After Neutering or Spaying, Do Pets Really Need to Stay Overnight?
Neutering and spaying (or ovariohysterectomy) are routine surgical procedures that most dogs and cats in the United States will undergo. Despite how common it is, the idea of your pet being anesthetized and going under the knife can be stressful. To make matters worse, many vets prefer to keep pets overnight post-surgery. Some may wonder if it is even necessary because most pets would prefer to recover in their owner’s home. A few things need to be considered before deciding on whether or not to take your pet home on the day of the surgery (if the hospital will allow it).
Why do vets prefer to keep pets overnight?
While neutering is a relatively mild procedure, abdominal surgeries, which spaying is, are more complex, so monitoring the animal afterwards is important for a few reasons. Of course, vets often recommend the same for neutering as well. These reasons include:
- Ensuring the pet comes out of anesthesia well. Anesthesia complications can occur after the procedure during recovery. Pets should have an observation period to ensure they wake up and recover properly (surgeries done in the morning should have enough time for this screening if the pet can go home in the evening).
- Observation for post-op complications. If the pet stays overnight the incision can be checked routinely by professionals (if staff is present overnight).
- Keep the animal still. Sometimes after the procedure animals are active and if the owner doesn't adhere to the advice of confining them to a crate or small area, they can re-open the incision.
- Ensure the pet doesn’t remove stitches or traumatize the incision site. Some pets will bite or lick at the area with the incision, slowing down healing or even opening the wound with potentially serious consequences.
- Techs can take temperature and administer pain medications in the morning. Some vets prefer for the surgical patient to be present the next day to take their temperature for possible detection of infection and inject pain medications as opposed to relying on the owner to give oral meds.
Is it really necessary?
Opinions on this vary and some veterinarians send spay and neuter patients home the same day unless the owner requests otherwise. If you personally feel that your pet would do better recovering at home, and especially if they have severe anxiety confined at the clinic, you can ask your vet if you can have a morning appointment and take your pet home at the end of the day. My dog's surgery was done at 12PM. After some research, we decided to call and ask if we could take her home at 6:30PM, which the vet agreed to. The staff hand-wrote an impromptu contract that we signed.
Be sure to ask the vet directly as the receptionist may give you the vet's standard recommendation. Most vets will agree to this as long as:
- No complications arise during your pet's recovery.
- Your pet is there for the neuter or spay only and not for an additional procedure that may be more complicated.
- Your pet is otherwise healthy and has no other conditions that could cause complications.
- You might have to sign a contract indicating you are responsible should something go wrong, although complications are uncommon.
Can you, and will you watch your pet?
It's likely that the main reason behind the implementation of overnight stays at vet hospitals is due to an influx of owners that either fail to follow advice or they don't have the time to properly monitor their pet.
After the surgery, pets are supposed to be confined overnight with limited activity. They should only be walked to go to the bathroom. Some owners will let their animals run around or even roam off-leash outdoors, which can dirty the incision site. It really is common sense but it is inevitable that people will break the rules.
You might want to consider leaving your pet overnight if you are busy and cannot monitor your pet appropriately in the ways described below, but only if the hospital is staffed overnight.
Use common sense; let your pet recover in a quiet, confined, clean environment. Discourage rough play.
Remember, some clinics have NO overnight staff
All pet owners should be aware of whether or not a clinic is staffed 24/7. If a hospital has no overnight staff, the benefits of leaving your pet overnight are diminished. In fact, should complications arise during the period where no one is present, your pet will have no one to help it.
Pets can, and have, removed stitches despite being confined to a crate. The only benefit of leaving a pet overnight within a period of hours with no supervision is that your pet can receive a morning check by the personnel that arrive early. A pet staying at your home has a better chance of getting the care it needs than in an empty hospital.
What to expect when you bring them home
E-Collar: Does it need to stay on the whole time?
Most dogs will be wearing an e-collar, or cone, when you pick them up. As it takes on average 14 days for most pets to heal, you might be instructed to keep the cone on for 10-14 days. This will prevent them from licking or biting the incision site. I would definitely leave the cone on for the first day. Some owners find that their pets leave the site alone so that they only need to put the cone on when they are unsupervised. This is however a risk as pets can remove sutures quickly, so monitor closely and keep your pet within view.
Your pet will still have anesthetic drugs in its system if you take them home the same day as the surgery. It is normal for them to be groggy and 'out of it'. Some may shiver or act lethargic. These symptoms should subside within 24 hours. Some pets of course recover from anesthesia quickly and their activity levels need to be controlled.
How to check your pet's incision
Inspect your dog or cat's incision site several times per day. For female dogs and cats, the incision will be in the mid-abdomen area. Male dogs will have the incision just above or on the scrotum. Male cats have one incision on each side of the scrotum. Check this area for:
- Drainage or bleeding (there should be none)
- Redness, which could signify inflammation or hemorrhage (only mild redness should be present)
- Swelling (again, mild swelling can occur)
Monitor your pet for these symptoms:
- pale gums (definite emergency)
- difficulty urinating (definite emergency)
- labored breathing
Or after 24 hours:
Not all of these symptoms definitely require emergency intervention, but they could be red flags pointing to potential issues, so a call to the emergency vet might be indicated.
In order to make the decision on whether or not to take your pet home, consider how available you are to check your pet, if you have appropriate confinement, and if you can resist the temptation to let your pet run and play as usual. Also consider that if your pet will be left alone at the clinic overnight, it would be better to take your pet home or find a clinic that has 24 hours monitoring. The first couple of days after the surgery are very important and mistakes can be costly both financially and emotionally.