Tips to Speed Your Pet’s Healing Time After Surgery

Knowing how to care for your pet properly after surgery can help you to get your pet back to normal as quickly as possible, without complications. Our Stanwood vets share a few tips on how to care for your pet following surgery.

Follow Your Vet's Post-Op Instructions

Surgery can be a stressful time for pet parents and pets alike, but knowing how to look after your pet following surgery is important for helping your animal get back to its normal, active, lifestyle.

No matter which type of surgery your pet is scheduled for, your specialist, vet, or veterinary surgeon will be sure to provide you with clear and specific instructions on how to care for your pet following the operation. Be sure to follow your vet's instructions carefully, there may be very specific and important instructions relating to the type of surgery your pet has had.

Nonetheless, there are a few basic tips that can help you to keep your pet safe and comfortable while they recover and get back to normal. 

What to Expect After Surgery

The majority of veterinary surgical procedures require the use of a 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 lingering effects of general anesthetic may leave your pet feeling a little sleepy, or shaky on their feet. These side effects are normal and with a little rest should disappear very quickly.

A few other side effects that you may notice, 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

A general anesthetic could cause your pet to feel a little queasy, and lose its appetite. When it's time to feed your pet after surgery try offering your pet a light meal (1/4 or 1/2 of the regular meal) such as chicken and rice which can be easier to digest than regular store-bought pet food. You can expect your pet to regain their appetite within about 24 hours following surgery, at which time they should gradually 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. Loss of appetite can also indicate pain or infection.

It's important to 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 are unsure about what the best food for your pet is, 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 for them to maintain a healthy weight.

Managing Your Pet's Pain after Surgery

After your pet's operation, a veterinary professional will take the time to explain the medications prescribed to manage your pet's post-surgery pain. They will explain the dose required, how often to give the medications 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 pet recovers, without causing any side effects. If you are unsure about any of the instructions ask your vet to clarify. Your veterinary team wants to help you to help your pet recover well.

Antibiotics to prevent infection and pain medication to relieve post-op discomfort are the 2 most commonly prescribed medications for pets after surgery. If your pets are anxious or high-strung your vet may also prescribe a sedative or anti-anxiety medication to help keep them calm while they are healing.

Home remedies aren't 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 safe for pets. Never give human medications to your pet without consulting your veterinarian first. Many drugs that can help humans to feel better are toxic to pets.

Keeping Your Dog Comfortable When They Get Home

After your pet has had surgery it is important to provide them with a comfortable and quiet place to rest, away from children and other pets. If your pet typically curls up on a small bed to sleep you may want to invest in a larger bed so that the incision site isn't pulled. 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 more quickly.

Restricting Your Pet's Movement

Regardless of why your pet is having surgery, it is likely that your vet will recommend limiting your pet's activities and movement for some time following the operation. Sudden stretching and jumping movements can interfere with the healing process and may even cause the incision to reopen.

Most surgeries fortunately will not require significant confinement such as complete ‘crate-rest’ to aid in recovery, and most pets cope well with being kept indoors for a few days (with only essential trips outside for potty breaks). Often, a more difficult task is 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 a safe and comfortable room when you are unable to supervise them directly.

Helping Your Pet When Cage-Rest is Required

That said, orthopedic surgeries often require strictly limiting your pet’s movements for a good recovery. If your vet recommends crate 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 in a crate.

Make sure that your pet's crate 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 crate for your pet to recover. You will also need to ensure that there is plenty of room for food and water dishes, without risking spills that can cause your pet's bedding and bandages to become soiled and wet.

Caring for Your Pet's Incision Site

It can be challenging to prevent your pet from biting, chewing, or scratching at its bandages or incision site. A plastic cone-shaped Elizabethan collar (available in hard and softer versions) is an effective way to prevent your pup from reaching the wound. Dogs can often adjust to wearing a cone collar within a couple of hours, but if your pet is struggling to get used to wearing a cone, there are other options available. Speak to your vet about effective and less cumbersome options such as donut-style collars, or post-surgery jumpsuits (medical pet shirts).

Your Pet's Stitches

Stitches or staples will typically be removed by your vet around 10 - 14 days after surgery.  Depending on the surgery so vets may use stitches placed inside of your pet's wound which dissolve as the incision heals. Your vet will let you know which type of stitches were used to close your pet's incision.

Regardless of which type of stitches your veterinary surgeon uses, you will still need to prevent your pet from licking the wound to prevent infection and allow the wound to heal.

Your Pet's Bandages

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 the damp grass. 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 Your Pet's Follow-Up Appointment

Your pet's follow-up appointment allows your vet to monitor your pet's progress and check for any signs of infection before it becomes more serious.

It is also essential that your pet's bandages aren't left on for too long following the procedure. 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 a good idea 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 Pet Happy During Recovery

Dogs just don't understand when they are in recovery and are likely to become frustrated at the reduced level of activity, the itchiness of their incision site, or just the overall lack of stimulation following surgery, so you must give your pet stimulation and loving 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 pet-friendly chew toys or squeaky playthings. Limit the number of toys you offer your pet to one or two items at a time, and switch to a different toy regularly to help prevent boredom.

Treats can be a great way to cheer up your pet but keep in mind that your pup's reduced activity level means that they are burning fewer calories. Too many treats can equal too much of a good thing.

Remember that simply taking some time out of your busy day to sit quietly with your pup, stroking their fur, and chatting with them calmly, can help your pet stay calm and feel loved. 

Typical Recovery Times For Pets Following Surgery

Soft tissue operations such as spaying, neutering, or abdominal surgeries tend to recover more quickly than procedures involving the bones, joints, and ligaments. Many soft tissue surgeries have typically 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 will likely take much longer and are usually around 80% healed after about 8 - 12 weeks, although it can take as long as 6 months for your pet to recover completely following surgeries such as those to repair a torn cruciate ligament (CCL). 

Reassurance for Loving Pet Parents

Pet parents often feel guilty about restricting their pet's movements for a seemingly long amount of time. But try to keep in mind that pets generally bounce back much more quickly from surgery than humans do, and by following your vet's post-surgery instructions you are doing your very best to help your pet recover quickly, and get back to their normal active lifestyle as soon as possible!

If you're concerned about your pet's recovery from recent surgery, contact your Stanwood vets for advice, or contact us for assistance.