After your pet's surgery, it's important to know how to best take care of them as they recover. We want your pet to return to their normal life as soon as possible, so here are some tips from our Lancaster vets about at-home care after your pet's surgery.
Always Follow Post-Op Instructions
No doubt both you and your pet will feel some stress around the time of your animal companion's procedure. However, knowing how to care for your four-legged family member once the two of you return home is key to helping them get back to being themselves as quickly as possible.
After your pet's surgery, the vet will give clear and detailed instructions regarding how to care for your pet at home. It’s essential to follow these instructions carefully. If there are any steps you do not understand, be sure to ask.
If, once you get home, you realize that you've forgotten how to complete a specific instruction you were given, make sure to contact your vet to clarify.
Typical Recovery Times for Pets After Surgery
We find that most often pets will recover from soft tissue procedures like spaying and neutering or abdominal surgeries more quickly than those operations which involve joints, bones or ligaments. Usually, soft tissue surgeries will be almost entirely healed by the 2 – 3 week mark post-operation. It will likely take about six weeks until your pet is fully healed.
For surgeries involving ligaments and bones, recovery may take much longer – 80% recovery will usually occur about 8 to 12 weeks in, though may take as long as 6 months for complete recovery, such as after an ACL repair surgery.
Here are a few key tips to keep in mind as you try and keep your pet comfortable and content during their at-home recovery:
Effects of General Anesthetic
Your vet will probably use general anesthetic during your pet's procedure. This will have rendered your pet unconscious and prevented them from feeling any pain during their operation. However, it will take some time to wear off after their surgery is complete.
General anesthetic may temporarily cause sleepiness, or make your pet feel shaky on their feet. These are normal after-effects and should disappear quickly with a little rest. Temporary lack of appetite is another common side effect attributed to general anesthesia.
Feeding Your Pet After Surgery
After your vet administers the general anesthetic, your pet may feel somewhat nauseated and lose their appetite. When feeding your pet after surgery, try offering a half-size portion of a light meal such as white rice and unseasoned chicken, which may be easier to digest than regular store-bought pet food.
You can expect your pet's appetite to return within 24 hours of the operation. After that, they can begin to eat their regular food again. If you find that your pet's appetite hasn't returned within 48 hours of their operation, contact your veterinarian or vet surgeon right away, as loss of appetite could indicate excessive pain or an infection in your pet.
Managing A Pet’s Pain After Surgery
Before you and your pet head home after surgery, a veterinary professional explains any medications or pain relievers they have prescribed for your pet so you can manage post-surgery pain or discomfort.
Your vet will tell you about your pet's medication dosage, how often you should provide it, and how to safely administer it. Make sure you follow these instructions as carefully as possible to avoid unnecessary pain and avoid possible side effects. Always follow up with a veterinary professional if you are unsure about the instructions you were given.
Pain medications and/or antibiotics are often prescribed for pets after surgery to help relieve discomfort and to prevent infections following the procedure. If your pet experiences anxiety or tends to be on the high-strung end of the spectrum, your vet may also prescribe an anti-anxiety medication or sedative to help your pet stay calm while healing.
Never give your pet human medication unless instructed to by your vet. Many medications which help humans feel better are toxic to our four-legged friends.
Helping Your Pet Stay Comfortable At Home
After their operation, make sure you create a comfortable and quiet place for your pet to rest. Keep them away from the hustle and bustle of other pets, household chores and kids. Set up a soft bed for them and give them lots of room to spread out so they can avoid putting pressure on parts of their body that could be tender.
Restricting Your Pet’s Movement
After your pet's surgery, your vet will probably recommend that you limit your companion's movement for a period of time. Sudden jumping or stretching can disrupt their healing and potentially reopen an incision.
Thankfully, most procedures won't require significant confinement of your pet such as "crate rest." And the majority of pets will cope well with staying mostly indoors during their recovery - with only infrequent trips outside as required.
However, you may find it difficult to keep your pet from climbing stairs or jumping up on furniture they love to sleep on. Preventing these actions for a few days may require keeping your pet in a safe, comfortable room of the house when you are unable to directly supervise them.
Helping Your Pet With Cage-Rest
Orthopedic surgery, unlike other surgeries which don't require cage-rest, will need strict limiting of your pet's movement and physical exercise. If your vet recommends crate rest for your pet after their surgery, there are plenty of actions you can take to help your dog or cat adjust and cope with their strict confinement to make them as happy and comfortable as possible.
Confirm that the crate is large enough to allow your pet to stand up and turn around. You may need to purchase a larger crate if your pet has a plastic cone or e-collar to prevent licking. Don’t forget to make sure he or she has plenty of room for their water and food dishes, without risking spills that may cause bandages or bedding to become wet and soiled.
Caring For Your Pet’s Stitches
You may notice stitches have been placed on the inside of your pet’s wound rather than the outside; these internal stitches will dissolve as the incision heals.
If your pet has external stitches or staples at the incision site, your vet will need to remove them sometime within 14 days of the surgery. They will let you know what type of stitches they used and about any follow-up care they might require from you.
The Incision Site
You might have a few challenges keeping your pet from chewing, biting, scratching or generally bothering their incision site or bandages. A cone-shaped plastic Elizabethan collar (available in both soft and hard versions) is an effective option to prevent your pet from licking their wound.
Often, pets will adapt to this collar pretty quickly, but if your pet is having a hard time adjusting, there are also other choices available to you. Ask your vet about less clunky, more effective products such as post-op medical pet shirts or donut-style collars.
Keep Your Pet’s Bandages Clean & Dry
Making sure that your cat or dog's bandages are dry at all times is another critical step to helping your pet’s surgical site heal quickly.
Make sure your pet's bandages are covered in plastic wrap or a bag if they need to go outside (e.g. to relieve themselves). This will prevent dampness, grass, or dirt from getting between their bandage and their skin. Remove the waterproof covering when your pet returns inside since it may cause sweat around their incision – and that can lead to infection.
Take Your Pet To Their Follow-Up Appointment
The follow-up appointment allows your vet a chance to monitor your pet’s recovery progress and look for any signs of infection before it develops into a serious condition.
Make sure you change your pet's bandages at the appointed time as well, as leaving bandages on for too long can cause pressure sores or restrict your cat or dog's blood supply. Bringing your pet to your vet for a follow-up appointment allows for them to help you redress their wounds if necessary. This allows for your pet's healing process to remain smooth and on track for a full recovery.
Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.