wants the very best for your dog and will be happy to help you understand the post-op instructions you have been given.

Here are a few basic tips that can help you to keep your pet comfortable and safe as they recover at home: 

After-Effects of General Anesthetic

Most veterinary surgical procedures are performed under general anesthesia. This anesthetic will make your pet more comfortable and keep them from feeling any pain during their surgery, but it takes some time to fully wear off once the surgery is done. A general anesthetic may temporarily cause your dog to feel sleepy, or your dog is shaking on their feet after surgery. These side effects are normal and with a little rest should disappear very quickly. Another common side effect due to general anesthetics is a temporary lack of appetite.

Feeding Your Dog After Surgery

A general anesthetic may cause your pup to feel queasy, and lose its appetite. When it comes to feeding your dog after surgery, try offering your pet a half-size portion of a light meal such as chicken and rice, which can be easier to digest than regular store-bought dog food. Your dog should get its appetite back within about 24 hours after surgery, and you can gradually begin serving them regular food. If your dog won't eat after surgery for more than 48 hours contact your vet or veterinary surgeon. If your dog's not eating after surgery it can be an indication of pain or infection.

Managing Your Dog's Pain After Surgery

When your dog is ready to head home following surgery, a veterinary professional will take the time to explain the medications prescribed to manage your dog's post-surgery pain. They will explain the dose required, how often to give your dog the medications, and how to administer the meds. To effectively prevent any unnecessary pain while your dog recovers, without causing any side effects, be sure to adhere to your vet's instructions. If you are unsure about any of the instructions ask your vet to clarify.

Antibiotics and pain medications are commonly prescribed for pets after surgery to help relieve post-op discomfort and prevent infections. If your pup suffers from anxiety or tends to be high-strung, your vet may also prescribe a sedative or anti-anxiety medication to help keep your dog calm while they are healing.

Never give human medications to your pet without consulting your veterinarian first. Many drugs that can help humans to feel better are toxic to dogs. 

Keeping Your Dog Comfortable When They Get Home

Following surgery, it is important to provide your pet with a comfortable and quiet place to rest, away from children and other pets. Providing your dog with a soft comfortable bed, that gives them plenty of room to spread out, can help to prevent pressure on any bandaged or sensitive parts of their body. 

Restricting Your Pet's Movement

After your dog's surgery, your vet will likely recommend limiting your pup's activities and movement for some 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 pets 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 to help them recover well. 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 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. 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 - 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 its 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 its 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

Ensuring that your dog's bandages stay dry at all times will help its 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 the damp 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 allows your vet 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 a 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

Dogs 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 you must 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 regularly to help prevent boredom.

While treats can be a great way to cheer up your dog, 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 2-3 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

You might feel guilty restricting your dog from moving too much after surgery. But you need 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.

If you are struggling to manage your dog's needs after surgery, contact our White House vets for assistance.