Cut paws, cat bites, broken bones, infected toes, lacerations, abdominal surgeries, growth removals … just another day at the office.
One might think I’d be stressed about the surgeries, but no, your vet is usually stressed about the aftercare. Will my incision, bandage or splint look the way it’s supposed to when my patient returns for a recheck? Every vet eyes with trepidation the appointment schedule that reads “cat took off own bandage” or “dog chewed out all sutures.”
These mishaps can set up an adversarial relationship between client and veterinarian. When the pet may be the only guilty party here, humans, often acting out of anger, fear, disappointment or guilt, may go to that destructive default mechanism known as the blame game.
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The Blame Game
The client is thinking, “Why didn’t my vet tell me he couldn’t run free in the woods?” while the vet’s brain is thinking, “I’ll bet they don’t know what ‘restricted activity’ means.”
Is the person guilty because they didn’t follow post-op instructions — and they know it? Is the vet guilty because they were wishy-washy about using the Elizabethan collar or didn’t explain splint care adequately? Or was the pet so deviously clever that they opened a closed door, ran out in the mud, got the bandage wet so it was easier to remove and chewed out all the sutures in their hock?
Let’s face it — in these situations, client and veterinarian both feel crappy. And what about the poor fuzzball who might have to have another sedation or surgery? And then there’s the cost. Depending on the situation, this could cost a little or a lot.
Yep — all would be better if these episodes could be avoided in the first place. So let’s see how to do that.
Post-Op Discussion Takes Place at the Pre-Op
Before I place scalpel to skin or reach for that splint or bandage material, I am already thinking about aftercare.
This is a great time to share my concerns and post-op plan with the client. Although I can’t predict every situation, the individual patient, the type of incision, wound or bandage care and the particular person give me a lot to think about. Talking all this out with the client before surgery makes time for preparations, both physical and mental.
- How nutty (fun-loving? athletic? chewy? neurotic?) is this pet?
- Has the pet been self-traumatizing this growth, tumor or foot lesion prior to the surgery, meaning it’s very likely the pet is at more risk for self-traumatizing after the surgery?
- Will a soft, inflatable collar work, or can the pet get to the sutures while wearing it? Will the pet tolerate a huge E collar? Should we look into a comfortable body bandage? Do we have to special order it?
- How much pain medication will this particular patient need? Should I prescribe a slight tranquilizer to that 6-month-old Labrador for a few days?
- Is the person physically able to leash-walk this dog for a week after surgery while wearing an E collar? How crazy does the dog go in a fenced-in yard?
- Can the person easily take the E collar on and off and be trusted to use it religiously?
- Is it better — and is it possible — to bandage rather than use a restraining collar of any sort? Bandage care is critically important. If kids are involved, they can pick the iridescent pink or dog-bone patterned bandage material. I can tell the kids like to keep a close eye on Rufus’ bandage!
- Do the pet and the person make a happy, willing duo for bandage changes and wound care at home? The person should not be too squeamish nor the pet aggressive or hard to handle.
If bandage changes are essential and have to be done at the hospital, or if a severe wound such as a burn or de-gloving injury is going to take months to heal, I like to hand clients an estimate of what 2 months of wound care is going to cost so everyone’s on the same page.
Is the person aware of the cost of a professional paw cover or recovery body suit? Will they go home with it or decline it at discharge?
This is a good time to suggest the $40–$50 dollars spent on comfy post-op apparel; it is far less of a financial insult than a surgical charge for a major re-suture. Some people are highly creative with T-shirts and onesies, or they can go online and purchase their own camouflage cat body suit.
Can this surgery be planned in advance to insure the person will have time to monitor aftercare? Is the weather a factor?
A prime example of this is the timing of an ACL (cruciate) repair in a dog. Most people would prefer not to be battling ice and snow but also would like the pup to be in decent shape for the spring and summer months. Timing and weather definitely should be considered.
- Will the pet be able to do the required steps in and out of the house after surgery? Does the house need to be modified?
- Is the pet crate-trained, if necessary? Can the E collar be worn inside the crate?
- Are there other pets in the home who may cause complications?
- Can the parent prepare an ice-free, mud-free path to ensure safety as the long journey of recovery begins after a knee or orthopedic surgery?
This dog is very vocal regarding his feelings about surgery:
Animals Are Freedom Lovers
Animals love their freedom, and restraint of any kind bugs them.
An animal’s common sense is far different from our own. If their stitches are itchy, animal common sense says, “Let’s chew them out.” If a splint is limiting their mobility, animal common sense says, “Let me just rip this thing off my leg.” And that survival instinct is strong.
So many of my patients don’t show pain; they run around with a big belly incision like they’re training for a marathon, not recovering from abdominal surgery. We must be their common sense.
If their free spirit wins out despite your best efforts and your vet’s recommendations, incisions and bandages can just about always be made right again. Please don’t hesitate, however, to call when you first notice a problem. A bandage that’s just a little wet or an incision with just a little hole in the center will only get worse if not corrected.
Take the patient back as soon as a problem is evident. A “while you wait” surgical staple or an industrial-size bandage may be all that is required.
Early intervention is key. And the good news? Most typical incisions and bandaging issues heal uneventfully in about 10 days. May the post-op guardians of pet incisions be with you.
This pet health content was written by a veterinarian, Dr. Debora Lichtenberg, VMD. It was last reviewed March 28, 2018.
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