Post-Operative care: Frequently Asked Questions
Your pet has had a surgical procedure that required general anesthesia. All patients will take some time to recover and get back to feeling normal, regardless of the intensity of the procedure. Below are some of the most common questions we field after surgery.
Please use this sheet as an initial reference to any questions you have. Do not hesitate to reach out to us if you have questions not addressed below or concerns you need addressed. Emailing the surgery department at firstname.lastname@example.org is an excellent way to get a hold of us with non-urgent questions. Most emails will be returned in 24-48 hours. If you don’t hear back from us in a timely manner, or if you have urgent concerns, please call us at 253-983-1114.
What supplies should I have at home for recovery?
The most important thing to provide your pet is a comfortable, safe area to recover. This should be small enough to allow them to get up and move around but should prevent access to slick floors, large areas to run, other pets, stairs, and furniture. You should have ample bedding to provide a soft and readily cleaned area to rest. Dog crates (of various sizes), play or exercise pens, or small rooms (especially for larger dogs) tend to work well to keep pets safe and comfortable during their recovery. Cats present additional challenges, as you also need to restrict their vertical space. Outdoor foldable pet playpens can work great for cats and smaller dogs, and they are relatively inexpensive and readily available on Amazon.
Warm and/or cool compresses will often be recommended after surgery. These can be purchased at a pharmacy or can be made with common house-hold items. Bags of frozen peas or corn wrapped in a clean dry cloth can work very well for cold compresses. Warm compresses can be made with a warm washcloth placed in a Ziploc bag and wrapped in a clean, dry cloth.
What should I expect when my pet arrives home after surgery?
Your pet is recovering from a surgical procedure that required general anesthesia. Even with the most minor of procedures, there will be a period of time for your pet to return to “normal.” In most instances, the first 3-5 days will be the hardest part of the recovery, and most patients will start to feel better about 1 week after surgery. Recovery from this point on will largely be driven by the specifics of what procedure was performed. Many patients will be feeling back to themselves about 2 weeks after surgery.
After arriving home, keep your pet warm and comfortable by providing a soft, clean bed ideally in a quiet, draft-free room.
Your pet should remain indoors and should only go outside under direct supervision for elimination purposes initially until your surgeon indicates it is safe for them to be more active. Please refer to your discharge instructions for a full description of your pet's activity restrictions.
My pet is not eating normally. What should I do?
It is not uncommon for pets to go through a period of inappetence, and sometimes anorexia, following a surgical procedure. You can offer them their normal food after you get home, but do not be surprised if they don’t want to eat initially. Most pets should start to eat by 3-4 days after surgery. You may need to entice them to eat by feeding them a home-cooked diet such as a 50:50 mix of lean meat (boiled chicken breast, lean ground beef, scrambled eggs) and a carbohydrate (rice, pasta, potato). The protein source should be low fat and be rinsed to remove any grease. Meat flavored baby food can also be fed. Feeding smaller, more frequent meals may also help if they seem to be experiencing mild nausea. Please let us know if your pet hasn’t eaten anything within 3 days of surgery, or if they appear nauseated or uncomfortable. Do not restrict water unless instructed by your surgeon.
When will my pet have a bowel movement?
This may be the most common question we get. Between withholding food, anesthesia, inappetence, and pain medications, it is not uncommon for patients to go 5 days without having a bowel movement. There is no need for concern unless your pet is showing signs of discomfort or straining. Alternatively, your pet may have loose stools or diarrhea initially. Most of these problems are temporary and will resolve with time. Please let us know if your pet goes more than 5-7 days without a bowel movement, is straining to defecate, or has diarrhea that does not improve with time.
My pet seems very sleepy. Is this normal?
Your pet was given a general anesthetic and/or a sedative. These drugs can take a number of hours to wear off and may cause some patients to appear drowsy for a day or so, especially in older patients. Over the next 24-48 hours, your pet’s behavior should gradually return to normal. However, if you are at all concerned, do not hesitate to contact the hospital
Why are so many areas shaved?
Shaving haired skin is necessary for multiple reasons for pets. There will typically be a wide shaved area around the primary surgical site, along with at least one shaved area on a leg for the IV catheter. Sometimes there will be additional shaved areas on legs or other regions for additional IV catheters, arterial catheters, ECG leads, epidurals, etc. We assure you we don’t want to shave any more than necessary; however, the intensive monitoring we do to keep your pet safe requires multiple sites to be shaved.
What should I do if my pet is licking or chewing at the incision, stitches or staples, or shaved areas?
This is a common question and concern for recovery. Although there are some procedures where the patients are unable to get to their incisions, you should always err on the side of caution. Many incisional complications can be prevented with owner diligence, thus preventing unnecessary additional visits and cost to you.
