The days and weeks directly following your dog’s surgery can be a time of mixed emotions – you’re relieved the actual procedure is over, but you know you’re not necessarily out of the woods just yet. As your dog recovers, there’s always a risk that their surgical incision will reopen, become infected, or won’t heal correctly.
The good news is that with proper post-surgical care on your part, these risks decrease greatly. We hope these tips will help.
Top 6 tips for taking care of your dog’s surgical wounds to expedite their recovery.
Tip #1: Follow Your Veterinarian’s Instructions for Wound Care to a Tee
After the surgery, your veterinarian will give you specific instructions on how to care for your dog’s incision. Following these guidelines for proper wound care reduces the risk of infections and other complications and helps your dog heal faster. Depending on the type of surgery and incision, these guidelines may range from how to change bandages to cleaning a drain site 2-3 times a day to simply just keeping an eye on the incision site.
While it’s important to walk away from the veterinary office making sure you understand exactly what needs to be done (and when) to care for your dog’s surgical wound properly, the general instructions for care are the same for all surgical incisions:
- Keep the incision dry. In most cases, you’ll avoid bathing your dog for the first couple weeks. If it’s wet or raining outside, cover the wound and/or bandage with plastic, and don’t let your dog lay down where it’s wet or muddy.
- Do not apply any ointments, antibiotic creams, disinfectants, or other substances to the incision unless specifically instructed to do so by your veterinarian.
- Never use alcohol or hydrogen peroxide to clean the wound, as these will damage the cells and delay healing.
Tip #2: Know What a Normal Incision Looks Like
It’s important to know what your dog’s surgical incision should look like, so that you can spot when something looks abnormal. Incisions that are healing properly typically look clean, with the edges touching each other. The skin should be its normal color or slightly pinkish-red, and it’s not unusual for the incision to become slightly more red during the first few days following surgery.
Bruising can be seen around the surgical site, especially in pale skinned dogs – this is not any cause for concern. In some cases, a small amount of blood may seep intermittently from a fresh incision for up to 24 hours, which is also normal. However, large amounts of blood or continuous seepage definitely warrants a call to your veterinarian.
Tip #3: Know What an Incision That Is Not Healing Properly Looks Like
Now that you know what a normal incision looks like, here are things to look for that are cause for concern. Contact your veterinarian immediately if you notice any of the following in your dog’s incision site:
- Excessive swelling or redness
- Unpleasant smells or odorous discharge
- Continuous dripping or seepage of blood or other fluids
- Large amounts of blood or fluid (anything more than a few drops is not normal)
- Intermittent blood seepage that continues for more than 24 hours
Tip #4: Check Your Dog’s Incision 2x per Day
Now that you understand what’s normal and what’s not, it’s important to check your dog’s incision regularly post-surgery – we recommend 2 times per day. Immediately following the procedure, note the length of the scar, the number of stitches, and the appearance of the skin. This way you get a good sense of what it should look like, and will notice immediately if anything starts to look off.
Pro tip: every time you check your dog’s incision, take a picture of it in the same place, under the same lighting. This will help you remember what it should look like, and you’ll have excellent documentation to send to your veterinarian should anything come up that doesn’t look normal.
Tip #5: Prevent Your Dog from Licking or Chewing Their Stitches
This is all-important. As your dog’s surgery wound heals, it may become itchy, which prompts your dog to want to lick or chew it. It is a misconception that a dog’s saliva is somehow antibacterial or will promote healing of a wound, and it only takes a few minutes of licking or chewing for a dog pull out their stitches and reopen their wound, or to introduce an infection. Both these things warrant another trip to your veterinarian and can significantly delay healing.
Preventing your dog from licking or chewing the surgical incision can mean an e-collar may be necessary for up to two weeks after the surgery. We understand many pets (and their parents) loathe the cone of shame, but it really is for their own good. If you’ve got this problem, read our post “My Dog Hates the E-Collar… Now What?”
Tip #6: Restrict Your Dog’s Activity Immediately Post-Surgery
Ensuring your dog isn’t too active too soon following surgery is important to ensure the wound doesn’t reopen. Depending on the type of surgery performed, it may be critical for your pet to avoid any jumping, running, or climbing up on furniture (including beds and sofas), and going up or down stairs for a length of time following the procedure.
How long and to what extent you’ll need to restrict your dog’s activity will depend on the type of operation they underwent. In the case of a minor surgery that only requires a small incision, some restriction of activity should be maintained until a few days after your dog’s stitches are removed. However, if your dog has undergone major surgery or has a large incision, a longer period of restricted movement will be required, which may mean keeping your dog housebound for a number of weeks. Your veterinarian might also prescribe crate rest or confinement in a small room in certain circumstances.
Your veterinarian will give you detailed instructions on how long you should restrict your dog’s activities following surgery, but here are some general guidelines:
- Never allow a dog with a fresh surgical incision to run off leash
- Do not allow your dog to climb up stairs or jump on furniture
- When you take your dog outdoors, keep them on a short leash (even for potty breaks)
- Keep walks short and ensure they’re not strenuous (avoid hills or uneven terrain)
- If needed, keep your dog separate from other pets who may wish to roughhouse or could potentially lick their surgical site
Knowledge is ever-important in caring for your pup, especially when they’re undergoing surgery. While these tips form a solid foundation, every dog and every procedure is different. Talk to your veterinarian, don’t be afraid to ask questions, and don’t leave without fully understanding exactly how to help your dog along in their healing process. With you by their side, your dog has the very best chance at a safe and speedy recovery.