Surgical Discharge Instructions for Dogs

By Tammy Hunter, DVM; Ryan Llera, BSc, DVM; Ernest Ward, DVM

Your dog has undergone major surgery and is discharged for continued care at home. Your job during the recovery period at home is just as important as the surgical procedure.

What special instructions should I follow after my dog comes home?

Home care after surgery mainly involves physical activity restriction. Most dogs will naturally become very active in a short period after surgery, and confinement and close supervision indoors is of the utmost importance! This means:

  • no jumping or running
  • no stair climbing
  • no playing with other pets
  • no 'rough-housing'

When your dog goes outside to eliminate, she must be on a short leash and returned indoors immediately. Only take your dog for very short, slow leash walks for two weeks or as instructed by your veterinarian. If possible, carry your dog up and down the stairs to get to your yard.

If your dog is left alone, she should be confined to a cage or other small area that is warm and safe. This strict confinement and activity restriction is necessary during the entire recuperative period. Excessive physical activity often leads to injury or serious complications. This means additional expense to you and added discomfort and risk for your dog.

"This strict confinement and activity restriction is necessary during the entire recuperative period."

How should I care for the incision?

Keep the incision dry; do not bathe your dog and prevent her from licking the incision.

Monitor the incision daily for redness, swelling, discharge, or licking. Mild redness and swelling are part of the healing process and should be expected for the first few days after surgery. After the first two to three days, the swelling and redness should subside, and the incision should look better each day. Moderate swelling on or around the incision site is abnormal and may be an early sign of infection. For routine elective surgeries, any discharge from the incision site is abnormal.

"Do not put anything on the incision unless you are told to do so by your veterinarian."

Do not put anything on the incision unless you are told to do so by your veterinarian. Never put hydrogen peroxide or rubbing alcohol on the incision. These chemicals are toxic to healing tissues, cause inflammation, and delay healing.

Call your veterinary clinic if you observe abnormalities or have any questions or concerns about your dog's progress.

How can I prevent my dog from licking the incision?

Your veterinarian has various sizes of protective collars called Elizabethan collars (E-collars or cones) to keep your dog from licking the incision site (for further information, see the handout "Elizabethan Collars in Dogs"). Another great option is recovery suits which are similar to one-piece pajamas. Licking often leads to chewing or removing sutures (stitches) and can happen in a few seconds. Mild licking can result in an infection that requires antibiotic treatment. Persistent licking can cause serious injury to the incision and may require additional surgery to repair the damage.

Your dog should gradually improve each day. If your dog's condition changes or suddenly worsens, please call your veterinary clinic as soon as possible. Your goal in following these post-operative instructions is to help your dog return to normal, pain-free life as soon as possible.

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