Does the prospect of your dog undergoing surgery fill you with dread? The day of operation is only the beginning, and just as important as the surgeon’s skill is the home care you give your dog afterward.
Your fur friend will be discharged with a list of instructions, such as “No licking the wound.” Sounds simple enough — except things are rarely that straightforward, such as the energetic 6-month-old pup who, 2 days out from surgery, doesn’t understand why she can’t play ball and starts chewing the wallpaper.
So how do you survive that post-op period so you both come out of it unscathed? Here are 18 hints and tips.
Prepare in Advance
1. Crate Training
This gives the pup a safe place to rest (for short periods) if you just can’t calm the “zoomies.”
2. Obedience Training
Basic “Sit,” “Stay,” “Look” and “Leave it” commands mean you can nip that game of chase (which could pop her stitches) in the bud.
3. Dog-Safe Areas
If your dog is going to run upstairs, plan ahead with stair gates or a dog pen.
4. Toilet on the Leash
Train your dog to be happy eliminating while on the leash. This is vital to stop your pup from chasing squirrels and especially important after orthopedic surgery.
5. Sensible Party Planning
Don’t arrange surgery immediately before a major family celebration (it happens). Make sure the home is a quiet, peaceful place for the duration of her recuperation.
What the Vet Can Do
6. Pain Relief
Have painkillers to take home. As the anesthetic wears off, your pup is liable to become sore and miserable.
7. Intradermal Sutures
These sutures hold the skin together from beneath the surface. The advantage is there are no sutures for the dog to chew on and remove.
8. Elizabethan Collar
Your dog has dirty teeth, and too much licking damages tissue and introduces infection. Call it what you want: E collar, Buster collar, lampshade or “cone of shame” — put the collar on and leave it on so your pet gets used to it.
9. Neck Braces
If you don’t fancy your giant dog blundering around the house in a satellite dish-sized collar, use an inflatable neck brace. These help prevent the dog from bending her neck so she physically can’t get around to lick.
10. T-shirts or Boxer Shorts
Get creative with clothing to cover the sutures. Kids’ t-shirts work well, with holes cut in the hem for the dog’s back legs. But avoid using safety pins, which are a swallow hazard.
Taking Things Easy
11. Mental Stimulation
For a couple of days, the dog feels groggy and sore, so rest is easy. However, as the dog feels better, things can get tricky for the next 8 days until the sutures come out. Reduce boredom by using puzzle feeders or a stuffed, frozen Kong.
12. More Training
Another boredom buster is regular, gentle training. If she’s too sore to sit, then how about teaching her “Leave it” or “Look,” or perhaps how to shake paws? Regular sessions spaced over the day will alleviate her frustration at the lack of exercise.
13. On the Leash in the Yard
Unless you trust your dog 100% not to take off after a squirrel or stray cat, keep her on the leash in the yard.
14. Gentle Lead Walks
As the days pass, check with your vet if a gentle lead walk is OK to burn off excess energy that’s giving her the zoomies.
Watch this Bulldog take a crack at walking after coming out of anesthesia:
Caring for Wounds
15. Monitor the Incision
Check the operation site twice daily for redness, swelling or discharge. If you see any of these things, phone the vet for advice.
16. Keeping Wounds Clean
If it’s pouring rain and the yard is a mud bath, speak to your vet about keeping the wound clean. If mud has splashed up onto the wound, try washing it clean by squirting saltwater from a syringe over the area.
17. Keep Dressings Dry
A wet bandage holds moisture against the skin and is damaging. Let the vet know if a dressing gets wet. Likewise, protect a paw dressing with a plastic bag for your walk outside.
18. Watch for Chewing
If the dog is bothered by the bandage, let the vet know — it may be too tight.
And finally, good aftercare speeds up a recovery — but don’t panic if there’s a problem. Contact your vet right away, and you can usually safely avert disaster.
This pet health content was written by a veterinarian, Dr. Pippa Elliott, BVMS, MRCVS. It was last reviewed Sept. 9, 2016.