Before and After Your Dog's Surgery

Before and After Your Dog's Surgery

Knowing your dog will be going into surgery can be frightening.

Unfortunately, when you're worried, you can make your dog stressed and that will make things more difficult for him because he won't understand your fears. Controlling your emotions and remaining as calm as possible before his surgery is important. In addition, understanding what you need to do before and after your dog's surgery is vital. Your veterinary clinic will provide an instruction sheet but let's take a look at the most common instructions so you won't have to decipher the instructions at the last minute.

Before Surgery

A month before any planned surgery, check with your dog's veterinarian to make sure your dog's vaccinations are up to date. If he needs any vaccinations, get them done now so they are effective ahead of time. Don't wait until just before the surgery, or worse yet, have them done the same day as surgery. His body doesn't need the stress of the surgery as well as new vaccinations.

Food Restrictions

For all except emergency surgeries (that don't have any warning ahead of time) your veterinarian will recommend food restrictions. For most dogs, food needs to be cut off by 8:oopm to midnight; with veterinarians having individual preferences. Restricting food is important as anesthetics can sometimes cause vomiting. If your dog has food in his stomach, that vomited food can potentially end up in the trachea and then lungs, causing pneumonia. If, by some accident, on the morning of surgery your dog does get something to eat (perhaps he raided the cat food)—call your veterinarian. An elective procedure such as a spay, neuter, or dental care can be rescheduled. Puppies under four months of age, toy breed dogs, or dogs with certain health challenges (as determined by your veterinarian) may need a bit of food early in the morning to help them keep up blood sugar levels. Your veterinarian will let you know if your dog needs this, or if you're concerned, ask your vet ahead of time.

Limit Water

Water also needs to be restricted for the same reason as food. The only difference is dogs can usually have water until early in the morning of the surgery. Your veterinarian will let you know when he wants water cut off. It can vary according to the weather (if it's hot he may allow the dog to have water a bit longer) or if the surgery is scheduled for later in the day.


If your dog is taking any medications, ask your veterinarian about giving them. If flea, tick, and heartworm preventives are due your vet may recommend waiting until a couple of weeks after the surgery to give them. If your dog is taking other regular medications, your vet may recommend giving them as normal or postponing them depending on your dog's health and the particular medications. Just remember to talk to your vet ahead of time so you know what to do.

The Morning of Surgery

Most veterinarians ask for the dog to come in early the morning of the surgery even if the surgery isn't scheduled until later in the day. There are a few reasons for this. First of all, is the food restriction. At the clinic, the hungry dog isn't going to be able to beg a treat off a family member as he might be able to do at home; the dog can't raid the cat food either. Plus, there may be some pre-surgery details the veterinarian may wish to do; including running blood work, shaving the surgery site, as well as other details. Therefore, bring the dog in on time. When you bring him in, be calm, and leave the dog with the veterinary technician in a matter of fact way. Don't get emotional or your dog will overly stressed.

After the Surgery

When you go to pick up your dog, the clinic will provide an instruction sheet for your dog's after care. Don't skim through this; read it thoroughly and ask about anything you don't understand. Believe me, they would rather you understand now rather than have you call after closing hours in a panic.


One of the most important things to understand is any medications that may go home with your dog. Make sure you know when they are to begin and how much your dog needs. If you think you may have trouble giving your dog medications, ask for some instructions as to how to give them. Some may be given with food (hidden in a piece of cheese, for example) while other foods shouldn't be given with food. If you haven't already asked, find out when to begin medications that your dog was previously taking.

Protect that Incision

Before you leave the vet's clinic, look at the incision. Make sure it's closed and see whether it's red, pink, puckered, or swollen. You need to know what it looks like and have the veterinarian explain what is what. What is that bump? Is it supposed to be puckered? Does the incision have stitches that need to be removed later or will the stitches dissolve on their own? Does the incision have staples? When should they be removed? Ask, too, what you should watch for in the way of problems. Obviously an incision that opens is a big problem, but what about redness, swelling, and oozing? Ask all of your questions and ask for more explanations if you don't understand. Once home you will need to make sure your dog doesn't bother the incision. Usually Elizabethan collars are recommended. These are plastic cones that prevent the dog from reaching around to an incision. There are other collars on the market, too, including inflatable ones. Just make sure your dog can't reach the incision. To protect the incision and the healing tissues underneath, your vet will also recommend limiting your dog's freedom for two weeks. This is very important, not only to make sure he doesn't rip out his stitches but also that muscles that have been cut can also heal. That means he needs to go outside to relieve himself on leash, there is to be no rough play, running, jumping, or other rough stuff. Crate him, keep him in an exercise pen, and on leash.

Water First; Then Food

When you bring your dog home, if he's alert (even if a bit groggy) offer him some ice cubes to provide some water. If he can lick those and keep that little bit of water down without vomiting, them offer a small amount of water. A tablespoon for a small dog, half a cup for a medium sized dog, and a cup for a large dog is good to start. Too much water, even if your dog is thirsty, can cause vomiting. An hour after the water, if there has been no vomiting, offer a tiny bit of the dog's regular food. Wait a while and if the tummy is good, then a bit more food. Several small meals is better than a normal sized meal. Don't be surprised, however, if your dog isn't hungry. His tummy may be a little upset. Do not try to tempt him to eat with treats or other foods; offer his normal food and don't force the issue if he doesn't want to eat that first night. By the following day your dog should be able to eat and drink as normal. If he doesn't want to eat or drink, has diarrhea, or is still vomiting, call your veterinarian.

Groggy is Normal

Many anesthetics allow the dog to recover quickly, but some dogs are still wobbly, groggy, and unstable when they go home. This is normal. Protect him from himself, though, and don't allow him to run, jump, climb or otherwise put himself in a position where he can fall, hurt himself, or damage his incision. Lift him into the car at the vet clinic and lift him out when you get home. He will need protection from other pets at home who may not understand his odd behaviors. Crate your dog, or put him in an exercise pen where his activities can be limited and the other pets won't bother him. Ideally, this first night have him in another room. The same applies to children in the family. Your dog needs to be left alone and the children need to be protected from a dog who might be confused, sore, cranky, and grumpy. By the day after surgery, most of the grogginess should be gone although older dogs may need a bit more time.

A Couple More Instructions

Incisions need to stay dry. Not only can water allow bacteria to get inside the incision before it fully heals, but water can also dissolve the glue on the incision before it should. Therefore, don't bathe your dog even if he's a bit stinky. Keep him dry for at least two weeks or the stitches have been removed or the vet gives him an okay. Of course that also means he can't go swimming or play in the rain, either. Keep him dry. Your dog will be feeling great in a few days to a week. He'll be ready to run and play much sooner than you or I would after having surgery. However, keep his activities and exercise limited for at least two weeks (or whatever the veterinarian recommended) even if your dog feels great. Healing takes time.
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