It's important for canine caretakers to know how to care for their dog following surgery so that their animal friend gets back to a normal, active lifestyle as quickly as possible. Here are a few tips from our Brighton vets on how to care for your pup after surgery.
Follow Your Veterinarian's Post-Op Instructions
Surgery is bound to be stressful for pets and their families alike, but knowing how to look after your dog when they get home from surgery is important for helping them get back to their normal lives as soon as possible.
After your dog's surgery, a member of your dog's veterinary team will provide you with clear and specific instructions on how to care for your pet when they get home. It is imperative that you follow your vet's instructions carefully. If there is anything you do not understand, don't hesitate to ask! Even if you realize you've forgotten a specific instruction upon arriving home, call your vet for clarification. Your team of veterinary professionals wants the very best for your dog and will be happy to go over the post-op instructions you have been given.
Here are a few basic tips that can help you keep your pet comfortable and safe as they recover at home:
After-Effects of General Anesthetic
Most veterinary surgical procedures will require the use of general anesthetic, which safely renders your pet unconscious and prevents them from feeling any pain during the procedure. It can take a while for general anesthetic to wear off completely post-surgery, which can temporarily cause your dog to feel sleepy or unsteady on their feet. These side effects are normal and with a little rest should disappear very quickly. Another common side effect due to general anesthetic is a temporary lack of appetite.
Feeding Your Dog After Surgery
General anesthetic may cause your pet to feel a little nauseated and lose their appetite. When it comes to feeding your dog after their surgery, try enticing them to eat by offering 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 regain their appetite within about 24 hours after surgery, at which time you can gradually begin serving their regular food. If you find that your dog's appetite doesn't return within 48 hours, contact your vet or veterinary surgeon. Loss of appetite can be an indication of pain or infection.
Managing Your Dog's Pain After Surgery
When your dog has been cleared to return home, a vet will take the time to discuss the medications prescribed for managing 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 and avoid 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 as part of their post-surgery care in order to help relieve discomfort and prevent infections. If your pet suffers from anxiety or tends to be easily distressed, 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 feel better are toxic to dogs.
Keeping Your Dog Comfortable When They Get Home
After 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 and get comfortable, can help to prevent pressure on any bandaged or sensitive parts of their body.
Restricting Your Pet's Movement
Following your dog's surgery, it is likely that your vet will recommend limiting your pet's activities and movement for a period of time. Sudden movements like stretching and jumping can interfere with the healing process and may even cause the incision to reopen.
Luckily, most operations will not require significant confinement such as complete ‘crate rest’ to aid in recovery; the majority of pets recover well by being kept indoors for a few days (sans essential outside potty breaks). That being said, it can be easier said than done to prevent your dog from jumping up onto their favorite couch, or from climbing the 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 in order to help them recover well. If your vet recommends crate rest for your dog after their 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.
Make sure that your dog's crate is large enough to allow them 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 soil your dog's bedding and bandages.
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
Because of the discomfort and irritation that an incision can cause, it might 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 get used to wearing a cone collar relatively quickly, but if your dog is struggling to adjust to 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, ensure that the bandages are covered with plastic bag or plastic wrap to protect them from wet grass. Remove the plastic covering as soon as your pet comes back inside, as 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 after the procedure. Changing the bandages at inappropriate intervals 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 don't understand when they are in recovery and are likely to become frustrated at the reduced level of activity, the discomfort or itchiness of their incision site, or just the overall lack of stimulation following surgery. It's important that you give your pet stimulation and loving reassurance in ways that don't hinder their post-surgery recovery.
Entertain your dog with a rotating selection of gentle games that don't require 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 lead to unhealthy weight gain in your dog.
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 usually recover more quickly than pets recovering from procedures involving the bones, joints, and ligaments. Many soft tissue surgeries are about 80% healed after 2-3 weeks, and could 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 remember that dogs tend to recover much more quickly from surgery than humans do. By following your vet's post-op instructions, you're doing your best to help your dog recover quickly and get back to their usual active lifestyle.