Pet Proofing Your House in the Days, Weeks, and Months After Surgery
When your beloved pet needs surgery, it can be easy to feel overwhelmed and sometimes, even helpless. The thought of seeing your pup in pain or discomfort – unable to run, play, and do all the things their little doggy heart loves during a (sometimes lengthy) recovery – is enough to make any pet parent blue.
But the good news is that during your pet’s recovery, you don’t need to just stand idly by. There are several things you can do to create a big difference in your dog’s post-surgery life. And what better place to start than where they spend the most time – your home.
Here is everything you need to know about pet-proofing your home during every stage of your dog’s surgery and recovery to keep them comfortable, happy, and healing as quickly as possible.
1-2 Days Before Surgery: Prep Your Dog’s Recovery Area
Prior to your dog’s operation, be sure you talk to your veterinarian about what kind of post-surgery conditions are required. Depending on the type of surgery performed, it may be critical for your pet to avoid any jumping, running, or climbing up on furniture (including beds and sofas), and going up or down stairs. In any case, their mobility will need to be restricted and it is very likely that your dog will need to be confined for a couple of days or up to a week post-surgery to avoid injury and facilitate the healing process.
One of the best things you can do (for both your stress level and your dog’s recovery process) is to create a healing sanctuary for them prior to surgery where they can be comfortably confined. What is the best way to confine a pet? Here are a few of our favorite options:
- A small, quiet room with no furniture – If you have a room to spare, this can be an ideal place for your dog to spend the first part of their recovery. If the room usually has furniture in it, be sure to remove it so your dog won’t be tempted to climb on it and potentially hurt themselves. Choose a room that doesn’t have a stairway in it, or place a gate in front of them to prevent access. If this room is in close proximity to the yard even better – this will make it so your dog has less ground to cover when going out to use the bathroom.
- A crate – Sometimes, veterinarians recommend “crate rest” – keeping your pet in an appropriately sized crate to restrict activity – for a certain amount of time post-surgery. This can be tough on both you and your dog if they aren’t already accustomed to being in a crate. But if your veterinarian has advised crate rest, it’s vitally important to follow their guidelines
- Upside down baby or puppy playpen – This can be a good option for small dogs for post-surgery confinement. Why upside down? So they’re not tempted to jump over the top.
No matter how you choose to confine your pet post-surgery, remember that comfort is key. When it comes to healing, a little comfort can go a long way, so it pays to make their confinement space as comfortable as possible. Before their surgery, outfit their space with the following:
- A cozy bed – Make sure your pup has a soft, snuggly, cushiony bed to lay on during recovery. Try an orthopedic or memory foam dog bed, or replace their regular bed if it has started to wear down. You can also add extra blankets to your pup’s existing bed for added support.
- Pillows and blankets – Really the more cozy things you can put in your dog’s recovery space, the better. Pets enjoy comfort as much as humans, and when they’re not feeling well, it’s doubly important. Think about it as if you were recovering from surgery – a fluffed pillow and a soft blanket can make all the difference.
- A cuddly toy – Does your dog have a favorite toy they love to cuddle with? Having it with them can be extremely comforting. Avoid putting any toys like balls or ropes that would tempt them to play and become too active.
- “Brain games” – If you have an especially energetic dog, you may be wondering, “How am I going to keep my crazy energetic dog calm, quiet, and happy when they can’t run, jump, or play during recovery?” The key is mental stimulation. There are several puzzle games you can purchase and DIY games you can create with things from around the house that will keep your dog mentally stimulated during their period of restricted mobility, which helps to release pent up energy they would usually get out during physical activity. Check out our favorite 10 ways to keep your dog’s brain active after surgery.
Immediately Following Surgery: Get Clear on Post-Surgery Care
Before you leave the veterinarian’s office following your dog’s surgery, be sure you are crystal clear on how to care for your dog during their recovery. Pay close attention to the discharge instructions – ideally, a staff member should go over them line by line with you. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and write notes.
- Understand how and when to give medications.
- How to care for surgical wounds.
- Click here for tips on helping surgical wounds heal faster.
