Care Of The Dog Before And After A Surgical Operation [Complete Guide]


Many dogs will need surgery under a full anaesthetic at some time in their lives. The care that you give the dog before and after the surgical operation will contribute greatly to the successful outcome.

Dogs make much better surgical patients than humans, possibly because they are not apprehensive before the event.

Many breeds have a high pain threshold and will behave entirely normally two or three days after surgery. Small animal veterinary surgery has now reached a high degree of sophistication, but there is always some risk involved in a full anaesthetic.

Before Surgical Operation

If the operation is non-urgent (’elective’ or ‘cold’ are words used in this context), plan to have a few days free when you have plenty of time to devote to your dog after the operation.

Surgical Operation
Before surgical operation | Vet Care

If you are unable to keep close observation on the dog in the post-operative days, it may be wise to ask the veterinary surgeon to keep it as an in-patient.

It is not unknown for dogs to burst their sutures or to remove them if they are left to their own devices.

Pre-operative Starvation

Your veterinary surgeon or the veterinary nurse will give precise instructions on withholding food and drink, usually for 12 hours but possibly longer, before the operation.

It is very important that these instructions are carried out, as otherwise the dog may choke on vomit during the anaesthetic.

Tell the veterinary surgeon if a mistake has been made as it may be better to postpone the operation.

Tell the veterinary surgeon if your dog has ever had special problems in recovering from an anaesthetic, or if there is a known tendency in the breed to take anaesthetics badly.

If the dog is on medication, ask the veterinary surgeon whether it should be withdrawn.

On the Surgical Operation Day

Arrive at the surgery at the time requested.

Provide a telephone number where you can be contacted all day.

On surgical operation day
On surgical operation day | Vet Care

Be aware that the hair will have to be shaved from around the operation site. If you hope to show the dog again soon, ask if as little hair as possible can be removed.

The dog will probably be given a ’pre-med’ tranquillising injection and you may be asked to sit with the dog while this takes effect.

You will probably be given a time at which you may telephone to enquire about your dog.

After Surgery

Collection Of The Dog After Surgical Operation

Dogs vary in the time they take to recover from an anaesthetic. They should remain under skilled supervision until they are fully conscious and able to walk.

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Before your dog is handed over to you, make sure you have all the information you will need. Never be afraid to ask!

  1. Ask about food and fluid what should be given and when.
  2. Ask about medication when should you start giving what is prescribed.
  3. Ask about contacting a veterinary surgeon should the dog develop problems after it reaches home.
  4. Ask about exercise.
  5. Ask when you are to report progress and when the sutures are to be removed. The costs of suture removal and post-operative checking are often included in the operation fee. You may wish to ask if this is so.

The Journey Home

Keep the car warm but well-ventilated, or you may pick up the anaesthetic the dog is breathing out. Fat dogs can give out anaesthetic gases for 48 hours or more.

The Journey Home After Surgery Operation
The Journey Home After Surgery Operation

Prevent the dog from rolling off the seat, possibly having someone to hold it upright. Prevent post-operative shock with hot water bottle and blanket.

Be aware that the dog may relapse into a deeper sleep when in unfamiliar surroundings. lfyou cannot remove the dog from the car at the journey’s end, let it recover where it is under close supervision.

Post-operative care

The dog’s first need will be to pass urine. Support may be needed to enable it to reach its usual spot and while it ’performs’.

Make up a comfortable bed on the floor so the dog cannot roll off. Use plastic protection as the dog may pass urine while in a deep post-operative sleep.

Unless instructed otherwise by the veterinary surgeon, after major Operations offer small quantities of water/glucose solution one tablespoonful/ 15 ml of glucose to one pint / 550 ml of boiled water) or an electrolyte solution provided by the veterinary surgeon, every hour.

Give small amounts of easily digested food every 3-4 hours, unless instructed to the contrary.

Be prepared to support the dog to pass urine and faeces for 24-48 hours after surgery. If balance has not been regained by that time, tell the veterinary surgeon.

Be aware that the dog may have a slight cough, caused by intubation for the anaesthetic, for two or three days after surgery, and the throat may be sore making eating difficult.

