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How to Care for Your Pet After They’ve Had Surgery

By Wendy Rose Gould
June 24, 2019 • 4 min. read
tips for pets after surgery

Even if you know that surgery was the best thing you could do for your cat or dog, watching them recover is never fun for a pet parent. For starters, though pets have their own way of communicating it’s not like they can clearly tell us how they’re feeling or what they need. For that reason, pet post-op care can sometimes be a bit of a guessing game. Second, you know that your otherwise peppy pet is probably eager to get out and play or resume their usual activities, but since they can’t comprehend the need for laying low, you have to play the role of meanie pet parent. And of course, it’s never fun to see them in any kind of discomfort or pain.

Whether your pet is recovering from something minor and routine — such as neutering, spaying, or a lump extraction — that requires only a few days of recovery, or they’re dealing with some major recovery time following something like an ACL or a hip surgery, it’s important to remain alert, patient, and firm. Doing so will prevent disruption at the surgery site and ensure a swift recovery.

Get All the Pertinent Post-Op Details from Your Vet

Your veterinarian should be pretty communicative about what your pet needs in the days and weeks that follow their surgery. Now’s the time to listen very carefully to their orders and advice, and to also ask any questions you might have.

“We always discuss post-operative care with the owner,” says Dr. Grant Poolman, a veterinary surgeon at Bowral Veterinary Hospital in New South Wales, Australia. “However, people are so keen to get their dog home they’re only half listening to the instructions. That’s why it’s so important that they leave with something in their hand they can re-check when they get home.”

You’ll want to know specifics on how to care for your pet, whether their diet needs to be altered, how to administer post-op medication (if necessary), and what to look for in terms of surgical complications. Don’t hesitate to call the office if you have more questions after leaving.

Look for Signs of Pain and Manage Accordingly

Just like humans, cats and dogs will experience pain and discomfort following their surgery. They can’t vocalize the pain, but you can look for other signs. Dogs often indicate pain by crying, grimacing, and biting. Cats usually offer more subtle cues like growling, hiding, and not eating.

Your veterinarian should provide you with information about managing pain, and they might give a prescription to help. You can also help by stroking your pet (not near the wound site) to help them calm down, showing them affection, using dry compresses (if allowed by your vet), and by providing them with comfortable sleeping accommodations. Do not administer acetaminophen, which is toxic.

Keep an Eye on Your Pet’s Eating and Drinking Habits

A reduced appetite is fairly common following both minor and major pet surgeries. Eating and drinking requires work, and your pet will likely be feeling lethargic. For dogs that are reluctant to eat their usual fare, Asheville Veterinary Specialists recommends offering a cooked diet that has a one-to-one ratio for protein and carbohydrate sources. Fresh water should be available at all times, and it’s important to make sure your pet is getting H2O even if they’re not keen on the idea.

Make Sure They’re Not Too Rambunctious

Limiting your pet’s activity can be one of the more difficult aspects of taking care of them after surgery. Even if they’re ready to rumble, your pet needs to chill for as long as the vet recommended. This includes not playing games of fetch, running in the dog park, hopping on top of the fridge or other high spots, and using stairs. Also, and this might not be easy, keep your pet away from other pets and young children during their recovery.

All the above can disrupt the surgery site from healing as it should, and it can even result in damage.  Stick to slow, short walks, supervised time in the backyard, and toys that don’t require a ton of movement. It also may be helpful to confine your pet in a kennel or a small room.

Carefully Monitor the Surgical Site

Monitor your pet’s surgery site very closely. Look for signs of infection, which include inflammation, redness, and oozing, and make sure the wound is always dry. Also — and this one’s tricky to prevent — your pet shouldn’t scratch, bite, or lick the incision site. They may feel very inclined to do so as it’s healing, but this can lead to complications.

“If a pet licks their incision it will actually delay the healing process because they usually lick too much and traumatize the area,” the AVS says. Licking, biting, and itching the area can also remove stitches or staples prematurely, further delaying the healing process. Elizabethan collars, or “e-collars,” can help curb this behavior.

If there’s ever any doubt about caring for your pet after surgery, pick up the phone and call the vet, Poolman says. Most provide after-hours services.

The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional veterinarian advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your veterinarian or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical diagnosis, condition, or treatment options.

No matter the reason why your pet has had to have surgery, it’s never a fun time for you, your pet, or your wallet. To help safeguard your bub and your bank account, look into getting pet health insurance. You can get a free pet insurance quote here.

wendy gould
By Wendy Rose Gould

Wendy Rose Gould is a freelance lifestyle reporter based in Phoenix, Arizona. She has been in journalism for over a decade, and has been freelancing almost that entire time. In addition to lifestyle reporting, she also works with brands to create marketing content for their websites and blogs.

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