How to Care for Dogs After Spaying Surgery
Did you just get your dog spayed? Great job! Spaying (and neutering) is key to controlling the pet population.
Recovery from spaying surgery takes approximately 10 to 14 days. Many pet owners are unprepared for their dog's post-operative symptoms, and they're left wondering "Is this normal?"
Here, we'll discuss what's normal after spaying surgery in dogs. We'll cover:
- which items you'll need to have on hand at home,
- how to prepare a recovery room,
- post-operative symptoms to expect,
- how to care for the incision,
- warning signs of complications to look out for,
- additional tips for helping your dog heal as quickly as possible,
...and more. We'll also discuss how to care for your pet in the hours and days after the operation.
First, let's clarify: spaying is the process used to "fix" a female dog, while neutering is the process used to castrate and "fix" a male dog. Spaying is much more invasive since it entails cutting through the abdominal wall (whereas neutering recovery is much easier since they only cut through the skin of the testicles.)
What You'll Need
When your newly-spayed dog returns home from the veterinary clinic, you should have the following items on-hand:
- E-collar (traditional "cone" or inflatable e-collar)
- Dog bed
- Food and water dishes
- Puppy pads or plastic garbage bag and tape
- Towel or blanket
- A quiet room, away from children and other pets
- Dog kennel
- Phone number and address for the nearest 24-hour veterinary clinic
Inflatable E-Collars for Dogs
Looking for an alternative to the cone (also known as an Elizabethan collar or e-collar)? Consider an inflatable one. They are smaller and more convenient for both dog and owner. It's easier for the dog to access food and water bowls, and they'll have an easier time walking around. Traditional e-collars tend to get caught on doorways, walls, and woodwork.
You can purchase inflatable e-collars for dogs of all sizes. Once inflated, it looks like a doughnut with a slit that allows you to place it around the dog's neck. It secures with Velcro.
Preparing a Recovery Room
After surgery, dogs will require rest and lots of it! In addition, many get aggressive due to the pain and unusual physical sensations that can result from the anesthesia. Therefore, we'll need to isolate the dog from children and other pets.
Find a quiet room that can be closed off to other dogs, cats, and kids. It should be free of couches, beds, and stairs, as the dog may be unsteady and prone to falling. A fall can be extremely dangerous for a recently-spayed dog, as she may rip the stitches or trigger internal bleeding.
A bathroom typically works well, and a tile floor also allows for easy clean-up if the dog vomits (which is common after surgery).
Place the following items in the pet's recovery room:
- Water bowl
- Food bowl
- Dog bed
- Puppy pads
The dog bed should be covered with a puppy pad or placed inside a plastic bag (tape the plastic bag closed or pull the drawstrings closed, knot the strings and snip off the excess to prevent strangulation). Place a blanket or towel over the puppy pad or plastic.
The dog bed will need to be covered because dogs are very prone to vomiting after surgery due to the effects of the anesthesia. Also, many dogs will urinate in their sleep. Your pet will be sleeping very deeply due to the after-effects of anesthesia and she may experience sleep incontinence, particularly if she received IV fluids during the procedure. Place a few puppy pads near the bed as well.
Post-Operative Symptoms to Expect
Immediately following surgery, dogs tend to exhibit poor balance. This is probably one of the first things you'll notice. It's an after-effect of anesthesia and it is completely normal, though not all dogs exhibit this problem.
Remember the following tips:
- Walk behind the dog as she walks up stairs, so you can catch her if she falls.
- Walk slowly.
- Keep your dog leashed while outside.
- Be prepared to help her into the car; don't let her jump into the car.
- Keep her away from kids and other pets. They may bump into her, causing her to fall or react aggressively due to pain.
- Don't allow her to jump onto the couch or bed. She may miss and the sudden movement can result in torn stitches.
It's best to avoid carrying a dog immediately after spaying surgery. The veterinary surgeon must cut through the dog's abdominal wall muscles during the procedure, making her entire torso very sensitive and tender. When you pick her up, you risk stretching her skin and abdominal muscles. This can cause pain and damage to the stitches, so avoid carrying your girl.
Go straight home after collecting her from the veterinary clinic following surgery. She will be tired and in pain.
Did You Know...
The vet will insert several layers of stitches at different depths. Some stitches dissolve; others need to be removed. If you're unsure whether your dog will need her stitches removed, call your vet clinic.
Anesthesia results in grogginess and long periods of sleeping, so you can expect that your dog will be tired. Notably, some dogs are more affected than others. A small percentage of dogs aren't groggy at all by the time the vet clinic is ready to send them home.
If your dog is sleepy, this is totally normal. They tend to be prone to very deep sleep, and as I mentioned above, this can result in a dog who pees in her sleep. Therefore, cover the dog's bed with a puppy pad or plastic. Check on her every few hours to ensure the bed is dry and take her outside to do her business frequently.
In the event that your dog is not sleepy following surgery, you'll have the unpleasant task of keeping her inactive and quiet. Crating may be required if your dog is attempting to jump and play.
In the days following the operation, your dog's energy level will return to normal. Her body may require a bit of extra sleep to help aid in the healing process, but she should not be groggy or lethargic. If your dog seems lethargic more than 36 hours after surgery, contact the veterinary clinic. This can be a sign of an infection.
Don't Forget the Puppy Pads!
