Beyond the Cone of Shame: Caring for Your Pet After Surgery

Here’s some quick advice to help ensure that your pet’s post-op recovery goes safely and smoothly.

Have a plan to care for your pet after surgery. By: Mike McCune

Are you overwhelmed after your pet’s return from surgery?

Confused by the post-operative care instructions? Scared that you won’t know what to do?

Discharge instructions after surgery usually include monitoring the incision, giving medications, switching to a special diet, confinement and recheck appointments. It’s important to pay attention when your family veterinarian or vet tech goes over this information.

Follow the Instructions

Take a copy home with you. Take notes. And never be embarrassed to ask questions!

It seems that the hardest but most critical things to be strict with are the E collar, diet and confinement.

Sure, nobody really loves the E collar — also known as the Elizabethan collar, plastic cone, lamp shade or cone of shame. But it is the only sure way to prevent your pet from licking or chewing the incision or bandage, thereby allowing proper healing. Sometimes E collars are used to prevent pawing at a wound or scratching it — for example, on the head.

I call the plastic cone a necessary evil. From experience and comments I hear, it’s really not as bad as most people think. The secret is to keep it on at all times so your pet gets used to it quicker.

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Diet and Confinement

Diet after surgery can vary greatly depending on what was done. It might begin with a bland, home-cooked diet, such as lean chicken and rice. The amount of food, number of meals and changes to a special diet will be decided by your vet.

Examples include food specifically designed for weight loss, to prevent bladder stones from coming back or to help with arthritis. You may need to “baby” your pet for a few days with hand feeding.

Confinement may be another challenge — most dogs or cats are used to having free range of the house. Confinement rarely has to be a tiny crate or carrier. The space should be proportionate to the size of your pet. For example, a cat or small dog could be confined to a play pen (upside down so they don’t try to jump out) that can conveniently be moved so your pet is always near you. A medium to large dog may be kept in a small room or in a gated area.

If you have smaller animals, they also need special care after surgery.

This video shows Toby the mouse after surgery and the care he receives to fully recover:

Some temporary rearranging may be necessary so there is no furniture, no steps, no slippery floors. Your vet will let you know how long confinement is needed, based on your pet’s particular surgery and post-op needs. Recovery from a severe fracture will clearly take longer than a spay or a neuter.

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Spend Time With Your Pet

Confinement does not have to be a life-shattering or depressing situation. Depending on your pet’s personality, you might want to overcompensate by showering the pet with TLC.

Find every opportunity to spend quality time with your pet. Make excuses. Be creative. Call in sick (just kidding!).

Think of anything you can do next to your pet, including making phone calls, texting, reading a book or a magazine, Internet shopping, crafting and taking a nap. You may give your dog a chew toy — as long as she does not destroy it and swallow the pieces!

In addition to the tips above, it is important to strictly follow instructions regarding medication dosage and schedule. Your vet may recommend physical therapy or wound care. A comfortable, clean and dry bed is also recommended.

Never hesitate to call your veterinarian if you have a question about post-op care. We’re always happy to help — that’s what we’re here for!

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Kelly Serfas, a certified veterinary technician in Bethlehem, Penn., contributed to this article.

Dr. Phil Zeltzman, DVM, DACVS, CVJ

View posts by Dr. Phil Zeltzman, DVM, DACVS, CVJ
Dr. Phil Zeltzman, DVM, DACVS, CVJ, is a traveling, board-certified veterinary surgeon in the Allentown, Pennsylvania area. He is a certified veterinary journalist, an award-winning author and a prolific speaker. He co-wrote Walk a Hound, Lose a Pound, about weight loss in dogs and humans. He also writes a free weekly newsletter, available at

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