5 Steps in Post-Operative Care: Cats & Dogs
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5 Steps in Post-Operative Care: Cats & Dogs

Health & Safety

After a day or more of nervous anticipation, collecting your pet after an operation can be an emotional experience. Many owners are so relieved to take their pet home safe and sound that they don't remember to ask questions or take note of the vet's instructions. The truth is that the care your pet receives at home can be as important as the operation itself, therefore it is crucial that you know what to expect and understand how to best look after for your pet following surgery. This article will shed light on five questions all owners should understand after any operation.

1. How can I prepare for my pet's return home?

Your cat or dog will likely appreciate some R&R, so you should set up a safe haven where he will be able to sleep in peace and quiet. This can be a spare room or crate situated in a quiet part of your home, preferably where your pet will not need to climb stairs. Other family members will no doubt want to welcome your pet back, but remember that he may be sensitive to noise and stimulation. If your dog will be wearing an e-collar (a cone-shaped collar that prevents licking) you should be sure you have removed any fragile or valuable items from the floor! Cats should be kept indoors for a minimum period of 1-3 days following anaesthetic, so check that all possible routes of escape are barred before you bring him home.The vet will make any special dietary recommendations and tell you of any restrictions following the operation, but generally the high-quality proteins found in boiled chicken, scrambled eggs, and whitefish are appropriate choices for both cats and dogs in recovery, as they promote wound healing and reduce the risk of indigestion.Make sure you have a litter tray or a sturdy lead on hand to take care of your pet's toilet requirements.If possible, the person who will be in charge of caring for the animal during the recovery period should be present for collection; thereby reducing the chance that the vet's post-op care instructions will be misinterpreted or forgotten. It also gives the main caregiver a chance to confirm they are prepared to tackle the challenge ahead.

2. What questions should I ask before I take my pet home?

Whether your pet has had an emergency operation or just been neutered, you will likely be sent home with some medication such as pain relief or antibiotics. In either case, it is essential that you find out when to start giving the drugs at home and how they are to be administered. For example, certain types of drug should always be given with food and some tablets should not be crushed - find out if your pet's prescription falls into one of these special categories. Normally the appropriate dosage and instructions will be included on the prescription label, but make sure you ask if you are unsure of the dose size or frequency - a good way to do this is to open the box and check that you understand what the prescribed dosage looks like. Remember that accidental under or overdosing can cause serious complications.Discharge is also a good time to ask about operation-specific care. For example, if your pet has had dental treatment, you may want to find out about how you can maintain the results. If the operation was related to a traumatic injury (as is the case with broken bones and torn ligaments) or potentially stress-induced illness (i.e. cystitis in cats), you will have a good opportunity to discuss ways of preventing similar issues from occurring in the future.

3. What behaviours are normal in the first 24 hours after an operation?

Drowsiness, disorientation, and lethargy are all par for the course following surgery, especially in older or ill animals. Cats and dogs may both appear restless or try to lick at their wounds. Some inflammation and light bleeding may be normal, especially if your pet has had dental extractions or an aural haematoma repaired. Anaesthetic agents may cause your pet to lose his appetite for a day or so. If you feel your pet is in pain or uncomfortable, always call your vet before administering any drugs yourself. Overdose of pain-relief may damage your pet's vital organs.

4. What signs should I look out for to help determine if something is going wrong post-op?

The following signs should be closely monitored and reported to your veterinary surgeon if they occur at any phase of the recovery period:

  • Rapid or laboured breathing
  • Vomiting
  • Heavy bleeding
  • Pus or discharge from the wound site
  • Difficulty urinating
  • Seizures

Check your pet's mucous membrane colour (i.e. gums, eye socket tissue). Pink is healthy for most animals, stark white or blue-tinged mucous membranes accompanied by the above-listed symptoms should be reported to your vet immediately. Be sure to check any wound-site regularly to make sure the sutures are intact and that that healing is underway. Your vet will usually arrange a re-examination a few days after the operation, but contact the practice if you think your pet needs to be seen sooner.

5. My pet seems to be back to normal. Does that mean he has fully recovered?

Some pets may recover from the effects of anaesthetic exceptionally quickly, especially young, healthy animals with fast metabolisms. However, it is important that you continue to follow the protocol outlined by your veterinary surgeon for the entire recovery period, as overexertion or excessive stimulation can cause internal problems. Many owners find the recommendations following their pet's operation to be restrictive or burdensome, especially if their vet has ordered cage rest, walks on the lead, or that an e-collar be worn at all times. If you find it difficult to manage your pet during recovery, call your vet for advice - but resist the urge to flout the rules. Doing so can land your pet back on the operating table for a repeat operation!

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