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Neutered Pets Need Proper Post Op Care

closeup of french bulldog wearing cone held by girl in clinic

This week’s question is from a new pet owner in Michigan:  “How do I care for my pet after he is neutered? I’m afraid I won’t be able to keep him from hurting himself or pulling out the stitches.”     – Roger, Michigan

“Post operative complications occur when a pet is neutered.  That is a reality.  No doctor, though they may be loath to admit it, is perfect.  Even when all else is done 100% perfectly, the patient is a living being, not a consistent, predictable block of plastic or steel.  As such, I often tell my clients that I have the easy job.  I take care of their pet in hospital.  The tough job begins when they bring the pet home.  Having done major orthopedic surgery on two of my dogs, I understand what I am asking of my owners.  The post operative care delivered at home is at least as important in the outcome as the care delivered in the hospital.  This applies whether the procedure is a hip replacement or a more routine castration.  Any veterinarian can regale you with stories of patients that developed complications, sometimes life threatening, because discharge instructions where not followed.  We really don’t try to make life hard for the owner.  However, there is some post surgical care required for all cases.  Fortunately, that care is not too difficult in most cases.

Don’t Let Your Pet Overdo Things After He is Neutered

Neutering is a term used for the sterilization of either sex.  It is most commonly used interchangeably with the term castration, the removal of the testicles from the male.  Most cases of neutering in the male cat or dog do not have any skin sutures.  That does not mean you can ignore the site.  If your pet licks at the site, there is a risk of infection or potentially tearing open of the incision.  Your pet should not be allowed to run free after surgery, instead being on leash and exercise restricted for a short period of time.  Imagine having a recent incision on your belly and running a 5k or swimming the next day!  Common sense tells us this is probably not a good idea, yet we let our dogs do the same thing.   Maybe it is because they don’t seem as painful post surgery as we think we would.  Perhaps it is because it is raining and inconvenient to take Fido out to the bathroom.  Or maybe we just didn’t remember the instructions because we were picking up Fido then rushing home to dinner or attend school activities.  It is easy and convenient to blame the doctor for a mistake and it may well have happened.  It is also very possible that excessive activity caused the post operative bleeding.  The point is, we as owners have a responsibility to follow the post operative instructions from our veterinarian.

Variations on the Cone of Shame

Post operative instructions may vary between doctors for the same procedure.  For a castration or spay, instructions are usually fairly straight forward.  First your pet should not be licking the incision.  This instruction actually applies to all surgical incisions.  This may mean your pet needs to wear the famous ‘cone of shame.’  A lot of owners complain about their pets not being able to eat with the cone, or the cones damaging furniture or even the owner’s legs!  There are other options.  Soft paper cones may be acceptable for some pets.  These cones are easy to destroy, so they don’t work for pets who aggressively try to lick their sutures.  Another alternative is the inner tube style.  A little bulky, these are much softer than the plastic cones.  Yes, with all of these types of cones, the pet can eat, drink, and sleep while wearing the cone.  The only exception is that with some types of cone, some pets who have difficulty breathing while wearing it.   In this situation, you should seek advice from your veterinarian.

Don’t Forget Your Pet’s Medications

How many times have you forgotten doses of your own medications?  I know I have problems just remembering my own medications when I am sick, much less my dogs.’  Did you know you can cause complications when you don’t administer medications correctly?  We don’t just make up a number of pills to dispense.  It is important to finish all of the medications as they are dispensed.  Skipping doses of antibiotics can contribute to resistance.  In other words, the development of superbugs.  Giving too much is also a problem.  Overdosing pain medication can cause life threatening complications.  For some people it helps to make a chart, especially if more than one person is giving medications.  This is one area where a single mistake can cause severe problems.

It sounds impossible, but it really isn’t that hard.  The rules for post op care are usually simple and with a little attention to detail, you and your pet should get through it successfully.

In conclusion…

  • Restrict your neutered pet’s activity as directed
  • Keep an e-collar on your pet if directed
  • Do not wash or clean the incision unless directed
  • Do not apply topical agents to the incision unless directed
  • Remember to give all of the medications as dispensed
  • Most importantly…. Call your doctor if you see any problems or concerns!

These measures are only needed for a short time.  You and your pet will make it!

Kevin Winkler is currently a surgeon and medical director with BluePearl in Atlanta.  He has lectured across the country and internationally.  In addition to four children, Dr. Winkler and his wife have 2 dogs and a cat.  They enjoy traveling, following their daughters’ athletic endeavors, and the Georgia Bulldogs. Read more about Dr. Winkler on our Contributors page.

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