Post-Operative Instructions in Dogs

By Tammy Hunter, DVM; Catherine Barnette, DVM

What should I do when my dog arrives home after surgery?

After arriving home, you should keep your dog warm and comfortable by providing a soft, clean bed, ideally in a quiet and draft-free room at a comfortable room temperature (68-75°F or 20-24°C). Your dog should remain indoors overnight, going outside only for short leash walks as needed to urinate and defecate.

For most procedures, your dog’s activity should be restricted for one week after surgery. It is essential to avoid running, jumping, and other strenuous activities that could cause excessive strain on the wound.

When can I feed my dog?

You may offer your dog approximately half his regular dinner a few hours after arriving home. If he eats this and still seems hungry, you may offer the rest of his meal approximately one hour later. Some dogs experience nausea after general anesthesia, so dividing the meal into smaller portions may decrease the risk of nausea and vomiting. Unless otherwise instructed, your dog’s access to water should not be restricted.

"...dividing the meal into smaller portions may decrease the risk of nausea and vomiting."

My dog is very sleepy. Is this normal?

Your dog was given a general anesthetic or a sedative. These drugs can take several hours to wear off and may cause some patients to appear drowsy for a day or so. Over the next 24-48 hours, your dog's behavior should gradually return to normal. However, do not hesitate to contact the hospital if you are concerned.

Why has my dog's foreleg been shaved?

If your dog has a shaved area on one of his front legs, this is typically where the anesthetic or sedative was administered. Additionally, many dogs receive intravenous (IV) fluids through an IV catheter during surgery. The hair must be removed to allow the area to be adequately disinfected before inserting the catheter. Sometimes this area will be bandaged; if so, you can remove the bandage the day after the surgery unless otherwise instructed.

My dog has developed a slight cough since the operation. Should I be concerned?

Your dog may have had a tube placed in the trachea (windpipe) during anesthesia to administer oxygen and anesthetic gas. This can occasionally cause mild irritation and a slight cough. A mild post-surgical cough will typically diminish over the next few days. If coughing persists or worsens, contact the hospital.

What should I do if my dog is licking its wound or chewing the stitches?

Your dog instinctively may try to clean his surgical site by licking. If you have been given an Elizabethan collar (often referred to as a cone or E-collar) or recovery suit, please ensure it is used to prevent chewing. If you have not been given one of these items and your dog begins licking or chewing the incision, please contact the hospital and request one.

"It only takes a few seconds of chewing for a dog to remove his stitches or damage the surgery site."

Not surprisingly, many dogs find these collars strange at first and will attempt to remove them. However, after a short period, most dogs will settle down and tolerate wearing the collar. It is better to keep the collar on constantly rather than take it on and off. It only takes a few seconds of chewing for a dog to remove his stitches or damage the surgery site. If your dog does succeed in removing any stitches, please call the hospital as soon as possible.

What should the incision look like, and when should I be concerned?

The incision should generally be clean, and the edges should be together. The skin surrounding the incision should be a normal or slightly reddish-pink color. In pale-skinned dogs, bruising is often seen around the surgical site. This may not appear until a few days after the operation and, in some cases, can seem excessive compared to the size of the incision. This is due to seepage of blood under the skin’s edges and is a normal occurrence. Sometimes, a small amount of blood may seep intermittently from a fresh incision for up to 24 hours, especially if the animal is active.

You should be concerned and should contact the hospital immediately if you see any of the following at the surgical site:

  • Continuous or excessive blood draining
  • Intermittent blood seepage that continues for more than 24 hours
  • Excessive swelling or redness of the skin
  • Unpleasant odor or discharge

When do the stitches need to be removed?

Most skin stitches or sutures are generally removed seven to fourteen days after the operation; the actual time depends on the type of surgery performed. You will be instructed if and when your dog should return for suture removal. In some cases, your veterinarian may use sutures that do not require removal. These sutures are placed under your dog’s skin and will dissolve in the coming weeks. Contact your veterinarian if you have any questions regarding your dog’s stitches.

"In some cases, your veterinarian may use sutures that do not require removal."

When can my dog resume normal activities?

This will depend upon the type of operation your dog underwent. In most cases, your dog’s activity will need to be restricted for at least one to two weeks or until the sutures are removed (if the sutures are to be removed). During this time, limiting your dog’s activity is essential to prevent the incision from opening. It is also essential to avoid swimming or baths during this time, as moisture can help introduce bacteria into the wound and lead to infection. Your veterinarian will give you detailed instructions on activity restrictions and other post-operative instructions.

Will my dog receive medication after his surgery?

After surgery, your dog may be sent home with pain or other oral medications. If you have been given any medication to give your dog, please READ THE LABEL CAREFULLY and ensure that you administer ALL medication as instructed. If you are having trouble treating your dog, please contact the hospital for advice.

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