You would think that when loving pet owners spend two, three or four thousand dollars to have a board-certified surgeon operate on their pet, they would follow post-op instructions conscientiously. Sadly, not all of them do.
Sometimes they get away with it — and sometimes they don’t. When things don’t go well, the one who pays the price is the poor dog or cat.
1. Why do I (almost) always recommend an E collar?
When your vet sends Bailey the Golden Retriever home with a plastic cone (a.k.a. E collar) after surgery, it’s just for your pet to knock things off your coffee table and hurt your shins, right? Wrong. Even though the cone may be an inconvenience for a couple of weeks, the long-term benefits greatly outweigh the short-term stress.
We have no way of communicating to Bailey that licking the spay incision can cause irritation, infection and tissue damage. The only reasonable way we can help is to create an actual physical barrier between him and what he cannot disturb.
We will always remember the sad story of Peanut, a gorgeous 130-pound Great Dane that licked her incision after knee surgery. The owner didn’t believe in plastic cones. “I’m always with him, anyway,” he thought. But licking led to a horrible infection, such that Peanut had to endure an amputation.
2. Why do I often recommend confinement?
“Please keep your pet confined to a small space for 8 weeks after surgery. Leash-walk only for elimination purposes.” This instruction seems simple — but it’s one of the hardest things for owners to understand.
Confined means confined. Not “Oh, he stays near me in the house, anyway,” or “He doesn’t usually run around when he’s outside to go potty” or “His (doggie) brother will be sad that he can’t play. Maybe I’ll just let them be together for a few minutes.”
We hear these classic stories all too often. And they usually precede the statement that Fido isn’t doing well. It is important to keep your pet confined after surgery because we can’t convince him to take it easy — we must force him to be quiet for his own good.
Watch this helpful video for more tips on taking care of your dog after surgery:
Remember, animals don’t hold grudges. Even though Fido may “look sad” while recovering from surgery, he will have a much happier time if he can recover properly and get back to his normal life as soon as possible.
One unfortunate example that can’t be forgotten is the owner of a Dachshund that recently had surgery to remove a slipped disc in his spine. The dog’s favorite place to sit in the house was in a small window seat a few feet off the ground. “He likes to guard the house,” said the owner. Confinement was clearly recommended in the discharge instructions, and explained several times.
Yet one day, the owner placed the dog on his favorite perch and then dozed off. She was unfortunately woken by the cries of the dog, which had fallen from the window seat.
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3. Why do I often recommend weight loss?
“Killing with kindness” is not just a cutesy expression — it’s a real threat in which many pet owners indulge by overfeeding their pets. The result? About 50% of our pets are overweight or obese.
One recent study showed that overweight pets live an average of 2 years less than thin pets. In addition, overweight animals are more at risk for arthritis, heart disease, cancer, torn ligaments, hormonal imbalances, skin conditions, etc.
In other words, excessive weight or obesity decrease quality and quantity of life (or life span). Despite these annoying, if not devastating, consequences, some pet owners are either in denial about their pet’s obesity, or resist making healthy changes for unknown reasons.
Once a pet owner is willing to be part of the solution, we can implement the only two ways to lose weight: eat less and exercise more. If you think, or you know, that your pet is overweight, your family vet will surely be happy to help you guide your pet to a healthy weight. When your pet loses weight, you will notice that (s)he is happier, more active and has a healthier coat.
One of my favorite comments after a patient has reached an ideal weight is when the owner tells me “He acts like a puppy again.”
So if your pet needs surgery, please understand that your surgeon or your family vet has no desire to torture your pet, exacerbate separation anxiety or foster resentment. It is precisely because we care so much that we recommend an E collar, strict confinement and weight loss.
So please help us help your pet, and understand that the short-term pain is very much worth the long-term gain.
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Dr. Zeltzman would like to thank Katie Kegerise, a certified veterinary technician in Reading, Pa., who contributed to this article.