Caring for Your Pet After Surgery

Updated on June 22, 2019
Liz Hardin profile image

Liz is a licensed veterinary medical technologist. She acquired a B.S. in veterinary medical technology from Lincoln Memorial University.

Most pets are given Elizabethan collars to wear after surgery to avoid licking and chewing at surgical wounds and sutures.
Most pets are given Elizabethan collars to wear after surgery to avoid licking and chewing at surgical wounds and sutures. | Source


Please protect your pet when leaving the veterinary clinic by using either a leash or a carrier, whichever is most appropriate for the species and size of your animal. Without this precaution, your pet may get loose and injure itself, either internally or by opening fresh surgical wounds while recovering from surgery. To the best of your ability, do not allow your pet to become overly active and excited when you pick them up, as this increases the risk of injury to surgical wounds.

Food, Water, and Medications

The excitement of returning home after surgery may make your pet want to eat or drink excessively, which may result in vomiting and upset stomach. To avoid this, restrict access to water for an hour or two until your pet has quieted down. Then allow only small amounts of water for the first 8 hours, even if your pet has not vomited or displayed signs of nausea, only resume normal feeding the next day.

If your pet is sent home with medications, give only as directed. If your pet is already on medications before surgery, consult your veterinarian before continuing to give them. Never give your pet human medications such as acetaminophen, aspirin, etc., as they are extremely toxic to animals.


Feed your pet their regular diet, unless instructed otherwise by your veterinarian or veterinary technician.


Many pets may not have a bowel movement for 24 to 36 hours after surgery. This is normal. Other pets may temporarily have soft stool; this is also normal as long as the issue resolves within 1 to 2 days. Your pet should still urinate normally; alert your veterinarian if your pet has not urinated within a few hours of returning home, as this could be indicative of a serious surgical complication.

Many pets will be groggy and prefer to sleep in the hours following surgery. This is normal.
Many pets will be groggy and prefer to sleep in the hours following surgery. This is normal. | Source

Exercise and Activity

Pets recovering from surgery should have limited exercise. Avoid access to stairs or situations that may lead to injury, and prevent the pet from jumping up and down on furniture. Due to the effects of anesthesia, your pet may be groggy for 12 to 24 hours after surgery. He/she may resume normal exercise and activity in 7 days. Your pet should be confined to indoors and taken outside on a leash only with supervision for eliminations for the first 7 days after surgery.


Prevent your pet from licking or chewing at their incision, as this can lead to serious infection, premature suture removal, and/or serious injury to the surgical site. Many pets are given Elizabethan collars to prevent licking and chewing at surgical wounds and sutures. Do not bathe your pet for the first 7 days after surgery to avoid irritation to the surgery site from soap. Check the incision daily for any swelling, redness, or discharge. Some bloody discharge in the first few hours after surgery is normal. If the incision appears irritated, infected, has a foul odor, or has puss-like discharge, contact a veterinarian immediately. Most sutures used today are absorbable and don’t need to be removed, but check with the veterinarian or technician at the time of discharge to see if a recheck visit with suture removal will be needed.

Every pet is different; always consult with your veterinarian about individualized care for your pet.
Every pet is different; always consult with your veterinarian about individualized care for your pet. | Source


A decrease in activity or appetite for one or two days may be observed. However, if your pet exhibits any of the following symptoms, please notify a veterinarian:

  1. Loss of appetite for more than 2 days
  2. Refusal to drink water for more than 1 day
  3. Weakness
  4. Depression
  5. Vomiting
  6. Diarrhea

Naturally, every pet is different, and should be treated as an individual during post-op care. If you have any questions or concerns about your pet after surgery, always consult your veterinarian.


Personal experience as a surgical veterinary technologist.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

© 2018 Liz Hardin


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