Do not allow your pet to lick or chew their incision or stitches. In most instances, you should have been provided an Elizabethan collar (E-collar) at the time of discharge. If you were not given an E-collar and your pet begins licking or chewing the incision, please contact the hospital and request one or pick one up elsewhere. There are many options of E-collars available online, from your veterinarian, or from local pet stores. “The Original Comfy Cone” is a very good upgraded option you can purchase online if you desire. If your pet is able to get at their incision and either remove some of the stitches or staples or cause it to open up, please contact our surgery team immediately.
Many pets will find these collars strange at first and will try their hardest to remove them. In most cases, your pet will calm down after a brief period of time and will learn to navigate the world in their new E-collar. It is better to keep the collar on at all times; however, they can be removed when they are under DIRECT supervision. It only takes a few seconds for a pet to remove their stitches or damage the surgery site.
Beware of other housemates, as they can also damage the incision trying to help their friends out.
What should the incision look like, and when should I be concerned?
The incision should normally be clean and dry. The edges should be together. The skin surrounding the incision will typically be bruised, and some degree of scabbing is normal. Bruising will be more apparent in patients with lighter skin and hair tones. This may not appear until a few days after the operation and in some cases can seem excessive in comparison to the size of the incision. This is due to seepage of blood under the skin edges and is a normal occurrence.
Please let us know if you notice any of the following:
Continuous or excessive bleeding, or intermittent bleeding that persists greater than 24 hours.
Evidence of infection (excessive bruising, opening of the incision, brown or greenish colored discharge, malodorous smell).
When should I bring my pet back for a surgical recheck?
This should be covered in your discharge instructions. Most patients will have some form of a recheck 10-14 days after surgery. If your pet has visible stitches or staples, they will need to come in to have them removed. If you have traveled from a long distance, you may check with your surgeon to see if you can have your regular veterinarian remove the sutures. You will be instructed if and when your pet should return for suture removal.
In many cases, your surgeon may use sutures that do not require removal. These sutures are placed under your pet’s skin and will dissolve in the coming weeks.
We have been performing “virtual” rechecks on a more frequent basis, and there are some instances when these may be appropriate. Your surgeon will let you know if a “virtual” recheck is an option. If your pet is doing very well, the incision looks like it is healing nicely, and you do not have specific concerns, you may opt to schedule a “virtual” recheck by emailing a picture of the incision, a brief update, and any questions you have to email@example.com. In some instances, in-person rechecks will be necessary as dictated by your surgeon; typically for suture removal, radiographs, bandage changes, or physical examinations. Please contact us to schedule a recheck directed to do so, or if you wish to schedule an in person recheck.
My pet has developed a slight cough since surgery. Should I be concerned?
If your pet went under general anesthesia, they had a tube placed in their trachea (windpipe) to administer oxygen and anesthetic gas. This can occasionally cause mild irritation and a slight dry cough. A mild post-surgical cough will typically diminish over the next few days. If coughing persists or worsens, please contact the hospital.
Will my pet receive medication after his surgery?
Your pet will likely go home with several different types of medications. If you have been given any medication to give your pet, please READ THE LABEL CAREFULLY and ensure that you administer all medication as instructed on the bottle’s label and discharge instructions. If you are having trouble treating your pet, please contact the hospital for advice.
When can my pet receive a bath?
It is important to prevent the incision from becoming wet until it is completely healed. Baths are not allowed for a minimum of 2 weeks after surgery, but oftentimes it will take longer for the incision to completely heal (3-4 weeks).
Baths can also introduce additional risks to the recovery (i.e. slipping on slick surfaces, getting the “zoomies” after the bath and running around the house, etc.). Most patients undergoing abdominal procedures can have a bath about 2-3 weeks after surgery, assuming the incision is completely healed and all the crusting and/or scabbing has resolved. Patients undergoing orthopedic procedures may require a longer period before being allowed to be bathed. Please check with your surgeon at your recheck if you have questions when they can have a bath.
Exercise restriction is an imperative part of your pet’s recovery and is a responsibility that largely falls upon you. The degree and length of restriction will be directed by your surgeon and determined by multiple factors. In general, there are several activities that need to be curtailed during your pet's recovery.
Rapid bursts of activities, running, jumping, rough play, chasing and being chased, free access to stairs, and being off leash outdoors should all be restricted until your surgeon indicates it is ok for your pet to resume their normal activities.
How do I keep my pet from playing with their housemates?
Keeping your pet restricted to small spaces where they do not have access to other pets, children, toys, etc. is the most important thing you can do. Use of sedatives, confining or separating housemates, or having friends or family members watch your other pets during the recovery period can also be helpful if you have a multi-pet household.
Should I be concerned about slippery floors at home?
Slippery floors can be problematic during recovery, especially for patients undergoing orthopedic procedures. Limiting access to hardwood or linoleum floors is recommended, as slips or falls can be detrimental to your pets recovery. If you are unable to restrict access to these areas, we recommend you place rugs or runners down to provide better traction during the recovery period.
Is my pet allowed to go up and down stairs?