- If your dog needs a cone to prevent licking the surgery site, how long do you need to keep it on for? Check out additional resources below:
- Post these signs in and around your house to ask others not to knock or ring the doorbell and a reminder to always have your dog on a leash when going outside.
- When you need to come back from rechecks or suture removals.
- If possible, make any follow-up appointments before you leave the office.
Also tell your veterinary staff about the confinement area you’ve set up for your dog in detail, to ensure it’s appropriate for their specific recovery requirements. Make sure you understand how long they need to be confined and have limited mobility. Also, don’t forget to ask for the best number to call if you have any questions that may come up during the recovery process. It’s a good idea to post this number on your fridge so it’s readily available should you need it. Remember, there are no silly questions when it comes to your dog’s well-being.
1-2 Days After Surgery: Keep Your Dog Confined and Comfortable
The surgery was successful and your home from the veterinarian. Now what? The first 1 to 2 days following your dog’s surgery is when extra precautions are absolutely necessary. You can expect your pet to be:
- Sleeping more than usual
- Have poor motor control and balance.
You might also notice:
- Loss of appetite,
- Sometimes vomiting or a loss of bladder control.
It’s your job as a pet parent to keep them comfortable and most importantly, safe.
Right when you arrive home, set your dog up in the sanctuary you’ve prepped for them. For the first couple of hours post-op, your pup will most likely be too tired get up and move around. Keep in mind that if they do get up, they may still feel the effects of anesthesia even several hours after the procedure, and could be unsteady on their feet. This is why it’s important to keep them in a quiet, contained place at first, to reduce the risk of injury.
Here are some other important things to keep in mind as far as your dog’s environment in the hours and days immediately following their surgery:
- Keep your dog isolated from other animals – In the first day or two, the pain following surgery and disorientation from anesthesia might make your pet act unusually. Even pups who are sweet-natured and gentle may snap or bite at other pets, or even children. If your pet is acting out of character, don’t worry – it will pass quickly. Keep in mind that you might need to isolate your pet from other dogs for up to 2 weeks if there’s a chance they may lick your pup’s wounds, or play with them too intensely.
- Explain to children and family members that the dog needs to rest – It’s important that everyone is on the same page when it comes to your dog’s recovery. Remind kids and family members that the dog needs to stay calm and relaxed. This means no games or horsing around for the time being. If this becomes a problem with your significant other, check out these tips.
- Keep them off furniture and stairs – Even if it seems like the anesthesia has totally worn off, your dog may still be off balance and have the occasional stumble in the first couple days following surgery. It’s super important to keep them on the floor – off of furniture and stairs – so they don’t take a dangerous tumble. Even if you’re tempted to snuggle them up on your bed, especially if that’s where they usually sleep at night, resist the urge as they may fall off – and even a short fall could be serious in their delicate state. Again, this is why it’s nice to have a cozy and confined space on the floor set up prior to the procedure, so you can settle them in directly after surgery.
- Keep the temperature comfortable – In the first day or two following surgery, your dog’s temperature sensors won’t be functioning correctly due to the anesthesia wearing off. Basically, they won’t be able to tell if they’re hot or cold, so it’s up to you to help them regulate their temperature. A good rule of thumb for setting the thermostat at a pleasing temperature for your pup is to keep the house as cool or warm as would be comfortable for you. You can also provide blankets if their temperature drops too low.
- Provide potty breaks every few hours – Take your dog outside every few hours the day of and the day after the surgery, and keep them on a short leash while doing so. Because the IV fluids they received during the operation will make them have to urinate more frequently, they may have an accident indoors if not given the regular opportunity to go outside. Keep in mind that immediately following surgery, potty breaks are the only time your dog should be allowed outdoors.
- Provide water frequently and under supervision – Your dog may not realize they’re thirsty but will require plenty of water during the first couple of days following surgery. If they are overly groggy, it’s important to stick around while they drink – just to ensure they don’t droop their head in the bowl and block their breathing. Some dogs may or may not want food at this point – go with your veterinarian’s recommendation here. If you do offer food, keep it bland such as boiled chicken or hamburger meat, and only give a small amount at a time.
