If your dog or cat is scheduled for surgery it’s important to know how you will need to care for them when recovering, so they can return to their normal life as quickly as possible. Here are some tips from our Los Angeles 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.

Your veterinarian will give you clear and detailed instructions on how to care for your pet at home after your pet's surgery. It is critical that you carefully follow these instructions. If you have any questions about any of the steps, please ask. Even if you get home and realize you've forgotten how to do something, call your veterinarian to clarify.

Recovery Times for Pets After Surgery

Most pets recover more quickly from soft tissue procedures like abdominal surgeries and spaying or neutering than from operations involving ligaments, bones, and joints, according to our research. Many soft tissue surgeries are 80 percent healed in two to three weeks and take about six weeks to fully 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 Los Angeles vets to help you keep your pet contented and comfortable as they recover at home:

Getting Over the Effects of General Anesthetic

A 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.

A general anesthetic may make your pet sleepy or shaky on their feet for a short time. These are common side effects that should subside after a short period of rest. Another common side effect of general anesthesia is a temporary loss of appetite.

Diet & Feeding Your Pet After Surgery

Because of the general anesthetic, your cat or dog may feel nauseated and refuse to eat after surgery. Try feeding your pet a half-portion of a light meal like rice and chicken after surgery, 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. A cat or dog not eating after surgery can be a sign of infection or pain. Further, if your dog has a persistent cough after surgery, this may also be a sign to call the vet.

Pet Pain Management

Before you and your pet head home after surgery, a veterinary professional explains 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.

Following surgery, pain medications and/or antibiotics are frequently prescribed for pets to help relieve discomfort and prevent infections. If your pet has anxiety or is on the high-strung end of the spectrum, your veterinarian may prescribe an anti-anxiety medication or sedative to help them relax while they heal.

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

It's critical to give your pet a quiet, comfortable place to rest after surgery, away from the chaos of the house, other pets, and children. Setting up a soft, comfortable bed for them and giving them plenty of room to spread out can help to avoid putting undue pressure on any sensitive or bandaged areas of their body.

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 difficult for some pet parents to keep their dog or cat from jumping up on the furniture they like to sleep on after surgery. When you are unable to directly supervise your dog for a few days, you may need to keep them in a safe, comfortable room of the house.

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 your pet's crate is big enough for him or her to stand up and turn around. If your dog wears a plastic cone or an e-collar to prevent licking, you may need to upgrade to a larger crate. Remember to leave enough space for your animal's water and food dishes. Spills can make your pet's crate a wet and unpleasant place to spend time, as well as cause wet and soiled bandages.

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 goes outside, cover the bandages with cling wrap or a plastic bag to prevent wet grass or dampness from getting between the bandage and their skin. Remove the plastic covering when your pet returns inside, as leaving it on may cause sweat to accumulate under the bandage, resulting in infection.

The Incision Site

Scratching, chewing, biting, or otherwise bothering their incision site or bandages can be difficult for pet parents to prevent. To keep your pet from licking their wound, use a cone-shaped plastic Elizabethan collar (available in both soft and hard versions).

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 allows your vet to monitor your pet’s recovery, check for signs of infection, and properly change your pet’s bandages.

The Washington Dog and Cat Hospital veterinary team has been trained to properly dress wounds. This process can begin when you bring your pet in for their follow-up appointment, and we can assist you in keeping 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 Washington Dog and Cat Hospital in Los Angeles, contact us to learn more about how you can prepare for your pet's after-care.