How To Care For Your Pet After Surgery

If your pet is scheduled for surgery it’s important to know how you will need to care for them as they recover, so they can return to their normal life as quickly as possible. Here are some tips from our Tucson vets about how to care for your pet after surgery. 

Follow The Post-Op Instructions

Pets and their owners are bound to feel some anxiety around the time of the surgery, 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.

Following your pet'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 for Pets After Surgery

Our team finds 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 surgeries involving 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 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.

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

Diet & Feeding Your Pet After Surgery

Due to the general anesthetic, your pet may feel somewhat nauseated and 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.

Expect your pet’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.

Pet Pain Management

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.

They 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.

Never provide your pet human medications without first consulting your veterinarian. Many drugs that help us feel better are toxic to our four-legged friends.

Keeping Your Pet Comfortable At Home

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 Movement

Your vet will likely recommend limiting your pet’s movement for a specified period after surgery. 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 staying indoors for a few days, taking only the odd essential trip outside for bathroom breaks.

It can be challenging for some pet parents to keep their dog 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

While most surgeries will not require crate rest, if your pet has had orthopedic surgery, part of recovery will involve strictly limiting their movements.

If your vet 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.

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.

The Incision Site

Pet parents often find it challenging to prevent their pet 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 pets adapt to the collar quickly, but if your pet is struggling to adjust, other options are available. Ask your veterinarian about less cumbersome products such as post-op medical pet shirts or donut-style collars.

Attend Your Pet’s Follow-Up Appointment

The 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.

The veterinary team at Veterinary Specialty Center of Tucson 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 is scheduled to undergo surgery at Veterinary Specialty Center of Tucson contact us to learn more about how you can prepare for your pet's after-care. 

How To Care For Your Pet After Surgery

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