Knowing how to care for your pet properly after surgery can help you to get your dog or cat back to feeling better, quickly and safely. Today our Redding vets share some tips on how to care for your pet following surgery.
Surgery can be stressful both for your pet and for you, but knowing how to look after them following surgery is important for helping your cat or dog get back to their normal, active, lifestyle.
Regardless of what type of surgery your pet is undergoing, your vet will provide you with specific instructions on how to look after 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. The anesthetic may leave your pet feeling a little sleepy, and shaky on their feet. These side effects are normal and with a little time to recuperate, they should resolve quickly.
Other things that you may notice due to the general anesthetic or the surgery itself include more subdued behavior than usual, seeming bruised or soreness, and a temporary lack of appetite.
Feeding Your Pet After Surgery
A general anesthetic may also cause your cat or dog to feel a little queasy, and less inclined to eat. When it's time to feed your pet after surgery a light meal could be easier on the digestion than their regular store-bought foods. Your pet should regain its appetite within 24 hours or so after surgery, and should easily return to eating its regular diet. However, 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 (and regularly) is key to 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.
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 pet'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 to effectively prevent any unnecessary pain while your dog or cat 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 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 their beloved pets.
Keep Your Pet Comfortable
After your pet has had surgery, provide them with a comfortable and quiet place to rest away from other pets and children. If your pet usually sleeps in a small bed, it may be worth it to get a slightly larger bed so that the incision site isn't stretched and pulled, possibly causing pain. If your pet can stretch out, this relieves extra pressure on any bandaged or sensitive parts of their body and may help your pet feel better after surgery.
Limiting Movement & Confinement
Regardless of the type or reason for your pet's surgery, it is likely that your vet will recommend limiting your animal friend's activities and movement after surgery. Sudden movements can affect the healing process and may even reopen the incision.
Fortunately, many surgeries don’t necessitate significant confinement like complete ‘cage-rest’ for your pet to heal, and most indoor-outdoor pets cope well with being kept inside for a few days (with only essential trips outside for toilet breaks). Of course, a harder task may be preventing your cat or 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 pet to one safe and comfortable room for a while.
However, there are some cases - especially for dogs who've had orthopedic surgery - that usually require strict limitations on their movements to properly recover. Your veterinarian or vet surgeon will provide you with instructions about limiting your pet's movements; follow them closely.
Caring for Your Pet's Incision Site
It can be challenging to prevent your pet from biting, chewing, or scratching at the incision site or bandages. A plastic cone-shaped collar (available in hard and softer versions) is a tried-and-true 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 cat or dog is struggling to adjust to wearing one, there are other options available that are effective and less cumbersome including 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 or easily eat or drink 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 the wound that simply dissolves as the incision heals. Regardless, you will still need to prevent your pet from licking the wound to prevent infection and allow it to heal.
Keeping bandages dry at all times is another key element of helping your pet's surgical incision heal quickly. If your pet goes outside, supervise them and make sure that the bandages are covered with a plastic bag or cling wrap to protect them from the damp 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 allow your vet to monitor your pet's progress and identify any signs of infection before they worsen. 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, so it's best to leave the bandage changes to them.
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 Pet Happy While They Recover
Your pet can't understand that they are 'in recovery and may become frustrated by being constrained in their activities, the itchiness of their incision site, or just the overall lack of stimulation following surgery. During this time, it's important to give your pet some extra care, love, and mental stimulation in other ways.
Cats and dogs play very differently, so speak to your vet or vet surgeon about activities and games that you can use to occupy your pet as they recover from surgery.
Treats are often a great way to cheer your pet up but keep in mind that their reduced activity means that they are burning fewer calories, so be wary of weight gain.
Take some time to interact with your dog or cat in the way they like best - whether that's petting their fur while talking soothingly to them, or just sitting quietly nearby with a book.
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 a significantly longer time to heal 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 and activities for what seems like a long time, our animal companions typically bounce back much more quickly from surgery than humans do. By following your vet's post-surgery instructions your cat or dog will be feeling good and back to their normal 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.