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Listen Up: At-Home Compliance After Surgery is Key

  • View Larger Image cat wearing e-collar

When you hear that your pet needs surgery, it can be a scary thought. Of course, you want everything to go well, and you can rest assured that the team at Westfield Veterinary Group has the experience to make surgery a success. But there is one other part of the team that we need, to ensure the best possible outcome for your pet’s surgery: you!

Pet owners frequently ask us how long it will take their pet to heal after surgery. The truth is, there’s no one-size-fits-all timeline. Recovery will vary based on your pet’s age, breed, overall fitness, and the type of procedure performed. It’s crucial to understand that even when you see your pet’s incision close up and the swelling goes down, they are still not fully healed. Healing follows a relatively predictable pattern of events that occurs faster in some tissues and slower in others. Depending on the surgery performed, full recovery can take anywhere from six weeks to four months. Complete and successful recovery requires careful post-operative care, followed by gradual rehabilitation. Your participation is critical in your pet’s healing process.

Tips For a Successful Recovery

Your veterinarian will discuss the expected range of time for your pet’s recovery during your surgical consultation. Your veterinarian will also provide written home-care instructions when your pet is sent home with you after their surgery. Following these instructions carefully will give your pet the very best chance of a complete recovery.

Here are some general guidelines that will help your pet:

  • Follow all medication schedules. Stay on the full course of the prescribed medications. Pain medications are essential to minimize discomfort and speed healing. It is important to stay on time for pain medications, as unmanaged pain can slow the healing process. Your pet will likely be prescribed one to three different types of pain medication, depending on the type of surgery. If necessary, your pet may also be prescribed an anti-anxiety medication or mild sedative so their body can focus on healing. In some cases, antibiotics will be prescribed to prevent infection. Unless specifically instructed by a veterinarian, your pet must finish the entire course of antibiotics prescribed.
  • Use an E-Collar. We know your pet hates them. But, even a few licks to their incision can cause infection or the wound to reopen. Luckily, most pets only need to wear an e-collar for the first two weeks after surgery. There are many options available, including inflatable “donuts” that your pet might find more comfortable than a traditional e-collar, so ask your veterinarian for recommendations.
  • Restrict activity. Your pet may need to be confined to a small, carpeted area where they cannot run, jump up, or slip. If your pet is crate trained, this is the ideal place for them to rest. If your pet doesn’t go into a crate, you’ll need to keep them on a short (1’) leash and with you at all times while in the house so they can’t play or jump and damage their healing. Trips outside will be on leash as well, until directed otherwise by your veterinarian. The homecare instructions will outline how long this restriction will last.
  • Manage your pet’s emotional state. Pacing, panting, whining, and excessive barking or meowing might indicate that your pet is anxious or in pain. Keeping your pet quiet is essential to their healing, and we know how difficult that can be, especially with younger pets. To counter anxiety in your pet, spend more time with them at home, making sure their crate, bed, or tether is near where your family spends most of their time. Use appropriate chew toys, interactive feeders, and games that don’t involve much movement, like scenting, obedience, or a snuffle mat to give them some mental exercise daily. Check with your veterinarian if your pet’s anxiety seems to be increasing.
  • Proper wound management. It is important to monitor your pet’s incision for any sign of infection, such as excessive redness, swelling, heat, inflammation, bleeding, or draining. If you see any of these, please call us immediately. You should not need to clean or apply any ointment to the incision unless instructed to do so. We generally recommend applying an ice pack to the incision a few times a day, just for a few minutes, for a few days following surgery to ease soreness, inflammation, and swelling.
  • Schedule follow-ups. Depending on the type of procedure, your pet may need follow-up appointments to remove stitches or check their healing progress. We try to set up those appointments at the time of your pet’s surgery, so you can be sure to have them in your calendar.

Questions and Answers

We know that these instructions can be disruptive – and even annoying! – for your pet and your family. But failing to properly follow through could result in a longer healing process, or worse, reinjury. Recovery is one of the single biggest predictors of how successful a pet’s surgery will be. If you have any concerns about providing care for your recovering pet at home, please let us know right away so that we can come up with a plan that works for you.

If you have any questions about your pet’s surgery or our surgical services, please reach out to us at any time.

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