Puppy pads will be useful, since you'll need to protect the dog's bed from accidents and vomit. In addition, your dog will receive IV fluids during the operation and this will cause an increased need to urinate. Dogs must be supervised when outdoors until the stitches are removed, so you'll need to cut off access to the doggy door. Put down a puppy pad instead.
Vomiting and Refusing to Eat and Drink
Is your dog vomiting following a spay operation? This is totally normal.
Anesthesia results in nausea, so some dogs will vomit. Others won't.
As a result of the nausea, some dogs won't eat after surgery. Some will also refuse to drink water. This too is completely normal; it's a result of the anesthesia after-effects and it can be a response to the pain as well.
To limit the chances of vomiting, wait until 8 or 9 o'clock at night before putting down food and water. Your dog may eat a small amount of food and water or she may refuse.
The nausea and the dog's refusal to eat and drink should disappear within 24 hours after surgery. If your dog is vomiting and still refusing to eat and drink 24 hours later, consult your veterinarian.
How Do I Care for My Dog's Incision?
Your dog will have an incision on her lower abdomen. It will be several inches in length and it will be secured with one of the following:
- Dissolving stitches
- Wound glue
If the incision is closed with wound glue, you must use extreme caution to avoid getting it wet. Therefore, you should avoid bathing your dog and cleaning the wound unless otherwise directed by your veterinarian. You'll know it's closed with wound glue if you can't see any stitches or staples. Non-dissolving stitches and staples will be removed at the vet's office after 10 to 14 days.
To care for the incision:
- Check the incision twice daily. It may be slightly red and there may be minor swelling in the day or two following surgery. A small amount of blood-tinged discharge is normal, particularly during the first few days.
- Remove dried discharge with a warm, damp washcloth. Hold the washcloth against the incision for a few seconds, and then gently wipe away the discharge.
- A small dab of antibiotic cream can be applied to the incision during the first couple of days post-spay. Clean the incision by applying Betadine to a cotton ball or cotton pad. Dab the Betadine onto dog's incision. This is only necessary after removing discharge or if your dog contaminates the wound by licking it, etc. (This is another reason why the dog's e-collar must stay on until healing is complete!)
Signs of an infected incision or another problem include:
- A gap between the edges of the incision
- Pus discharge
- A large amount of discharge
- An odor or discharge with a bad odor
- Bleeding, especially after the first 36 hours post-surgery
The general rule is this: the incision should be improving with time. Take a daily photograph of the incision; compare the photos. This will enable you to monitor healing without relying on memory. If the redness, swelling, discharge, or general appearance of the wound is looking worse with time, this signals an infection! Get your dog to the veterinary clinic ASAP!
A Note on Your Dog's E-Collar or "Cone"
The e-collar or "cone" will prevent your dog from licking the wound and therefore prevent infection. After several days, as the skin starts to heal, the dog's incision will get itchy! In response to the itching, your dog may bite at the incision, stitches, or staples. If you remove the cone before the stitches or staples are removed, your dog may remove them prematurely! This is dangerous and costly to fix, so keep the cone on!
- DO look up the phone number and address for the nearest 24-hour emergency clinic.
- DO let your dog sleep following surgery.
- DO leash-walk your dog until her stitches are removed.
- DO bring her to the vet if she is exhibiting pain, signs of infection, pale gums, or other problems.
- DO crate your dog if she wants to run, jump, or play. She must remain inactive for 10 to 14 days.
- DO expect minor panting and other signs of discomfort in the hours immediately following surgery.
- DON'T give your dog aspirin. It will thin her blood, causing uncontrolled bleeding.
- DON'T give your dog Tylenol or other pain medication! These are deadly to dogs!
- DON'T let your dog run or jump until her stitches are removed.
- DON'T let your dog lick the incision.
- DON'T let her off-leash until she has healed (10 to 14 days). If she gets lost, it could be deadly!
- DON'T be surprised if your dog exhibits aggression immediately after surgery. This is a normal reaction to pain.
- DON'T remove the e-collar! It only takes a moment for your dog to remove her stitches prematurely. This can lead to a medical emergency!
Is My Dog in Pain?
Your dog will be in pain following spaying surgery. Spaying is more painful than neutering, since the surgeon must cut through the abdominal wall. Your vet will give your dog pain medications before she leaves the clinic, so that will help. If you think she is uncomfortable, contact your vet. NEVER give a dog pain medication at home! Many are toxic and aspirin will cause internal bleeding.
Warning Signs of Post-Op Complications to Look out For
Prior to your dog's spaying surgery, look up the name and phone number for the nearest 24-hour veterinary clinic. Know where it's located so you don't get lost if you need to rush her to the hospital. Always call ahead so the emergency vets can prepare for your dog's arrival.
Bring your dog to the veterinary clinic if you notice...
- **Pale gums
- **Torn stitches, dislodged staples, or an open incision
- **Excessive panting or vocalizing due to pain (especially beyond the first 12-24 hours post-surgery)
- A gap between the edges of the incision
- Foul-smelling discharge from the incision
- Lots of incision discharge
- Redness at the incision site
- Swelling at the incision site
- Refusal to eat or drink (24 hours after surgery and beyond)
- Lethargy (24 hours after surgery and beyond)
The first few starred (**) points are signs of an emergency; rush your dog to the nearest emergency veterinary clinic if you observe any of these symptoms.