Frequently asked questions after surgery

When should my pet be going to the bathroom after surgery/discharge?
  • Many pets will not have a bowel movement for the first several days after surgery
  • Reasons that your pet will not have regular bowel movements after surgery include:
    • Fasting period prior to surgery
    • Decreased appetite after surgery and during the hospital stay
    • Decreased appetite frequently after returning home for the first few days
    • They are fed highly digestible food that produces little stool
    • Pain medications that contain narcotics can be constipating
  • If a pet does not have a bowel movement by the 4th day post-operative there are several at-home remedies to help soften the stool and allow them to have a bowel movement
    • Miralax© - ½ to 1 tsp with meals, twice daily (medium and large canine patients), 1/8 to 1/4 tsp with meals, twice daily (cats and small canine patients)
    • Metamucil 1 tsp per 25 Kg mixed in with each meal (canned foods)
    • Canned pumpkin to increase fiber content
My pet had surgery and does not want to eat.  What can I do?
  • Dogs
    • Most pets will not eat their regular dog food after surgery, especially if it is dry kibble.
    • Offer a cooked diet having a 1:1 ratio of a protein source and carbohydrate source.  The protein source can be any meat (example: chicken breast, turkey breast, lean hamburger) that is low fat and should be cooked and any residual fat skimmed off.   The carbohydrate can be pasta, potato or white rice.
    • Try canned dog food; to enhance the flavor use some low sodium chicken or beef broth
    • There are several recovery diets including Hill's A/D diet and Royal Canin Recovery RS available at most veterinary hospitals
    • Hand feeding by placing a small portion of their food in the mouth so that they get the flavor
    • Warming food slightly in a microwave will make the food more aromatic; remember to stir the food before feeding and test the temperature to ensure that it is not too warm.
    • Remember that most pets will not eat well the first day or two after they get home from surgery
  • Cats
    • Offer aromatic foods that contain fish such as tuna or smelly cat foods
    • Hand feeding;  place a small amount of food in the mouth so that they get the flavor
    • Warm the food slightly in a microwave as the food will be more aromatic; remember to stir the food before feeding and test the temperature with your finger; it should  be only luke-warm.
    • Some cats will only eat dry food, try kibble if your cat normally has been fed that food
    • Petting and stroking your cat frequently will help to stimulate appetite
    • Remember that most pets will not eat the first day or two after they get home from surgery
    • If your cat refuses to eat anything for 2-3 days please contact either your veterinarian or the AVS staff so they can be evaluated and nutrition provided via alternative means to prevent development of a serious liver problem (hepatic lipidosis).
How do I know that my dog is in pain following surgery?
  • Crying
  • Biting if you get near the surgical site
  • Grimacing (lips are pulled back and the dog looks anxious)
  • Restlessness and not wanting to sleep; pacing
  • The pet will not lie down on the incision, or will continually sit up in spite of appearing very tired
  • The most severe pain is usually for the first 2 to 3 days after surgery and then it is usually more of dull pain depending on the type of surgical procedure performed.
What can be done for pain at home for my dog?
  • Prescription pain medications are used to keep your pet comfortable after a surgical procedure. In rare cases a mild sedative can be used to augment the effect of pain medication and allow your pet to sleep.
  • If your pet allows applying a cold compress to the surgical site may be helpful for the first 48-72 hours. Cooling the surgical site helps to numb the area and reduce inflammation which can extend the duration of the local pain sensation.
How do I know that my cat is in pain following surgery?
  • Pain is more difficult to assess in cats versus dogs as signs can be more subtle and they usually do not vocalize.
  • Signs of pain in a cat include the following:
    • Biting if you get near the surgical site
    • Growling or deep cry
    • Not wanting to eat
    • Hiding and not wanting to be near owner (remember that this behavior can also be caused by an upset in the cat’s normal activity and surroundings)
What can be done for pain at home for my cat?
  • Pain medication such as buprenorphine or a Duragesic (fentanyl) patch are used commonly for pain control in cats.
  • Pain medications used commonly in humans and dogs, such as Tylenol can kill a cat with even a single large dose as they lack the necessary enzymes in their liver to metabolize this drug.
  • Anti-inflammatory medications can be used, but the dose is much less than dogs and they should be given only for a few days.
Is it okay for my pet to lick the incision?
  • In a word……NO
  • If a pet licks their incision it will actually delay the healing process because they usually lick too much and traumatize the area. In addition licking the incision can lead to removal of stitches/staples and cause the incision to open, can become a severe habit that is difficult to break, and can cause infection as the mouth has many bacteria.
  • Dogs will frequently lick the incision when the owner is not watching such as at night time; if the skin looks red or excoriated or there are sutures/staples missing the most common cause is from licking.
  • To stop your pet from licking the incision site or catheter site the following can be tried:
    • Elizabethan collar can be placed on the neck, although this collar will not help stop your pet from scratching at the region
    • Cervical collar (bite not collar) is a less awkward device and can be effective at stopping a pet from licking the surgical site
    • If the incision is over the chest region a t-shirt can be put on your pet and the waist of the shirt fastened in place by tying the shirt tail.
    • If the incision is over the paw or lower limb a bandage or sock could be put on and kept up with tape.
What are the post-operative requirements for recheck evaluations at the AVS?
  • Each patient's requirements will be slightly different on their degree and speed of recovery, the type of procedure performed, concurrent illnesses or conditions you pet has and if there are any indications that a potential complication could be occurring. Most patients are re-evaluated initially at the time of suture removal. For other patients there may be more frequent re-check evaluations such as patients with external fixators or bandages that require intermittent evaluations. In some cases your veterinarian may be able to help with recheck evaluations, blood draws etc… if it is more convenient, there is no evidence of a complication and the patient is progressing as expected. However, the AVS staff is likely to identify early subtle problems, prior to more severe complications, as they evaluate these patients on a daily basis. 
What are at home physical therapy exercises that I can be doing for my dog/cat after orthopedic and/or neurologic surgery?
  • For every orthopedic/neurologic case discharged from the AVS the client receives detailed instructions regarding recommendations for at home physical therapy, exercise restriction and time lines for increasing the amount of acceptable activity. These recommendations are based on the type of surgery performed and are individualized for each patient.

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