Despite the best of care, your dog may require surgery at some stage of its life.

Cyndi Tebbel has talked to the experts for tips on how to care for your post-operative dog.

In an ideal world, no dog would have to endure any surgery. However, it’s not unusual for an illness or accident to necessitate surgical intervention.

Some of the more common procedures undertaken at veterinary hospitals include spaying and neutering, removal of skin tumours, caesarean sections, the repair of torn cruciate ligaments (around the knee), and dental extractions.

Just like humans, dogs need special attention after they’ve had surgery to ensure they make a full recovery. The degree of post-operative care will always depend on the type of operation and the general condition of the dog, and veterinary hospitals and clinics are careful not to release a pet to its owner until they believe it is safe for it to go home.

When that time comes, these simple steps will help prepare the home environment and other family members so the pet’s recovery is swift and straightforward.

Homeward bound

After any surgical procedure – minor or major – dog owners should expect to receive a fact sheet that details any after-care treatments or medications when they pick up their pet from the veterinary hospital or clinic. The trouble is, according to Bowral veterinary surgeon Dr Grant Poolman, many owners are so eager to return their dogs to familiar surrounding and routines that they may overlook post-operative recommendations.

“We always discuss post-operative care with the owner. However, people are so keen to get their dog home they’re only half listening to the instructions.

“That’s why it’s so important that they leave with something in their hand they can re-check when they get home,” he says.

Depending on the type of surgery and when it was performed, your dog may be drowsy or unsteady when you pick it up from the veterinary hospital. This is usually due to the side-effects of the anaesthetic or sedative, and can last for a few days. Prepare your car to ensure your dog is comfortable and safely secured for the drive home.


Quiet, please!

Your dog’s level of activity may need to be restricted once at home. Dr Poolman stresses that the degree of mobility varies according to the type of surgical procedure and the home situation.

“Some level of mobility is almost always good, but it should be tailored to the individual case,” he says.

Moving quietly on flat surfaces is generally fine, as is a gentle walk or visit to the backyard. But no jumping on the couch or bed, or running up and down the stairs. “And if the dog has had anything other than a very, very minor procedure,” says Dr Poolman, “it should be kept away from dogs and rough playing children for the period that relates to the operation they’ve had.”

Close supervision is especially important for active or excitable dogs, whose boisterous behaviour can put them at greater risk of compilations that may require additional surgery.

While crating is often suggested as a method of keeping a post-operative dog quiet, particularly in cases where it may spend long periods alone left to its own devices, Dr Poolman warns that crating can bore some dogs to the point that they’re more likely to interfere with their wounds.

A warm, clean bed in a quiet spot out of harm’s way should be sufficient. You may also restrict the dog to a small room or install child safety gates to block doorways and staircases.


The road to recovery

A healthy dog that has had an operation will generally not need to change its eating habits. If a dog has a particular illness, a vet may recommend a special diet.  Otherwise, says Dr Poolman, “there are no specific requirements, apart from good nutrition”.

Sometimes a dog may not want to eat after surgery, but appetites are typically restored within a day or so. Offer small amounts of food to begin with; steamed chicken with boiled rice is easily digested.

Fresh water should be available at all times. And keep an eye on the volume of water your dog drinks, as too much or too little can cause problems or be a sign that something is wrong.

If your dog has limited mobility you may be given a sling to support them when climbing stairs, getting into our out of the car and to the toilet. Ramps can also be installed to help with large, heavy dogs. When you’re out and about, try to avoid walking the dog through difficult terrain, puddles and sand at the beach.

Following certain surgeries and procedures, some dogs may need to wear post-operative gear designed to prevent them disrupting the healing process by licking, biting, scratching or otherwise interfering with wounds. The most prevalent is the Elizabethan or e-collar, dubbed the ‘cone of shame’ in the movie Up.

There are several styles of e-collar and it’s the perfect barrier to prevent a dog’s mouth from getting anywhere near where it itches. They’re also flexible enough to allow for all manner of activity, from sleep to play.

But the e-cone can pose problems. Some dogs don’t tolerate them well, either refusing to move or, because the dog’s sight is restricted to a narrow field, running into people, walls and other solid objects. Gentle encouragement will help most dogs get used to wearing an e-collar. Dr Poolman says the major obstacle “is that some dogs find it hard to get their head into their food or water bowl”. He recommends that bowls be small enough to go inside the collar so the dog can easily eat or drink. Raising the bowl and moving it away from the wall can also help.


When in doubt

Dogs should be closely monitored the first few days after surgery. Dr Poolman says that since most major surgery is followed up with antibiotics it shouldn’t be necessary to take your dog’s temperature. But he adds that many people underestimate the need for pain medication. He says spaying, for example, “is not minor surgery and there is a very strong argument that part of the routine after spaying is that all dogs should go home with pain relief”.

In addition to administering medicines and ointments, an owner may occasionally need to clean a wound or change a dressing. However, Dr Poolman says this is rare and it’s usually better to leave well enough alone.

“A nice healthy surgical wound with a sound suture line should not need touching at all. If you need to touch it, follow the vet’s instructions,” he says.If the vet has sent home medication, use that. If you’re still worried, Dr Poolman suggests contacting your vet as most do provide an after-hours service.

His golden rule for post-operative care is to trust your instincts. “If there’s any worry at all, make that phone call and get back to the veterinary practice,” Dr Poolman says. “It may be nothing, but often people don’t know how to grade things. They may think something serious is okay and worry about something minor. The best thing to do is ring.”

Dr Grant Poolman is from Bowral Veterinary Hospital. W: T: (02) 4861 1444.


Post Operative Checklist

• The bed should be clean, with a light-coloured blanket so any discharge from wounds is clearly visible.

• Do not bathe your dog or take it to your groomer until sutures have been removed and wounds have healed.

• If your dog does need an Elizabethan collar, keep your dog away from young children and elderly people who could be knocked over or injured by the collar.

• Ask your vet when your dog can commence its normal daily activity – and follow the advice.