What to Expect When your Pet Needs Surgery

If you’ve just learned your pet needs surgery – whether it’s for a routine spay or neuter, or a more complicated case – it can be a stressful time for you and your dog or cat. During this time, it’s very important to follow all of your veterinarian’s instructions to ensure the surgery is successful and healing goes smoothly. This blog outlines what to expect before, the day of, and after surgery to help you plan for the event.

Talk to a Vet

Preparing for Surgery

Your vet may make several recommendations to help your pet be prepared for surgery. Often, vets strongly suggest pre-anesthetic bloodwork, which allows your vet to understand and prepare for how your pet will handle (and if they can handle) anesthesia. At Animal Clinic of Woodruff, we recommend doing this bloodwork in advance of all surgeries, and we require it for all pets over 5 years of age.

Your vet will also talk with you about IV fluids and the need for fluid therapy. Most pets benefit from this, and older pets or pets with problematic bloodwork require it for a safe surgery and full recovery. In this discussion, your vet will also recommend pain management options.

The Day Before Surgery

The evening before your pet’s surgery, you need to follow the vet’s recommendation to properly prepare your dog or cat. This will usually include restrictions on food and water. We usually advise patients:

  • Withhold all food and treats after 10pm. Remind family members to not feed the pet breakfast or treats in the morning.
  • Your pet may drink water overnight, but restrict access the morning of your appointment.
  • If you are currently giving your pet any medications, injections or supplements, ask your vet for instructions on whether to give the medication prior to surgery.

The Day of the Surgery

Most pet surgeries are scheduled in the morning, and you’re asked to get to the vet’s office at least 15 minutes in advance. Keep your phone with you so you can easily be contacted at all times of the day. You may want to also consider naming a second person the vet can contact if you can’t be reached. Most surgeries are complete by the afternoon, but some pets will be recommended to stay overnight.

After the Surgery

First be assured: most pets do very well after surgery. Your pet should feel good, should eat well, and his/her incision should not be red, swollen, or oozing. If you notice any vomiting, lethargy, poor appetite, leaking or oozing from the incision, call your vet right away.

  • Eating: Most pets are groggy after surgery and may not eat the first night they are home. This is normal and you do not need to worry. For the first night home, only offer small amounts of food and water (about half of what you normally offer). The following morning you can return to a normal feeding schedule.
  • Medications: There are several pain medications that may be prescribed to help your pet after surgery. Read and follow the label directions carefully. It is best to give these medications with food if possible. Your pain medications will be explained and reviewed when you pick up your pet from the vet. If you have any questions about them, call the vet.
  • Exercise: It is very important to restrict exercise for the first week. Unfortunately, your pet does not understand the seriousness of surgery or the significance of the recovery period. During the days following surgery, pets will become increasingly active, but it is important to confine them and supervise their activity: This means: no jumping/running, no stair climbing (unassisted), no “rough-housing” or playing with other pets for the first week following surgery. These restrictions can be difficult, so confinement in a kennel or small fenced area is recommended. Short walks for exercise are OK as long as your pet is leashed and under your control.
  • The incision: Monitor your pet’s surgery incision at least once a day. Make sure they are not licking or chewing at it. If you see your licking the incision (or suspect they have been licking), you likely need to use an e-collar (Elizabethan collar, a more comfortable alternative to the “cone of shame.”). You can purchase one at Animal Clinic of Woodruff or from local pet stores. The incision should be clean, dry, and not swollen. Do not apply any ointments or wound products to the incision as it can slow down healing. Finally, no bathing until your vet has removed the sutures and checked the incision, and no swimming until two weeks after surgery. If the surgery requires sutures to be removed, you will likely have this appointment 7-10 days after surgery.

It’s important to understand that there is always a risk of anesthetic and surgical complications anytime a vet performs surgery. At Animal Clinic of Woodruff, we strive to take the highest quality care of your pet, and we take all the added precautions (as allowed by the owner) to avoid potential complications. We are grateful for our clients for entrusting their pets’ health to us.

If you have any questions or concerns about surgery, please contact our office.

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