How to Care Your Dog After Surgery

How to Care Your Dog After Surgery

It's important for pet parents to know how to care for their dog following surgery, so that their pooch gets back to a normal, active lifestyle as quickly as possible. Here are a few tips from our Winston-Salem vets on how to care for your pup after surgery.

Always Follow Your Veterinarian's Post-Op Instructions

Surgery is bound to be stressful time for pet parents and pets alike, but knowing how to look after your dog when they get home from surgery is important for helping your dog get back to normal as quickly as possible.

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 want 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 which can help you to 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. General anesthetic makes your pet unconscious and prevents them from feeling any pain during the procedure, but it can take awhile for general anesthetic to wear off after the surgery is done. General anesthetic may temporarily cause your dog to feel sleepy, or shaky on their feet. These side effects are normal and with a little rest should disappear very quickly. Another common side effects due to general anesthetic is a temporary lack of appetite.

Feeding Your Dog After Surgery

General anesthetic may cause your pup to feel little queasy, and lose their 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 pup 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 is ready to head home following surgery, a veterinary professional will take the time to explain the medications prescribed in order 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 the 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 it is likely that your vet will 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 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 in order 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 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 - 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 followup 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-up 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 2-3 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!

If you're concerned about your dog's recovery from recent surgery, contact your primary care vet for advice, or contact us for assistance. Our veterinary professionals at Carolina Veterinary Specialists in Winston-Salem are here to help your pet feel better. 

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