How to Care for a Dog After Surgery

It's not uncommon for a dog to refuse food following surgery.
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Dogs, like humans, require loving postoperative care after surgery. A dog must be monitored even more closely than her human counterpart, because a dog's own attention to a wound can cause damage, complicating healing. Also, your recuperating dog can't tell you if something is amiss. It's up to you to spot any sign that an immediate return to the vet's office is needed. No one can care for your dog as well as you can, says California veterinarian Dr. Bruce S. Silverman. Keep careful watch, and be your dog's healthcare advocate during the healing process.

Step 1

Withhold food or water immediately after the surgery for the length of time instructed by your vet, or use two hours as a rough guideline, suggests the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Then offer your dog half of what she would normally eat or drink, and take it slow. Feeding too much too soon, or letting the dog drink excessive water -- which she may want to do after being deprived before the surgery -- can cause the dog to vomit, possibly leading to dehydration.

Step 2

Carefully watch your dog for any sign of postoperative problems, such as vomiting, bleeding, shivering, unsteadiness, pale gums or labored breathing. Call your vet immediately if any of these symptoms appear.

Step 3

Check the incision twice per day if the site is not bandaged. You should see clean, reddish-pink edges that are touching each other. Contact your vet or hospital if you see signs of infection such as pus discharge or localized reddening, oozing of blood or other fluids from the incision, swelling or foul-smelling discharge.

Step 4

Keep your dog warm, and provide a clean place indoors away from drafts for her to sleep. Wash your pet's bed before you bring her home so germs or dirt can't infect a wound site. Change your dog's bedding frequently. Carefully wrapped hot water bottles and supplemental household heat may be useful in some cases. Include some clean blankets in your dog's bed; dogs who are ill or convalescing like to withdraw, and your dog may appreciate being able to burrow under the covers to "get away."

Step 5

Feed a nutritious diet to give your dog the nourishment she needs for rapid recovery. Dogs who have had surgery are typically in pain, and the last thing they want to do is eat. Make the food tempting, or offer a special treat. Sit on the floor next to your dog and offer small amounts of food and water. Use an encouraging, pleasant tone. Be prepared to spoon-feed the dog if she will not eat or drink, suggests animal authority David Taylor, author of the book, "You and Your Dog."

Step 6

Place an Elizabethan collar on your dog for up to 10 days to discourage licking or scratching of the incision site. The cone-shaped collar will prevent the dog from accessing the site. Most dogs don't like Elizabethan collars, but they eventually accept them. It is crucial to keep the wound out of reach of the dog's mouth so it can heal.

Step 7

Skip your dog's normal activities, such as running or jumping, for the time advised by your vet. Keep the dog in a crate or kennel if necessary to keep her calm and contained. Leash your dog, and take her to your backyard for potty breaks. Keep her away from other pets to avoid the possibility of play or roughhousing. Restrict all activity for at least seven to 14 days.

Step 8

Be diligent about giving your dog the medicine she needs. Avoid crushing pills; they can be very bitter and difficult to give to a dog. Instead, open the dog's upper jaw firmly. Use the hand holding the medication to open the lower jaw downward, then push the pill to the back of the dog's tongue. Get your veterinarian to show you how to properly administer a pill to a dog. Enlist a helper if necessary. Alternatively, place the pill in a small bit of peanut butter or cream cheese, and offer the treat to your dog.

Step 9

Wait at least 10 days before bathing your pet, or follow the vet's advice. Do not apply cream or get the incision wet, warns VCA Animal Hospitals. Return your pet to the vet's office for scheduled followup appointments.


  • Always consult an experienced veterinarian regarding the health and treatment of your pet.

Items You Will Need

  • Nutritious diet
  • Water
  • Clean bedding
  • Warm environment
  • Elizabethan collar
  • Medication



About the Author

Elle Smith has been an advertising professional for more than 25 years. Her work for ABC, CBS and Sony Pictures Television has appeared on radio, on air, in print and outdoors. In addition, Smith has more than 20 years experience in marketing, graphic arts, commercial photography and print production, and is a licensed real estate agent with property management certification in California.

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