Advice on Caring For Your Pet After Surgery

Is your cat or dog scheduled for surgery? If so it’s important to know how best to care for them as they recover in order to promote a speedy return to their normal activities. Here are some tips from our Tucson vets on how to care for your pet after surgery. 

Always Follow Your Vet's Post-Op Instructions

You and your pet are bound to feel some anxiety as your animal's surgery date draws near, but knowing how to care for your four-legged friend after they return home is essential to helping your pet get back to normal as quickly as possible.

After your dog or cat's surgery, your veterinarian will provide you with clear and detailed instructions regarding how to care for your pet at home. It’s important to follow these instructions carefully. If there are any steps you do not understand, be sure to ask. Even if you get home and realize you’ve forgotten how to complete a specific instruction, give your vet a call to clarify.

Recovery Times Will Vary Between Pets

Our veterinary professionals find that most pets tend to recover from soft tissue procedures such as abdominal surgeries, spaying or neutering more quickly than operations involving ligaments, bones and joints. Many soft tissue surgeries are about 80% healed 2 - 3 weeks after surgery, and take about 6 weeks to completely heal.

For orthopedic surgeries that involve ligaments and bones, recovery takes much longer. About 80% of your pet's recovery will occur about 8 to 12 weeks after surgery, but many orthopedic surgeries take 6 months or more for complete recovery. Orthopedic surgeries include cruciate ligament (ACL) surgeries.

Here are a few tips from our Tucson vets to help you keep your pet contented and comfortable as they recover at home:

Getting Over the Lingering Effects of General Anesthetic

General anesthetic is used during the surgical procedure to render your pet unconscious and prevent them from feeling any pain during the procedure, but it can take some time to wear off after the surgery is complete.

The medication used as general anesthetic can temporarily cause sleepiness, or make your pet feel shaky on their feet. These lingering after-effects are considered normal and should disappear quickly with a little rest. Temporary lack of appetite is another common side effect attributed to general anesthesia.

Feeding Your Pet After Surgery - What & When

General anesthetic can also cause your pet to feel somewhat nauseated or lose their appetite directly after surgery. When feeding your pet after surgery, try offering a half-size portion of a light meal such as rice and chicken, which may be easier to digest than regular store-bought pet food.

You should expect your dog or cat’s appetite to return within about 24 hours following surgery. At that point, your pet can gradually start to eat their regular food again. If you find that your pet’s appetite hasn’t returned within 48 hours, contact your veterinarian or veterinary surgeon. Loss of appetite can be a sign of infection or pain.

Managing Your Pet's Post-Op Pain & Discomfort

Before you and your pet head home after surgery, a veterinary professional explain any medications or pain relievers they have prescribed for your pet so you can manage post-surgery pain or discomfort.

The veterinary team will explain the dose needed, how often you should provide the medication, and how to safely administer the meds. Be sure to follow these instructions carefully to prevent any unnecessary pain during recovery and to eliminate the risk of side effects. If you are unsure about any instructions, ask follow-up questions.

Pain medications and/or antibiotics are often prescribed for pets after surgery to help relieve discomfort and to prevent infections following the procedure. If your pet experiences anxiety or tends to be on the high-strung end of the spectrum, your vet may also prescribe an anti-anxiety medication or sedative to help your pet stay calm while healing.

If you feel that the prescription provided by your vet isn't being effective, contact your vet right away. It is important never to give your pet human medications without first consulting your veterinarian. Many drugs that help us feel better are toxic to our four-legged friends.

Helping Your Pet Stay Comfortable as They Recover

After surgery, it’s important to provide your pet with a quiet, comfortable place to rest, away from the hustle and bustle of the house, other pets and children. Setting up a comfortable, soft bed and allowing them lots of room to spread out can help to prevent undue pressure on any parts of their body that may be sensitive or bandaged.

Restricting Your Dog or  Cat's Movements

Limiting your pet’s movements for a specified period after surgery will likely be recommended. Sudden jumping or stretching can disrupt the healing process and may even cause the incision to reopen.

Fortunately, most procedures will not require significant confinement such as complete ‘crate-rest’ (cage-rest) to help your pet recover, and most pets will cope well with staying indoors for a few days, taking only the odd essential trip outside for bathroom breaks.

We understand how challenging it can be for some pet parents to keep their dog or cat from climbing stairs or jumping up on furniture they love to sleep on. Preventing these actions for a few days may require keeping your dog in a safe, comfortable room of the house when you are unable to directly supervise them.

Helping Your Pet Cope With Crate Rest

Most surgeries do not require crate rest, that said, if your pet has had orthopedic surgery, part of recovery will involve strictly limiting their movements.

If your veterinarian prescribes crate rest for your pet after surgery, there are measures you can take to help your pet adjust to the strict confinement so they feel more comfortable with spending long periods in their crate.

Make sure that your pet's crate is large enough to allow your fur baby to stand up and turn around. You may need to purchase a larger crate if your dog has a plastic cone or e-collar to prevent licking. Don’t forget to make sure that your animal has plenty of room for their water and food dishes. Spills can make your pet's crate a wet and uncomfortable place to spend time, and cause bandages to become wet and soiled.

What to do About Stitches & Bandages

Stitches that have been placed on the inside of your pet's incision will dissolve as the incision heals.

If staples or stitches have been used on the outside, your vet will need to remove them approximately 10 to 14 days after surgery. Your veterinarian will let you know which type of stitches were used to close your pet’s incision, and about any follow-up care that will be required.

Ensuring bandages are dry at all times is another critical step to helping your pet’s surgical site heal quickly.

If your pet walks around or goes outside, ensure the bandages are covered with cling wrap or a plastic bag to prevent wet grass or dampness from getting between the bandage and their skin. When your pet returns inside, remove the plastic covering, as leaving it on may cause sweat to build up under the bandage, leading to infection.

Monitoring Your Pet's Incision Site

It can be challenging to prevent pets from scratching, chewing, biting or otherwise bothering their incision site or bandages. A cone-shaped plastic Elizabethan collar (available in both soft and hard versions) is an effective option to prevent your pet from licking their wound.

Many dogs and cats adapt to the collar quickly, but if your pet is struggling to adjust, other options are available. Speak to your vet about less cumbersome products such as post-op medical pet shirts or donut-style collars.

Attend Your Pet’s Follow-Up Appointment

Your pet's follow-up appointment gives your vet an opportunity to monitor your pet’s recovery, check for signs of infection, and properly change your pet’s bandages.

Our team at Cortaro Farms Pet Hospital have been trained to correctly dress wounds. Bringing your pet in for their follow-up appointment allows this process to happen - and for us to help keep your pet’s healing on track.

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.

If your pet requires surgery our vets can help. Contact our experienced Tucson vets today to book an examination for your pet, and to learn more about surgery at Cortaro Farms Pet Hospital.