Pet InfoRx®
After Surgery Care for Dogs

Your dog just had surgery — whether it was a spay, neuter, mass removal, or something less routine — your dog will need some extra TLC to recover quickly and without complications.

When your dog has a surgical procedure, it can be a stressful time for you, your dog, and your whole family! This pet information prescription has a few tips to help recovery go smoothly for everyone. Get well soon little one!


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The Elizabethan Collar

dog wearing a cone after surgery

The dreaded cone! (Also commonly referred to as the "lampshade" or the "radar dish.") Your veterinarian might give you this super stylish E-collar to protect your dog's recent surgery site from licking, biting, or scratching.

Elizabethan collars were named because of their likeness to ruffs popularized by Queen Elizabeth I in the Tudor period.

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What You Should Do For Your Dog After Surgery

Your veterinarian will provide you with specific instructions based on your dog’s surgery, medications, and home care. It is critical to follow them closely. In general, however, it’s important to:

  • Give all medications as directed and until gone, even if your dog seems fine or doesn’t appear to be in any discomfort. Skipping doses or stopping to give medications can have serious or unwanted consequences. It's recommended not to just put the medications in their food. This may cause your pet not to eat, or they may not get the full dose of meds. Be sure to have your veterinarian show you how to give the medications or different options on how to give them if your dog doesn't willingly take medication.

  • Follow all home care instructions thoroughly. Especially the confinement recommendations. Read more here for help with wound and incision care.

  • Keep an Elizabethan collar ("cone") on your dog at all times. While it isn't recommended because you may not be able to put it back on properly or your dog may resist you doing it, but if you can supervise your dog directly to avoid them licking or chewing their incision, sutures, or staples, then you may give them a break from wearing it. But be super careful as dogs can be very determined! There are many styles and options for E-collars, but as an overall general rule, the hard collar tends to be the most effective for many situations – to help prevent serious complications. 

  • Avoid bathing your dog until any incisions have been rechecked or stitches/staples have been removed. Going into pools, or swimming in general, must be avoided as well.

  • Strictly limit your dog's activity (at least 2 weeks for most surgeries and about 6 to 8 weeks for orthopedic surgeries) and plan to take your dog outside on a leash to prevent overexertion. No long walks. Basically, take your dog out just long enough for them to potty. Your dog shouldn't be allowed to run around, jump, climb (even up onto the couch) or play while their incision is healing. Any extension of their body or twisting can cause the incision to open.

Dog wearing a cone with stress after surgery

  • Ideally, if you have other dogs or cats, separate your recovering dog from them, even if they’re friends. Dogs returning from a veterinary hospital bring back a lot of scary new smells, and the other animals may not be as welcoming for a day or two. Also, once you do reunite them, monitor them closely so that the other pet doesn't lick their incision site.

If you're reading this before your dog has surgery, you can check out this video for tips on how to get your dog comfortable wearing a cone, or read this article for more tips.

Keep Your Dog ComfortableDog wearing cone e-collar

The best thing you can do is to keep your dog calm, follow any home care directions, and administer all medications as directed.

Provide your dog with a clean, quiet spot for them to recuperate, away from other pets or small children. Be sure that their pet bed isn’t too difficult for them to get on and off of.

You may want to move their food and water bowls closer to their resting area, so they don’t have to get up and move as far to get to them. This also ensures you can keep an eye on how much they’re eating and drinking. It may also help to elevate the bowls to make it easier for your pet to eat and drink with the E-collar on.

Ideally, when you are not home with your dog after surgery, it is recommended to confine them to a crate or a small room without furniture for them to jump on. This will ensure that they cannot be active as well as prevent them from getting the E-collar hung on something.

If you're having a tough time keeping your dog inactive, or they're wrestling with their E-collar, your veterinarian may need to prescribe medication to calm them down. Give them a call to discuss your options.

How Do You Know Things Are Improving?

Your dog should be resting comfortably, eating and drinking well, and using the bathroom. It’s not uncommon for your dog to be lethargic (low-energy), not eat or drink well, or have soft stool for the first 24–36 hours after surgery. However, their energy and appetite should be improving every day after their first day home.

Your dog’s incision should also be improving every day. While it is common to see some initial redness, swelling, and bruising at first, it should always be clean, dry, and without any yellow or green discharge. Any swelling and discoloration should start to improve within the first 3–5 days and resolve within 10–14 days.

How Do You Know When Things Are Not Improving? What You Should Do.

You should call your veterinarian right away if your dog has:

  • Respiratory difficulties: more than 40 breaths per minute at rest or when sleeping, difficulty breathing, or excessive coughing.

    To check respiratory rate: You count your dog's breaths for 15 seconds, then multiply it by 4 to get the number of breaths per minute. You can use the timer on your phone and place your hand on their chest to feel their breaths as you count. The normal rate for dogs and cats is between 8 and 40 breaths a minute.
  • Vomiting or diarrhea: more than one or two episodes

  • Discharge from the incision: any yellow or green discharge

  • If your dog has gotten to the incision and torn or ripped out any sutures or staples
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How Do You Prevent Things from Getting Worse?

One of the most common reasons a dog has to go back to surgery after discharge is because they were allowed to lick or chew at the incision or were too active while they were healing. While an E-collar can be annoying for you and your dog, it’s preventing a much bigger problem and will be worth the effort to leave it on until your dog’s incision is fully healed.

Follow your veterinarian’s recommendation on returning to physical activity. Allow yourself some extra time to help your dog with stairs (depending on the procedure, such as orthopedic surgery, a sling may be helpful going up and down stairs) and going outside to the bathroom on a leash so they can’t get overdo it. This is when walking your dog with a harness can be better than a collar.

Healing could take a few days to a few weeks. Sticking to the timeline your veterinarian provided will ensure the quickest return to normal for your dog.

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