Post – Operative Care for Pets

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Postoperative care in pets

So your furchild has undergone a procedure at the vet, no doubt they are unhappy about this whole ordeal. While the operation is over, the recovery period is just beginning. Let’s look at some of the ways to better prepare ourselves for postoperative care in pets.

Taking your pet home

The vet has called and let you know that your furchild is clear and ready to go home. By the time the vet has handed your furchild over to you, the sedatives used during the procedure would have mostly worn off. However, your pet may still be a bit groggy and off-balance on their feet, so take extra care while driving with them. Let them lie down and have somebody accompany you during the trip and sit with them to keep them calm.

What to do when your pet arrives home after surgery

Keep your pet as comfortable as possible, so a nice clean, soft and warm bed. Try to find a place in the house that is quiet because they will need lots of rest and somewhere free from any drafts so they don’t get a cold

If your pet is an outside dog, allow them this time to sleep inside, especially at night. Take them outside for toilet breaks as and when they need.

For most minor procedures, your pet’s activity should be restricted for at least one week after surgery but this should be confirmed by your vet. It is essential during this recovery period to keep your pet calm and inactive. Running, jumping, or any other strenuous activities could cause damage to the area where the procedure happened.

Feeding a pet after surgery

Some pets will experience nausea so to reduce the risk of nausea or vomiting you can divide their meal into smaller portions. So as an example, a few hours after arriving at home, you could offer your pet half of their usual dinner. If your pet finishes this and still seems hungry, wait about 30 to 60 minutes and give them the rest of the meal. The break will allow the food time to settle in their stomach and not bloat them. Always allow them access to fresh water, only restrict and limit water access if it is directly instructed by the vet.

General behaviour after a surgery

During most procedures, pets will be given sedatives. These drugs can take several hours to wear off and may cause some pets to appear drowsy for a day or so. During the first 24-48 hours, the behaviour of your pet will gradually return to normal. They will be very sleepy and lethargic, don’t panic it is normal, so allow them to rest as much as they need.

Some pets may develop a slight cough after surgery, this is also nothing to be concerned about. Depending on the type of surgery your pet had, they may have had a tube placed in their windpipe .That can cause mild irritation and result in a slight cough which can last a few days. However, if you are concerned, don’t hesitate to contact your vet and ask for advice.

E-collar aka the cone

Sure, nobody loves the E collar — correct name is the Elizabethan Collar, while most of us would refer to it as a plastic cone, lampshade, or cone of shame (don’t let your pet hear the last one).

It is the only sure way to prevent your pet from licking or chewing the wound or gnawing at the bandage.

Vets call the plastic cone a necessary evil. Not surprisingly, many pets find these collars strange at first and will attempt to remove them. However, after a short while, most pets settle down and tolerate wearing the collar. It is better to keep the collar on at all times, rather than taking it on and off. It only takes a few seconds of chewing for a pet to remove its stitches or damage the surgery site. If your pet does get past the e-collar and remove any of its stitches, please call the vet at once, as they might need to be redone.

Vets instructions – follow them always!

When your pet was discharged, the vet would have provided instructions on wound care, any medication to be given and possibly light physio or activity. You must follow the instructions given by the vet to help the recovery of your pet.

While the vet is explaining , we suggest that you make notes, some vets will provide a printed copy of the instructions as well. Most importantly, never be embarrassed to ask questions, after all, they are the experts and you have entrusted them to provide care to your pet.


After surgery, your pet may be sent home with pain medication, antibiotics, or ointments. If you have been given any medication to give to your pet, please READ THE LABEL CAREFULLY and ensure that you give all medication as instructed by the vet. If you are unsure about any of the medications or doses please contact the vet straight away to guide you through the process. Some medications will leave a horrible taste in the mouth of your pet so best to be prepared with treats.

Wound care 

Seeing as not all of us are vets and experts in wound care, we should firstly know what a clean and ‘healthy’ wound should look like. The incision should be clean and the edges should be together. The skin surrounding the incision should be a normal or slightly reddish-pink colour. A small bit of swelling at first is normal but this should go down very quickly.

For up to 24hours after the surgery a small amount of blood might seep from the wound, depending on where the incision is and how active the pet has been. This is normal as well.

If you see any of the following at or around the wound, you should then call the vet immediately.

  • Continuous bleeding from the wound site.
  • Excessive swelling or redness of the skin.
  • Unpleasant smells or discharge coming from the wound

Wound dressings

A bandage that is too tight can do lots of damage but cutting off circulation and one that is too loose can cause your pet to become irritated and pull it off.

If you see the following signs, contact the vet immediately:

  • Frantic gnawing at the dressing: Be especially vigilant for this if your pet was previously comfortable but has suddenly developed obsessive and frantic chewing where the dressing is.
  • Swollen toes: Sometimes the vet deliberately leaves a couple of toes out of the dressing. If these seem swollen, it’s a sign the dressing is too tight. Compare both feet if you’re in doubt.
  • A bad smell or weeping: If the bandage covers a wound that was caused by a rip or tear, it may be expected that the wound will weep a bit. The vet should warn you if this is the case, however, if it starts to seep through the bandage or start bleeding again it is advisable to contact the vet. If the bandage covers a surgical site, generally, the dressing should stay clean and dry. Beware of bad smells coming from the wound — if it occurs, contact the vet immediately.

If in doubt or you can’t get hold of the vet, it may be safest (depending on the purpose of the bandage) to remove the bandage altogether

Stitches and removal of them

In most cases of general procedures, stitches are removed after +/- 14 days. The actual time frame would depend on the type of surgery that your pet had and the vet’s guidelines. You will be instructed if and when your pet should return for its removal.

In some cases, your vet may use stitches that do not need to be removed. They are placed under the skin and will dissolve in roughly 14 days. If the vet has used stitches that must be removed, it is best to contact them to arrange this. This is also an opportunity for the vet to check the recovery of your pet as well.

The best way to care for your pet after a procedure is to be prepared. Make sure you have everything your pet will need on hand and ready for them before they arrive home. When you are unsure, ask your vet as they are always willing to help.