What to do after pets have surgery

Whether they’ve gone for x-rays, a routine operation or have had something major done, it can be daunting when our pets need anaesthetic.

Your vet will give you lots of advice and information about how to care for your pet after an operation or anaesthetic. Our vets have worked on putting down the basics of what you need to know so you can be prepared for when your pet comes home.

Remember that your pet’s surgery aftercare will depend on the type of surgery they have had, their species and several other factors, so these are only basic guidelines.


Post-op care for pets

Always follow your vet’s advice. Your vet will give you specific advice tailored to your pet, the procedures they’ve had and their individual needs.

After an operation, you’ll get a discharge appointment with your vet or vet nurse to go over the care of your pet after anaesthetic. Always listen to them carefully and follow their advice (even if it contradicts our basic advice below – there will be a very good reason for this. Every pet is different and you must follow what your vet says).

The first 48 hours after surgery or anaesthetic

When you collect your pet from the vet, they will give you their advice and then you should get your pet home as soon as possible. Don’t let dogs jump up into the car – it’s better to lift them in and safely secure them. Car travel can be stressful for some pets so it’s best to get them home as soon as possible.

When you get home, you might notice your pet is quiet and sleepy. This is completely normal after anaesthetic and will usually wear off within 48 hours. During this time, it’s best to keep cats indoors with their litter tray nearby and only take dogs out on the lead to go to the toilet until you’re sure they’ve recovered. Keep your home as calm and relaxed as possible so your pet doesn’t get stressed. If you have other pets or children it can be a good idea to keep them away from your pet while they are recovering.

Your pet might not go for a poo for a couple of days after anaesthetic as their system will have slowed down due to the drugs. For dogs and cats, this is completely normal, but if you are worried give your vet a call and they’ll be able to advise you.

For small pets like rabbits or guinea pigs, poo production is really important to monitor so you know that their guts stay healthy. Your vet will let you know what to look out for, but get in touch straight away if you notice they’re not doing any poos as they might need urgent veterinary attention.

Only feed your pet small, regular amounts of light food for the first 48 hours to avoid stomach upsets – your vet will be able to recommend an appropriate diet. If your pet has had dental surgery, your vet will recommend soft food until their gums heal. This is to make sure they don’t damage their mouths and can heal properly. Small pets may need to be syringe fed until they are eating well on their own again.

You should keep a close watch on your pet for the first 48 hours, especially if they are a smaller pet such as a rabbit or guinea pig. If you notice anything unusual, call your vet straight away.

General surgery aftercare for pets

Don’t worry if your pet has had to have an area shaved for their operation – their fur will usually grow back in a few months. You may also notice that they have a bit of a cough. This can be because of the tube used during their operation to keep them breathing causing irritation to their windpipe. Usually, any coughing will stop within five days of their operation.

If your vet has prescribed any medication, make sure to follow their instructions and give it to your pet exactly as directed. If you struggle getting your pet to take tablets, speak to your veterinary team and they will be able to advise you.

If your pet has stitches, your vet will let you know if they are dissolvable and will disappear on their own or if they need removing at your vet practice (usually 10-14 days after the operation). Your vet will advise you on the care of any bandages your pet may have on, which could mean another trip to the vet to have them removed or checked.

If your pet has stitches after their operation, it is essential that they (or any other pets you have) don’t lick or bite them as this could cause them to break open, or potentially lead to an infection of their wound. You vet may provide your pet with a buster collar (they usually look like a lampshade on your pet’s head, but you can get newer, “comfy” versions) and you must follow their advice with it. If they didn’t give you one but your dog is trying to get at their wound, you can ask them for one or get one from a pet shop. Sometimes you can get special jackets for dogs and other pets to help protect their wound from licking and biting if they find collars too difficult.

Your pet will need to rest after their operation. This can vary from just resting until they get over their anaesthetic if they didn’t have an operation, to strict cage rest where they can’t do any exercise for a few weeks if they have had a big op. Your vet will let you know how much rest your pet needs and how long for. You need to follow this advice because if your pet does too much too soon it could really harm their healing process.

Make sure you go to any check-up appointments after your pet’s operation, even if it seems like they are completely recovered. The vet or nurse should let you know if and when they need to see your pet back.

Infographic on post-surgery care for pets

When to call the vet

If you think something is wrong with your pet once you bring them home after an operation, it’s always best to contact your vet straightaway for advice. Some important things to look out for include:

  • Sleepiness and lethargy lasting more than 48 hours after their operation
  • A cough lasting longer than five days
  • If your pet’s bandage gets wet, or their feet or legs below the bandage seem swollen
  • Missing stitches or an open wound
  • Your pet chewing or licking their stitches (the vet can provide you with a buster collar and may want to check that all stitches are still intact)
  • Their wound looking red or swollen, or if there is bleeding or discharge that you weren’t expecting
  • Their wound or bandages start to smell bad
  • They seem unwell or show any other symptoms like vomiting or diarrhoea
  • They won’t eat food more than 48 hours after their operation.

If you’re not sure about anything, it’s best to call your vet anyway. They’ll often be able to give advice over the phone and will let you know if they need to see you.

As long as you follow your vet’s advice and call them if you notice something wrong, your pet will usually recover well after their operation and be back to themselves in no time.

Pre-surgery advice

Our vets have put together their advice on what to expect when your pet goes for surgery.

Preparing your pet for an operation

Check their symptoms

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