Post-Operative Nursing

Veterinary surgeons often say: ‘Give me a ring if you are worried!’ The following conditions will give reason for post-operative concern and should be reported to the veterinary surgeon.

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Post-Operative Nursing
Post-Operative Nursing
  1. Sinking deeper into unconsciousness
  2. Cold, clammy feel to the paws, pale gums and lips.
  3. Still not fully conscious and only cautiously active within 48 hours post-operation.
  4. Persistent retching and vomiting, dog not retaining even small quantities of water.
  5. Failure to regain limb control in 48 hours.
  6. Passing faeces with blood content – estimate how much.
  7. Acute swelling and redness around wound site or unpleasant smell from wound.
  8. Convulsions or seizure.
  9. Allergic reactions, such as bumps or weals appearing on skin, or acute swelling of face, mouth or throat.
  10. Removal of the sutures by the dog.


  • Before you leave the surgery, make sure that the name of each drug is written on the container, together with its use, eg to stop vomiting, antibiotic, etc. Enter the names of the medication in your dog’s records: it may be invaluable to you later on.
  • Make a chart for the dosage, marking off each time you give a dose.
  • If you have more than one pet, make sure the invalid is alone when you give the tablets, so that another dog does not snatch the tablet up if it should be dropped.

Control Of Water Intake

  • Dogs which have become dehydrated during surgery will be very thirsty, but water in large quantities may make them vomit.
  • Remove all water bowls, flower pots and vases, and prevent access to puddles, ponds, water butts, etc.
  • Give fluid in appropriate quantity, one teaspoonful to one tablespoonful/ 5-15 ml every hour by the clock. After 2 hours, if the dog is not vomiting, the quantity may be doubled and thereafter increased cautiously until the dog is able to drink freely.
  • Fluid may be given in a hypodermic syringe (without a needle in place) if the dog finds it difficult to raise its head.


If the dog has a dressing on leg or foot it may be kept clean when the dog goes outside by putting the foot into a plastic bag secured loosely by an elastic band.

Remove the bag and the elastic band immediately on return to the house and put them in a safe place. Elastic bands are bad news for dogs! If the dressings are becoming soiled but are still in place, another layer of conforming bandage may be put on top.

It is important not to allow dressings to become wet.


If the sutures are well positioned and not too tight, most dogs tolerate them well. The leg of a pair of tights makes a useful body stocking to keep dressings in place.

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If the dog is inclined to worry about the sutures, try putting a bandage on a front paw to offer a distraction. An Elizabethan collar is another solution.

Elizabethian collar | surgical
Elizabethian collar | Vet care

Take a plastic bowl or bucket big enough to contain the dog’s head; cut the bottom out of the bucket and discard it.

Make a row of holes around the edge which remains, and thread through with string to lash the bucket to a leather collar. When this device is in place the dog will not be able to reach any part of its body, but these collars are tolerated surprisingly well.

Giving tablets

It is better not to crush tablets or to hide them in food. Once you have the knack of giving them, the procedure will be quite simple.

  • Open the dog’s mouth with the left hand by tilting the head upwards with the thumb and index finger pushed in from outside the lips behind the dog’s upper canine teeth.

The jaw can then be easily opened by pressing on the lower incisors with the middle two fingers of the right hand. Keep the mouth open by pressing the dog’s lips over its molar teeth.

  • Holding the tablet between the thumb and index finger of the right hand, push it as far back as possible over the back of the tongue.
Taking Tablets After Surgical Operation
Taking Tablets After Surgical Operation
  • Close the mouth and hold it closed while stroking the throat to make the dog swallow.

Some tablets (eg antibiotics) are designed by veterinary pharmaceutical companies to be palatable so that the dog will take them readily from the hand.

If your dog is difficult about taking tablets, ask your veterinary surgeon if a palatable form of medication is available instead. Sometimes it can be helpful to hide the tablet in a chocolate or soft dog treat and hope that the dog will swallow it whole. Your vet will be able to advise.

Giving liquids

To give liquids to dogs easily, hold its jaws closed with one hand and tilt the head backwards.

Pull out one corner of the closed mouth to form a pouch. Pour the liquid into this pouch alongside the molar teeth.

Puppies and very small dogs are probably dosed with greater safety if a medicine dropper is used, being inserted just inside the lips or cheek.


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