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Your dog’s surgery: What to expect

You just got the news that your dog needs surgery. Whether it’s an emergency or something you have planned ahead, you are certain to be worried. What should you expect before, during and after your dog’s surgery? We asked a veterinarian for advice.

Dog with Elizabethan collar on head after surgery

Your dog is a member of your family. So when he’s headed for surgery, you’re obviously concerned. We asked a few veterinarians to share tips for caring for your four-legged friend.

Ask questions

Dr. Keith Rode, veterinarian doctor for Woodland Veterinary Hospital, says dog owners should know as much as possible about the surgery ahead of time. “It is important to make sure that you understand the procedure being done, whether routine or not,” he says. “Ask your veterinarian what the expected surgery time is, any significant risks with surgery and what the expected recovery time is.”

Rode recommends that you have a sense of how much risk your dog has for difficulties with anesthesia. “Young, healthy animals have a lower anesthetic risk than animals with significant health problems (such as diabetes, heart disease or obesity),” he shares. “If the anesthetic risk is high enough, elective procedures may be delayed until the condition is addressed.”


If your dog’s surgery is routine, you will have instructions on medications and meal restrictions during the period before surgery. Dr. Julaine Hunter, veterinarian doctor, and Dr. Brent Bilhartz, veterinarian doctor — a wife and husband veterinary team and owners of the LazyPaw Animal Hospital — shared some tips with us.

“Always follow your veterinarian’s instructions for preoperative care,” says Hunter. “Most have protocols for withholding food prior to sedation and anesthesia to prevent the risk of vomiting during or following anesthesia.” Not following these instructions may put your pet at risk.

What can you bring to comfort your dog? “Most patients will not be allowed play periods prior to anesthesia and most won’t want to play immediately following surgery — so play items are best left at home,” shares Bilhartz. “If a patient has a favorite blanket or soft toy that they sleep with, get your veterinarian’s go-ahead before bringing these items,” he adds.

During the surgery

How will the surgeon manage your dog’s pain during surgery? “Most veterinary surgeons employ pre-operative pain relievers, which also have sedative effects, prior to the induction of anesthesia,” says Hunter. “By giving these medications prior to surgery, we reduce the individual’s pain response, and are able to lower the amount of anesthetic used to keep a patient from feeling pain during surgery.” This helps reduce the anxiety your dog may feel while being in unfamiliar surroundings.

“You may want to ask your veterinarian how your dog would be monitored under anesthesia,” Rode suggests. “Is there a dedicated technician monitoring vital signs? What specifically is being monitored? Will my dog have an intravenous catheter and fluids during the procedure?” You can expect a phone call when your dog is in recovery to let you know how the surgery went and when you can bring your dog home.

Home again

Once your dog is given the green light to go home, he or she still has a period of recovery ahead. Your veterinarian will give you care and medication instructions, which you should follow carefully. “The first night home, we recommend splitting a normal-sized meal into two small ones in case patients come home and eat too fast — which can sometimes lead to regurgitation,” says Bilhartz. Your dog may not feel very thirsty that first evening since she received fluids during surgery. “Following abdominal surgery, we request no jumping or leaping and leash walking at all times — even when eliminating in the yard.” An Elizabethan collar (also known as the “cone of shame”) may be worn to prevent self-trauma to the healing surgical site.

Warning signs of a potential problem include refusing food or water, lethargy, change in pain or tenderness, swelling, ripped stitches, oozing from the incision, skin temperature differences at the surgical site or inability to have a bowel movement. Consult your veterinarian if you notice any of these signs.

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