Following your dog's surgery, it's imperative to provide your dog with the post-operative care they need to make a full recovery. In this post, our San Diego vets explain what you can expect after your dog's surgery and share tips on how you can help your dog be as comfortable as possible while they recover.
Following Your Vet's Instructions For Post-Op Care
Surgery can be stressful for both dogs and their owners, but knowing how to look after your pup after their surgery is important for helping them get back to their normal lifestyle.
No matter which type of surgery your dog is undergoing, your vet or veterinary surgeon will provide you with clear and specific instructions on how to care for your pup following the operation. You must follow your vet's instructions carefully, there may be very specific and important instructions relating to the type of surgery your canine friend has had.
Nonetheless, there are a few basic tips that can help you keep your dog safe and comfortable while they recover from their surgical operation.
What You Can Expect After Your Dog's Surgery
Most veterinary surgical procedures require the use of a general anesthetic. General anesthetics knock your pet out and keep them from feeling any pain during the procedure, but it can take a while for the effects of the general anesthetic to wear off. The lingering effects of general anesthesia may leave your dog feeling a little sleepy, or shaky on their feet. These side effects are normal and should disappear very quickly with a bit of rest.
A few other side effects that you may notice your dog exhibit include more subdued behavior than usual, appearing as if they are feeling a little bruised or sore, and a temporary lack of appetite.
Feeding Your Pup After Their Surgery
General anesthesia can make your dog feel a little queasy, and lose their appetite. When it's time to feed your dog after surgery, try offering them a light meal (1/4 or 1/2 size meal) such as chicken and rice which can be easier to digest than regular store-bought dog food. You can expect your pet to regain their appetite within about 24 hours following surgery, at which time they should gradually return to eating their regular diet.
On the other hand, if your dog's appetite doesn't return within 48 hours, contact your vet or veterinary surgeon. Loss of appetite can also indicate pain or infection.
It's important to note that feeding your dog a nutritious diet while they are recovering, as well as on a regular day-to-day basis, is a key part of caring for your pet's overall health. If you are unsure about which food to feed your dog, ask your vet. Your vet will be able to recommend a food with all the key ingredients your dog needs for optimal health, and they will be able to calculate the right number of calories to feed your pet in order for them to maintain a healthy weight.
Managing Your Dog's Post-Operative Pain
After your pet's operation, a veterinary professional will take the time to explain the medications they have prescribed to manage your dog's post-surgery pain. They will explain the dose required, how often you need to give your pet the medications, and how to administer them properly. It's essential for your dog's health that you adhere to your vet's instructions in order to effectively prevent any unnecessary pain while your pup recovers, without causing any side effects. If you are unsure about any of the instructions given to you, have your vet clarify. Your veterinary team wants to help your dog recover as smoothly and quickly as possible.
Antibiotics to prevent infection and pain medication to relieve post-op discomfort are the 2 medications that are prescribed for pets most often after surgery. If your pup is anxious or high-strung, your vet may also prescribe a sedative or anti-anxiety medication to help keep your dog calm while they are healing.
Home remedies aren't recommended, however, if there is a remedy that you would like to use to help your pet feel better, call your vet to ask if the ingredients are safe for pets. Never give human medications to your pet without consulting your veterinarian first. Many drugs that can help humans feel better are toxic to dogs.
Making Sure Your Dog Is Comfortable At-Home
After your dog has had surgery, it is important to provide them with a comfortable and quiet place to rest, away from children and other pets. If your dog typically curls up on a small bed to sleep you may want to invest in a larger bed so that the incision site isn't pulled. Allowing your dog to stretch out, so there’s no extra pressure on any bandaged or sensitive parts of their body, may help your dog feel better after surgery and may even help them recover more quickly.
Limiting Your Dogs Movements
Regardless of why your pet is having surgery, it is likely that your vet will recommend limiting your dog's activities and movement for a period of time following the operation. Sudden stretching and jumping movements can interfere with the healing process and may even make the incision reopen.
Most surgeries fortunately 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 potty breaks). Often, a more difficult task is preventing 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 Cope With Cage-Rest (If Needed)
That said, orthopedic surgeries often require strictly limiting your dog’s movements so they can recover smoothly. If your vet recommends crate rest for your dog following surgery, there are ways to help your dog adjust to this strict confinement and help them get more comfortable with spending long periods of time in a crate.
Make sure that your dog's crate is big enough to allow your dog 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 ensure that there is plenty of room for food and water dishes, without risking spills that can cause your dog's bedding and bandages to become soiled and wet.
Taking Care of Your Pup's Incision Site
It can be challenging 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 pup from reaching the wound. Dogs can often adjust to wearing a cone collar within a couple of hours, 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-surgery jumpsuits (medical pet shirts).
Your Dog's Stitches
Stitches or staples will typically be removed by your vet around 10 to 14 days after surgery. Depending on the surgery, some vets may use stitches that are placed inside your dog's wound, which dissolve as the incision heals. Your vet will let you know which type of stitches were used to close your pet's incision.
Regardless of which type of stitches your veterinary surgeon uses, you will still need to prevent your dog from licking the wound in order to prevent infection and allow the wound to heal.
Caring For The Bandages
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 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 make sweat collect under the bandage and cause infection.
Attend Your Dog's Follow-Up Vet Appointments
Your pet's 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. When it comes to keeping your dog's healing process on track, it's a good idea to let the professionals handle bandage changes.
Between appointments, if your pet'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.
Keeping Your Pup Happy While They Recover
Dogs 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.
Keep your dog amused with a rotating selection of gentle games that won't cause any stretching or jumping, such as dog-friendly chew toys or squeaky playthings. Limit the number of toys you offer your dog to one or two items at a time, and switch to a different toy on a regular basis to help prevent boredom.
Treats can be a great way to cheer your dog up, but 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 simply taking some time out of your busy day to sit quietly with your pup, stroke their fur, and chat with them calmly, can help your dog stay calm and feel loved.
Average Recovery Times For Dogs After Surgery
Soft tissue operations such as spaying, neutering, or abdominal surgeries tend to recover more quickly than procedures that involve bones, joints, and ligaments. Many soft tissue surgeries have typically healed about 80% after 2-3 weeks and might be healed completely in about 6 weeks.
On the other hand, surgeries involving bones and ligaments will likely take much longer 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 (CCL).
Reassurance for Caring Dog Owners
Pet parents often feel guilty about restricting their dog's movements for a seemingly long amount of time. But try to keep in mind that dogs generally bounce back much more quickly from surgery than humans do, and by following your vet's post-surgery 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!