May 17, 2021

So your pet needs surgery? We know it’s stressful to think of your dog or cat undergoing surgery, but know your veterinarian wouldn’t recommend it if they didn’t think it was necessary.

You’re probably familiar with so-called "routine" surgeries like spaying/neutering and some dental procedures (however, it should be noted that each patient and each surgical procedure is unique). Then there are the urgent surgeries related to fractures, lacerations, or obstructions in the body.

No matter the reason for the surgery, your veterinarian will thoroughly evaluate your pet, which may mean screenings like ultrasounds, blood tests, and radiographs to test your pet’s vitals.

Common Protocols for the Night Before and Morning Of Surgery

As each dog or cat is different, ask your veterinarian for any special considerations. Sometimes, you’ll be instructed to suspend any regular medication, restrict your pet’s activity, and fast your pet. Other times, those won’t matter.

Fasting is Common

You may be instructed to remove your pet's access to food and water for 12 hours prior to surgery. This is important because for some pets, having food or water in the system can interfere with the intubation, or breathing tube, used to deliver anesthesia, as well as the recovery period after sedation. Fasting can help avoid potentially life-threatening aspiration pneumonia, which can happen "when gastrointestinal contents have been inhaled into your [dog's or cat's] lungs. This results in a secondary inflammation and infection of the lung. Due to this inflammation, excessive fluid and mucus accumulate within the lower airway, causing difficulty breathing."

There are exceptions. If you have a puppy or kitten undergoing surgery, you might be instructed to stick to their feeding routine due to their age. The same may be true for diabetic pets. If you’re in any doubt, ask your veterinarian.

Be on Time

Drop off your pet at the scheduled time so the procedure can go as planned. Surgical procedures are generally planned in groups based on the allotted time in the day. The staff plans for pre-surgical and pre-anesthetic care, the surgeries themselves, and then individual patient recovery. Your veterinarian wants to take the time needed to provide high-quality care!

Set up the Recovery Area

When you bring your pet home, it’s normal for them to be groggy for a day or two. Make sure they have a quiet, comfortable place to recover. If you have other pets, be prepared to separate them while your pet heals. This is especially true if you have high energy pets. Rest is critical for recovery.

Your veterinarian will let you know what to look out for: what's "normal" or "abnormal" during recovery. They'll help you manage any pain for your dog or cat, and they'll give you notes when to contact the office for further guidance. Consider the signs of complications carefully before you get home with your best bud. You'll feel better preparing for this, just in case.

5 Recommendations That Will Help Your Dog or Cat Heal Quicker

It’s normal for your pet to be sleepy and lethargic for a day or two after returning home. In fact, resting will help your pet recover quicker, so don’t be concerned if they just nap for the first day or so after coming home. Rest is essential!

However, you will want to keep an eye on them, and here’s what you can expect.

1- Restrict Activity

Surgery is invasive, so the more your dog or cat stays still, the easier it will be for them to heal and the tissues to repair properly. Moving around can make it tougher for the tissues to heal which increases the risk of infection.

Broadly speaking, restrictive activity means no running, jumping, or roughhousing, though you'll talk with your veterinarian about specifics for your pet. A typical spaying/neutering can mean a few days of restriction, while major surgery like repairing broken bones can mean activity restriction for six weeks or more.

When you return home, if possible, let your pet recover in a comfortable, safe space they choose. If you have other pets, you may need to restrict their activity around your recovering patient. Again, you know your animals, so discuss with your veterinarian and use your judgment.

2- Watch for Unusual Behavior

Anesthesia and surgery affect every animal differently, which is why it’s essential to keep an eye on them for odd behavior as they recover. The first 24-48 hours are especially critical, so if you notice any type of unsteady gait, trouble breathing, vomiting, or lack of appetite, please call your veterinarian.

3- Prevent Licking

No one loves the cone collars, but they do prevent dogs and cats from licking surgical areas. Licking can introduce bacteria into suture sites and cause an infection. So if you can prevent your pet from licking the area without the Elizabethan collar, fine, but if you need one, don’t hesitate to use it!

4- Medications

You may be sent home with antibiotics and/or pain medications. Please follow your veterinarian’s instructions to the letter, and never offer your dog or cat human medication as they could be toxic.

5- Supervise Bathroom Activities

Part of restricting your pet’s behavior is monitoring outdoor activities. Keep your dog on a leash, and keep those outside potty trips short. Quick forays into the backyard should be sufficient in the early days.

Ask Questions

While you’ll likely receive both written and spoken instructions for prepping your pet, don’t hesitate to ask questions. Request clarification or reinforcement, and be comfortable with the instructions. Your dog or cat is depending on you, so feel empowered to get the information you need!

Because you are the pet owner, veterinarians look to you as part of the pre- and post-surgery care team. Whether it’s elective or critical surgery, we want you to be informed every step of the way. Do you have questions about preparing your pets for anesthesia and surgery?

As you can see, post-surgical pet recovery is all about resting and following your veterinarian’s instructions. At the veterinary hospital, we’ve monitored them until we feel they’re ready to go home. We require them to be aware of their surroundings, and we check for those "normal" behaviors like chewing, swallowing, and walking before they go home. We consider you part of their post-operative recovery process, and we're here if you have any questions about your pet’s recovery!