Taking proper care of your pup after they have had surgery can help to ensure that they heal quickly and without complications. Today our vets in Bedford share some tips on how to care for your dog while they recover from surgery.
Surgery can be a stressful time both for your pooch and for you, but knowing how to look after your dog following surgery is important for helping your pet get back to their normal, active, lifestyle.
Regardless of what type of surgery your dog is scheduled to receive, your vet or veterinary surgeon will be sure to provide you with specific instructions on how to care for your pet following the procedure. Be sure to follow your vet's instructions since there may be very specific and important instructions relating to the type of surgery your pet is having.
That said, here are a few basic tips that may help to keep your pet safe and comfortable while they recover and get back to their normal self.
What to Expect After Surgery
Most surgery will require your pet to be under general anesthetic. General anesthetic knocks your pet out and prevents them from feeling any pain during the procedure but it can take a while for the effects of general anesthetic to wear off. General anesthetic may leave your dog feeling a little dozy, and shaky on their feet. These side effects are normal and with a little rest should disappear quickly.
Other things that you may notice, related directly to the general anesthetic or the surgery itself 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 Dog After Surgery
General anesthetic may also cause your dog to feel a little queasy, and less inclined to eat. When it's time to feed your dog after surgery a light meal such as chicken and rice can be easier to digest than regular store-bought dog foods. Your pet should get their appetite back within about 24 hours after surgery, and should easily return to eating their regular diet. That said, if your dog's appetite doesn't return within 48 hours contact your vet or veterinary surgeon for advice. Lack of appetite could indicate pain or infection.
Pet parents should also 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 element of caring for your pet's overall health. If you're not sure what the best food is for your dog, speak to your vet. Your vet will be able to recommend 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 Pet's Pain after Surgery
Following your pet's surgery, the veterinary surgeon, vet, or veterinary nurse will take the time to explain the medications prescribed to help manage your dog's post-surgery pain, the dose required, how often to give them to your pet and how to administer the medications. It is essential for your pet's health that you adhere to your vet's instructions in order to effectively prevent any unnecessary pain while your dog recovers, without creating any side effects. Remember that, while your pet will likely be sore at the incision site, they may also experience discomfort elsewhere due to the internal healing process.
The most commonly prescribed medications for pets after surgery are antibiotics to prevent infection and pain medication to relieve post-op discomfort. If your pet is anxious or high-strung your vet may also prescribe a sedative or anti-anxiety medication to help keep them calm as they heal.
Home remedies aren't typically recommended, however, if there is a remedy that you would like to use in order to help your pet feel better, call your vet to ask if the ingredients are likely to cause any negative effects. Never give pets human medications without consulting your veterinarian first. Many drugs that can help humans to feel better after surgery are toxic to dogs.
Keep your dog comfortable
After your dog has had surgery it is important to provide them with a comfortable and quiet place to rest, away from other pets and children. If your dog typically curls up on a small bed to sleep you may want to invest in a slightly larger bed so that the incision site isn't stretched and pulled, possibly causing your pet pain. 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 to feel better after surgery and may even help them to recover faster.
Limiting Movement & Confinement
Regardless of why your pet is having surgery, it is likely that your vet will recommend limiting your dog's activities and movement following surgery. Sudden stretching movements can interfere with the healing process and may even cause the incision to reopen.
Fortunately, most surgeries don’t require significant confinement such as complete ‘cage-rest’ to aid in recovery, and most pets cope well with being kept indoors for a few days (with only essential trips outside for toilet breaks). Of course, a harder task may be 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 one safe and comfortable room for a while.
That said, there are some cases, such as orthopedic surgery which often require strictly limiting your dog’s movements for a good recovery. If your vet recommends cage rest for your dog following surgery, there are ways to help your dog adjust to this strict confinement and help them to get more comfortable with spending long periods of time in a crate. Make sure that your dog's cage 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 cage for your dog to use during recovery. You will also need to ensure that there is room for food and water dishes, without risking spills that can cause your dog's bedding to become wet and soiled.
Caring for Your Pet's Incision Site
It can be challenging to prevent your pup from biting, chewing or scratching at the incision site or bandages. A plastic cone-shaped collar (available in hard and softer versions) is an effective way to prevent your pet from reaching the wound. It typically takes a couple of hours for dogs to adjust to wearing a traditional cone collar (Elizabethan collar) but if your dog is struggling to get used to one, there are other options available that are effective and less cumbersome such as donut-style collars, or post-surgery jumpsuits (medical pet-shirts). Speak to your vet about other available options, if your dog is unable to relax while wearing a cone collar.
Stitches will typically be removed 10 - 14 days after surgery, although many vets have stopped using external skin sutures, and prefer to use stitches placed inside of your dog's wound which simply dissolves as the incision heals. Regardless of which type of stitches your pet's 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.
Keeping bandages dry at all times is another crucial 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. Remember to 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 the Follow-Up Appointment
Follow-up appointments give your vet the opportunity to monitor your pet's progress and check for any signs of infection before they become more serious. It is also essential that your dog's bandages aren't left on for too long following surgery. 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 best 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 Pooch Happy While They Recover
Dogs simply don't understand when they are in recovery and may 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 reassurance in other ways.
Keep your pup 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. Only offer one or two items at a time, and switch to a different toy on a regular basis to help prevent boredom.
Treats are often a great way to cheer up a dog but keep in mind that your dog's reduced activity means that they are burning fewer calories, too many treats can equal too much of a good thing.
Just taking some time to sit quietly with your pup, stroking their fur and chatting with them calmly, can help your dog stay calm and feel loved.
Recovery Times For Pets After Surgery
In most cases, soft tissue operations such as spaying, neutering or abdominal surgery recover more quickly than procedures involving the bones, joints and ligaments. Many soft tissue operations have healed about 80% after 2-3 weeks and may be completely healed in about 6 weeks.
On the other hand, surgeries involving bones and ligaments can take much longer and are usually around 80% healed after about 8 - 12 weeks. However, it can take 4, 5, or even 6 months to recover completely and return to normal following surgeries such as those to repair a torn cruciate ligament (ACL).
Try to remember that while you may feel guilty about restricting your dog's movements for a seemingly long amount of time, dogs typically bounce back much more quickly from surgery than humans do. By following your vet's post-surgery instructions your dog will be feeling good and back to their normal playful self in no time.
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.