Your beloved "Marmalade" has just been spayed, you've had her home for half an hour and already she's pulled out all her sutures. The vet hospital is now closed, and you're convinced her intestines are going to end up on the floor. What do you do?
Your basic post-op instruction: don't panic! Here's how to deal with common post-operative problems:
When pets remove their sutures
Surgery that requires cutting through muscles is not closed up using only skin sutures – the muscle layers are all stitched back together first. It's not a huge problem for the external sutures to come out prematurely, but you must guard against oral bugs being introduced to the op site by your pet.
Apply some kind of dressing to the site and bind up with a pressure bandaging – a stocking will do. Take your pet to the vet the next day for re-suturing and the fitting of a collar to prevent those teeth from doing any further damage. Cats, being finicky about personal hygiene, are particularly keen on the removal of stitches.
Anaesthetics these days are not as problematic as they used to be. Some have a chemical reversal, which means that by the time you collect your pet, the post-op vomiting and grogginess is over, and the animal will probably be able to eat soon after arriving home.
If your pet starts to throw up, remove the food and try again a few hours later. Try offering small amounts of food and water at a time.
Breeds with special needs
Some breeds are prone to particular problems. For example, terrier dogs (like Jack Russells, bull terriers and Staffies) tend to be obsessive. This character trait spells trouble for op sites, which may be traumatised into a complete disaster zone by such dogs. If yours is a highly-strung dog, get the vet to fit a collar before the animal leaves hospital.
Breeds with badly designed breathing systems, like bulldogs and boxers, can be difficult under anaesthetic, so ask if there is any special post-op care needed.
Allow for recuperation
Anaesthesia can play havoc with blood pressure, as well as an animal's ability to control body temperature, so don't take dogs out for hectic exercise sessions for three days after the operation. Don't let cats out for the first night after the op, so that you can keep an eye out for any abnormalities.
Do not bath or dip your pet or let them swim until after the stitches come out.
Ask about painkillers
Ask if your pet has had any painkillers. Some vets still don't administer painkillers as a routine, either because they are protecting their profit margin, or because they believe an animal in pain is less likely to "overdo things".
Remember there is a fine line between the pet not "overdoing things" and being in such discomfort that it begins to self-traumatise as a pain reaction.
Drooling and bleeding
Drooling or bleeding from the mouth is quite normal in an animal that has had a dental, and can take a few days to settle down. Get advice on what to feed your pet until the gum inflammation has gone down.
Drooling in pets can be a sign of nausea, so if your pet is drooling after an op, delay feeding until the nausea has passed.
Blood oozing from an op site is quite common after surgery, and can usually be stopped by applying a pressure bandage or an ice-pack. If it's more than an ooze, and your pet's mucous membranes get progressively paler, contact your vet. A ligature may have slipped, which may need urgent correction, or an IV drip may be needed to increase blood pressure.
After bone surgery
Bone surgery is especially long-healing. Follow your vet's instructions to the letter with regard to how much space and exercise to allow your pet post-op, and be especially vigilant in ensuring that your pet's mouth has no access to the op site – infection in bone is very difficult to get rid of.
If metal pins start to poke through the skin, don't panic. Migration of foreign bodies is quite common. Phone your vet, as a pin may need to be repositioned or removed.
If in doubt, call
Keep the lines of communication with your vet open, and if you are worried about anything, phone. Rather annoy the vet with unnecessary queries, than delay any action that may be urgently needed by your pet.
- Claire Sawyer, Health24, November 2006
Claire Sawyer works as a veterinary assistant
(Last updated: June 2010)