Stairs introduce an element of risk that should be avoided if possible, especially for orthopedic patients. There are many instances when stairs cannot be completely avoided. In these instances, you will need to restrict your pet’s access to stairs and limit the frequency as much as possible. Unassisted use of stairs is not permitted. Free access to stairs is not allowed, and you should use doors, baby gates, or other means to prevent your pet from using stairs without your help. When stairs cannot be avoided, your pet should be carried, or you should use a leash and the provided sling / harness to assist them up and down stairs during the recovery period. If your pet did not have an orthopedic procedure, slowly walking your pet on a short leash up or down stairs is acceptable if absolutely necessary.
Can my pet jump onto a bed or into a vehicle?
Jumping up or down from elevated surfaces may result in catastrophic complications and should be avoided, especially for orthopedic patients. Your pet should be lifted in or out of your vehicle, and trips should be limited to necessary outings. We discourage your pet from sleeping on an elevated bed, as you will not be able to control their activities while sleeping. If your pet must sleep on your bed, we recommend you place your mattress directly on the floor to reduce the risks of getting on and off the bed.
How do I limit explosive activities from my pet at home?
Many pets have predictable triggers that get them excited. Keeping them confined is your main defensive strategy. Reducing or eliminating the common triggers can also be helpful. Using blinds or curtains can reduce visual stimulation. Leaving the TV on, playing music, or using a white noise machine can help reduce stimulation from common noises. Disconnecting your door bell or putting a sign up to have guests call you to alert you of their arrival can also be very helpful. Reducing visitors and company is recommended if your pet gets very excited with certain visitors. Use of sedatives is recommended when periods of excitement / stimulation cannot be avoided.
What activities are allowed?
All patients are capable and allowed to walk around at times for short distances. Most of our surgical procedures are designed to allow for weight bearing. In most instances, walking can be beneficial for our patients' recoveries, as it can help maintain flexibility, range of motion, cartilage health, and muscling. Walking is usually not the problem. It is the risk of stimulation and excitement during the walk that is typically the problem. Considering this, we recommend restricting activity to walking around on a single floor of your home with excursions outside for elimination purposes only. You will not be able to control every step your pet takes; however, you can control the amount of steps they take and where they take them. The risks of walking your pet around on a leash in your yard are typically much lower than venturing out into your neighborhood. In the end, you will know your pet and environment better than we do and will need to make choices to reduce the risk to your pet's recovery. Other pets, squirrels, rabbits, toys, and kids all can introduce unnecessary risks to your pets recovery, and temporarily changing your routines to reduce exposure to these types of stimulus is strongly recommended to optimize your pets recovery.
I am concerned because my dog is putting a lot of weight on the operated limb sooner than I expected…. Is this ok?
Weight bearing will happen at different times depending on the surgery performed. Your pet can start to use the limb any time they feel comfortable doing so, which will be beneficial when it comes to bone healing, maintaining muscle tone, and cartilage health. As above, explosive activities should be avoided and can result in catastrophic complications
When is my pet allowed to resume their normal activities?
This will be very pet and procedure-dependent. Some patients' recoveries will be shorter and not require extensive changes to their activities, while others may require very strict changes to their activities for several months. Your surgeon will give you guidance regarding your pet’s restrictions, and this guidance may change in the future based upon how the healing and recovering process is going.
What kind of cat litter should I use for my cat after surgery?
Please use a non-clumping, paper-based litter (e.g. “Yesterday’s News” or any other brand commonly available at area pet stores) for the first 2-3 weeks after surgery. Longer term use of this type of litter may be indicated for cats wearing bandages for longer periods of time. Traditional clay-based litters tend to get stuck in incisions and can predispose them to infections.
How do I know if my pet is in pain after surgery?
Accurately assessing pain in our patients is challenging, but there are some methods you can use to help get a rough idea of your pet’s comfort level at home. Start by simple observation: is your pet moving around OK, eating and drinking OK, or are they hiding or protecting their surgical site? If they had surgery on a limb and their limb use is slowly improving day by day, it suggests they are becoming more comfortable at the surgical site. Another method you can use, if you are confident your pet will not bite or injure you, is to gently pet an area far from the surgical site and then slowly move your hand towards the surgical site to apply gentle pressure nearby (do not touch the incision itself). If your pet has no difference in reaction between being touched in an area that did not have surgery compared to gentle pressure near the surgical site, it is unlikely they are in major discomfort. On the other hand, if you observe a consistent or repeatable reaction (e.g. stopping panting, vocalization, pulling away, shift in posture, etc.), it suggests there is some discomfort, and additional pain relief may be in order. Contact the surgery service (by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or you can call the front desk) if you feel there are concerns regarding your pet’s post-op comfort level.
This document is intended to answer many of the common questions associated with a pet's recovery from surgery; however, it is impossible for us to cover every situation that can come up during a patient's recovery. Thank you for entrusting us with your pet’s care! Please email (email@example.com) or call us at (253) 983-1114 if you have any additional questions or concerns!