Recovery after surgery: How to help your dog heal

Dr. Megan Kelly's top tips for recovery and healing

A bit of TLC is all your fur-kid needs on the road back to health.

No-one enjoys it when their pet has to undergo surgery, but sometimes it is a necessity. A few examples include removal of obstructions or tumours, reconstruction of torn ligaments, dental extraction, and spaying and neutering. Just as humans need special care while recovering, so do our pooches – possibly even more so because they aren’t able to express themselves as clearly as we can.

In the doctor’s rooms

How soon you can collect your dog after the op depends on the procedure, but your vet will ensure he’s awake (albeit groggy) and ready to face the outside world before he is allowed to leave the vet’s rooms.

You will most likely be so relieved to be reunited with your fur-kid, that you probably won’t take in much of what the vet says about post-operative care, so it’s best to write it all down (or ask the vet to do it for you). He will leave you with a list of instructions that include how much medication to give and when, how to care for the wound, and advice on feeding and exercising.

The advice will vary depending on the procedure, but here are some tips on how to help your dog convalesce as safely and comfortably as possible.

The first 24 hours

  • He’ll need plenty of rest. It’s vital that he gets plenty of rest. Not only will the medication cause drowsiness, but rest aids recovery, plus he will simply be exhausted from the stress of the operation.
  • Make him comfortable. While the anaesthetic is wearing off, he will be slightly clumsy and disoriented so make sure his bed is on a flat surface on the ground, and out of high traffic areas. His internal temperature regulator will also be off-kilter so keep him warm (but not too hot) and make sure his bed is in an area free from drafts.
  • Give bland food. Make sure the first meal is bland and easy to digest; chicken and white rice is a good option. But don’t be concerned if he doesn’t want to eat. He will be feeling out of sorts so might not be willing to eat just yet. Just offer it again the next morning.
  • Offer water, but not too much. Provide a bowl of clean, fresh water but monitor the water intake and watch him while he drinks. Too much water on an empty stomach could make him vomit, and if he’s still drowsy, watch that he doesn’t fall asleep in the bowl!
  • Limit (or avoid any) exercise. The vet will give you concrete instructions on this one. Depending on the severity of the surgery, you might need to avoid all exercise for a while. Either way, he shouldn’t do any jumping or stretching. This can pull on the stitches, causing unnecessary pain and another trip to the vet.
  • Protect the wound: Again, the vet will have specific instructions depending on the wound, but it needs to be protected from licking, biting, the stitches being pulled out, or getting infected. This could be in the form of a cone collar (the cone of shame), a bandage, or even a shirt. Watch when he goes to relieve himself that dirt or water doesn’t get into the wound.

The next few days

  • Wound care. Follow the vet’s instructions to the letter, and make sure it’s kept clean and out of harm’s way. Also, watch it closely for signs of infection.
  • Make sure he eats. Seeing as he won’t have eaten for about 24 hours, especially if he refused food the night before, he’s likely to be ravenous. If he didn’t eat it the night before, give him your meal of chicken and rice, otherwise feed him his usual food. But make sure he doesn’t guzzle it, as this is likely to make him sick.
  • Slowly increase exercise. Start taking him for short walks on the leash, to encourage movement and alleviate boredom. But avoid running and jumping.

What to watch for:

In the first 24 hours especially, you need to keep a close eye on your dog for any adverse reactions or abnormal behaviour he might display.

  • Lack of urination or bowel movements. Initially, it’s normal that the digestive system will be out of whack, so there might be very few bowel movements. However, if he hasn’t had a bowel movement by the third day post-op, you need to tell your vet.
  • Vomiting and diarrhea. Initially, vomiting and diarrhea can occur due to the effects of the anaesthetic. Continue feeding a bland diet, making sure there is plenty of water, and if it continues, consult your vet.
  • Lethargy and loss of appetite. After three days or so, he should be back to his usual (if somewhat limited) routine, so watch for signs of extreme lethargy and loss of appetite.
  • Infection in the wound. A small amount of clear fluid, or blood leaking from the wound is normal. But watch for excessive discharge, blood, swelling, fever or if the wound itself is hot. Also keep an eye on the stitches, checking that they are intact.
  • A bit of discomfort is normal, but if your dog is whimpering, very restless and in obvious pain, call your vet. Pain can be managed and it’s important you don’t let him suffer.

You will be scheduled for a post-op follow up with your vet a few days after the surgery.  At this visit, tell him any concerns you have as well as ask any questions you forgot to ask when you picked him up.

Natural supplements, such as Regal’s Recover and Heal Remedy are great for dogs recovering from surgery. It supports the healing, repair, and immune processes, as well as the nervous system, helping with healing from the inside.

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