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How To Take Care Of Your Pet After Surgery

How To Take Care Of Your Pet After Surgery

To help your pet get back to their normal daily routine quickly after surgery, it is important to know how to properly take care of them. Our Long Island vets are here to give you some advice about post-operative care for your pet.


Surgery can be a very stressful time for both you and your pet, but knowing how to take care of them properly after a surgical procedure at one of our Long Island hospitals can help them get back to their normal activities and lifestyle quickly.

No matter what kind of surgery your pet is in need of, your vet, or veterinary surgeon will give you a detailed set of instructions for post-operative care. Make sure that you follow the instructions meticulously 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 Cat or Dog 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 awhile for the effects of general anesthetic to wear off. General anesthetic may leave your pet 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 Pet After Surgery

General anesthetic may also cause your pet to feel a little nauseated, and less likely to want to eat. When it's time to feed your pet after surgery a light meal such as chicken and rice can be easier to digest than regular store-bought pet 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 pet'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 pet 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 pet, speak to your vet. Your vet will be able to recommend a food with all the key ingredients your pet 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

After your pet's surgery, your veterinary surgeon, vet, or nurse will take some time to go over any medications prescribed for your pet's post-surgical pain, the required dose, when it should be given to them 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 pet recovers, without creating any side effects. Keep in mind 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 mediations without consulting your veterinarian first. Many drugs that can help humans to feel better after surgery are toxic to pets.

Keep Your Pet Comfortable

After surgery for your dog, cat, it is important to provide your pets with a comfortable and quiet place to rest, away from other pets and children. If your pet 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 pet to stretch out, so there’s no extra pressure on any bandaged or sensitive parts of their body, may help your pet to feel better after surgery and may even help them to recover faster.

Limiting Movement & Confinement

Regardless of the reason for needing surgery, your vet will likely tell you to limit your pet's activity and movement after surgery. Hasty movements such as stretching can hinder the healing process and can sometimes cause the incision to open back up.

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 pet 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 pet 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 pet’s movements for a good recovery. If your vet recommends cage rest for your pet following surgery, there are ways to help your pet 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 pet's cage is big enough to allow your pet to stand up and turn around. If your pet requires a plastic cone or 'E-Collar' to prevent licking, you may need to purchase a larger cage for your pet to recover in. You will also need to ensure that there is room for food and water dishes, without risking spills that can cause your pet's bedding to become wet and soiled.

Caring for Your Pet's Incision Site

It can be difficult to stop your furry friend 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 pets to adjust to wearing a traditional cone collar (Elizabethan collar) but if your pet 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 pet 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 pet'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 pet from licking the wound in order to prevent infection and allow the wound to heal.

Keeping bandages dry at all times is another key element of helping your pet's incision heal quickly. Whenever your pet goes outside make sure that 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 pet'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 pet'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 Companion Happy While They Recover

Animals simply don't understand that they need to rest to recover 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 pet up but keep in mind that your pet'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 pet 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, although it can take 4, 5, or even 6 months to recover completely 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 pet's movements for a seemingly long amount of time, pets typically bounce back much more quickly from surgery than humans do. By following your vet's post-surgery instructions your pet 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.

If you have questions about your pet's post-operative healing process contact our Long Island emergency vets for guidance. If your pet is in need of urgent care, contact one f our two 24 hour emergency hospitals so your pet can get the care they need.

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