Recovering from surgery is never fun, especially for pets that are eager to get out and play. Unlike humans we care for after surgery, pets can’t tell us exactly what hurts or if there’s anything they need.
Some procedures, such as spay/neutering, put pets out of commission for a couple of days, while others like ACL or hip surgery require months of recovery. While we humans understand the meaning of laying low after surgery, pets often want to frolic in spite of stitches, casts or other post-operative accouterments that should theoretically hold them back.
Image via Can Stock Photo
Pet parents must be especially vigilant, or else they risk delayed healing processes, or worse — additional surgery. Follow these general guidelines to keep pets healthy following an operation:
Have all information from your vet
Before you step outside of the animal hospital, make sure you have and understand information relevant to after-care treatments and medication. “We always discuss post-operative care with the owner,” says Dr. Grant Poolman, a veterinary surgeon at Bowral Veterinary Hospital in New South Wales, Australia. “However, people are so keen to get their dog home they’re only half listening to the instructions. That’s why it’s so important that they leave with something in their hand they can re-check when they get home.”
Ask about your veterinarian’s procedures for after-hours help in case you do encounter a problem.
Closely monitor eating and drinking habits
A diminished appetite isn't uncommon after surgery. For dogs that are reluctant to eat their usual fare, Asheville Veterinary Specialists recommends offering a cooked diet that has a one-to-one ratio for protein and carbohydrate sources. Fresh water should be available at all times.
Although Fido may feel up for a round of frisbee after a few days, it’s probably not a good idea. Short walks and trips to the backyard are OK, Poolman says, but avoid jumping and going up and down stairs. If pets are required to be crated after surgery, make sure they have enough room to move and toys to play with. Otherwise they may be so bored that they’ll start interfering with their wounds.
Manage pain smartly
Cats and dogs might not be able to vocalize pain, but they have other ways to signal distress. Dogs often indicate pain by crying, grimacing and biting when parents get near the surgical site. Cats usually offer more subtle cues like growling and hiding.
Pet parents should give pets medication as prescribed, but beware of common human painkillers. Acetaminophen, for instance, can be toxic to pets.
Keep an eye on surgical sites
While some swelling is typical after surgery, incision sites should remain dry. Under no circumstances should pets lick their wounds. “If a pet licks their incision it will actually delay the healing process because they usually lick too much and traumatize the area,” the AVS says. Licking the area can also remove stitches or staples prematurely, further delaying the healing process. Elizabethan collars, or “e-collars,” can be work to prevent licking.
If there’s ever any doubt about caring for your pet after surgery, pick up the phone and call the vet, Poolman says. Most provide after-hours services. While pet insurance takes much of the financial and emotional stress out of animal surgery, it’s up to parents to help their dogs and cats have a speedy recovery.
Get pet insurance
We may be a little biased, being a pet insurance company, but we truly believe in the peace of mind it gives pet parents. Covering most non-preexisting conditions, a pet insurance policy ensures you'll never have to make hard decisions about your pet’s health.