Properly Preparing Your Pet for Surgery Helps Your Vet, Too

Your vet will appreciate your pet being clean and ready on the big day.

Bringing in a dirty pet for surgery may result in a higher risk of post-surgery infection. By: youdooallous

Fall is here — and winter is not far off. It’s rainy, fields are muddy and the smell of wet dog pervades the house. But what has this to do with preparing your pet for surgery?

Help your veterinarian help your pet by preparing your 4-legger properly for a surgical procedure.

You’d be amazed how many dogs are presented for an operation in a filthy state. This is one of my personal annoyances because surgery is a sterile procedure. Yes, of course, the pet is prepped, clipped and scrubbed before going under the scalpel. But if her background level of hygiene is “muddy,” then that animal spends unnecessary time under anesthetic just to get her clean enough to scrub up.

This is where the responsible human comes in. Believe it or not, what you do (or don’t do) in the 24 hours leading up to an operation can make a difference in the safety of your pet’s procedure.

The Most Important Thing

This is a matter of life and death…and it’s in your hands.

When your dog or cat is having surgery, never give food on the morning of the operation (unless, in extremely rare situations, you are instructed to do so by the vet).

It is essential that pets have an empty stomach when having an anesthetic because under anesthesia they lose the ability to swallow. So if they vomit food from the stomach while asleep, there’s a greater chance of them inhaling the vomit, which can either block the windpipe, causing suffocation, or travel to the lungs and set up pneumonia.

Avoiding this is simple when you withhold food from your pet overnight. The standard guidance is:

  • A last meal the night before, preferably before 10 p.m.
  • Water is OK overnight, but remove the bowl around 7 a.m.
  • No breakfast, snacks or treats on the morning of the operation

If your pet has a special health condition in which withholding food is tricky (such as diabetes), then speak with your vet to receive clear instructions.

Don’t feed your pet the morning of the big day — even if he begs you to. Doing so could cause a major complication during his surgery. By: Fabian

Species-Specific Preparations


How else should you prepare your dog for an operation?

This starts the day before by doing…well, nothing. Stick with your regular routine so the dog feels settled. Take her for a walk as normal so she burns off energy, feed her and settle her down at the regular time.

Other things that help include:

  • Groom your dog: Having a knot-free coat means less risk of clipper rash (where the clipper blades dig in and irritate the skin).
  • Bathe the dog: If she has not had a bath for a while, spruce her up a couple of days ahead of time. This decreases the amount of bacteria on the skin and reduces the risk of post-op infection.

Last but not least, on the morning of the operation, take the dog on a short walk so she gets a chance to toilet. If she doesn’t go, tell the vet staff so they can offer her a toilet break soon after admission.


If you have a lone indoor cat, then things couldn’t be simpler: Take his food away at bedtime the night before, and remove the water at 7 a.m. It helps if you’ve trained your cat in advance to be happy in the carrier so he’s not stressed.

In a multi-cat household or if the cat goes outdoors, things are a bit trickier. Either remove all the cats’ food or else keep the patient in a separate room with water and a litter tray.

Keep an outdoor cat inside the night before surgery — then you’ll know she hasn’t dined elsewhere, and she doesn’t disappear when it’s time to leave. If this is super difficult, speak with the clinic’s staff members. They are often happy to admit your pet the night before so she is safe in a bed, ready and waiting for the main event.

This dog’s post-surgery welcoming committee makes for a heartwarming clip:


Rabbits are different from cats and dogs in that they should never be starved. They can’t vomit, so there’s little risk of inhaling food — plus their digestive system must keep ticking over in order to stay healthy.

How You Can Prepare

One final plea: Give the clinic a contact phone number where you can be reached.

In addition, arrange your day so you are available to take a call at all times. Your availability could make the difference between getting everything done under one anesthetic or needing a return trip and going through this prep all over again.


This pet health content was written by a veterinarian, Dr. Pippa Elliott, BVMS, MRCVS. It was last reviewed Oct. 11, 2018.

Dr. Pippa Elliott, BVMS, MRCVS

View posts by Dr. Pippa Elliott, BVMS, MRCVS
Dr. Pippa Elliott, BVMS, MRCVS, is a veterinarian with nearly 30 years of experience in companion animal practice. Dr. Elliott earned her Bachelor of Veterinary Medicine and Surgery from the University of Glasgow. She was also designated a Member of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons. Married with 2 grown-up kids, Dr. Elliott has a naughty puggle called Poggle, 3 cats and a bearded dragon.

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