- Keep them company – One of the best additions you can make to your dog’s environment during this time is yourself! When your pet is recovering, we encourage you and your family to spend as much time with them as possible. It’s hard for dogs to understand that this time of discomfort and confinement is only temporary, and having their best friend by their side to go through it with them is a great comfort.
1 Week Out: Take It Easy
Congratulations! You and your dog have made it through the first couple of days post-surgery, which are always the toughest. While some dogs may need to stay confined in the area you set up for them for up to a week or longer, most dogs are ready to move about the house a bit more.
However, the healing process is still in full swing and mobility will likely still need to be limited. So how do you prevent your dog from plunging headfirst into the regular routine and behaviors? Here are some simple tips to make sure your pet doesn’t throw a wrench in their recovery in the week or so following surgery:
- Restrict your pet’s access to furniture – In the week following surgery, your dog may be out of confinement and may try to jump up on the sofa or bed, especially if they’re usually allowed up. But jumping on and off the furniture may still aggravate their wounds. A simple way to keep pets off your couches, recliners, and beds is by laying other light furniture – such as a folding chair – across the cushions or mattress. This will remove all temptation to jump up by making the furniture completely inaccessible to your pet, yet it’s still simple enough for you to easily remove when you want to use it yourself.
- Block off stairs – Same as with furniture, going up and down stairs may be too much activity for your dog at this point in their recovery process. The easiest way to restrict access to stairs is to use a baby or pet gate.
- Limit outdoor access – For the first week or more after surgery, your pet shouldn’t be going outside unsupervised and off-leash, as they may be tempted to run and jump, even if they’re not fully healed. Keep the front and back door closed, and if your pet has a doggy door, it’s a good idea to keep the cover on. If your pet is up to it, you can take them out in the yard or even on a short walk on-leash, to make sure they don’t hurt themselves.
2 Weeks – 6 Months Out: Exercise Caution
Depending on the type of surgery your dog has undergone, it could be as little as a few weeks or as much as 6 months or longer before they’re completely healed. Typically, full recovery from an extensive orthopedic surgery, such as total hip replacement, takes at least 2 to 3 months, though some dogs require 6 months of careful monitoring and rehabilitation before they reach optimal recovery. Less invasive procedures, such as spaying or neutering, may take as little as a few days or weeks for recovery.
No matter your pet’s recovery time, here are some general guidelines to keep them happy and healthy as they progress in the healing process:
- Take short leashed walks for the first 2 weeks – For at least the first 2 weeks, it’s important not to let your pup walk too much, run, or jump. This may be easier said than done because, after their period of confinement and restriction, they may have pent up energy and want nothing more than to run, even if they’re not fully healed. During walks, keep a short leash (avoid retractable leashes), don’t go too far, and keep your energy calm and relaxed.
- Make stairs easier to navigate – If you have a two-story home and the time has come in your dog’s recovery that they can attempt stairs, but are still having some trouble, you can try adding non-slip stair treads to hardwood staircases to make the climb easier. If making it up the stairs is still currently out of the question for your pup, and they’re too big to carry up and down, consider getting a support harness such as the Help’Em Up Harness so you can easily help carry them up without breaking your back.
- Provide a ramp or “pet steps” – If your pet has extended limited mobility, but you want them to be able to get up on the bed and couch or into the car, try providing “pet steps” or a ramp with a gradual incline to help them do so safely and easily. This is another area where the T.U.S.H. Support Harness comes in handy, providing the help you both need to keep your dog’s quality of life the best it can be.
- Consider your flooring – Do you have hardwood or tile floors in your home? If mobility is still an issue for your dog at this point, getting up and walking around on slick flooring may prove challenging. But before your lay wall to wall carpet, try one of these quick fixes to help your dog get a grip:
- Layout area rugs or carpet runners (be sure to put anti-skid mats underneath)
- Get a set of socks/booties for your dog to help them grip slippery flooring and prevent skidding
- Give your dog regular nail trims (done either yourself or at a groomer) to help with mobility and increase comfort
- Place food and water bowls within easy reach – If your dog’s healing is preventing them from moving around comfortably, it can be nice to place their food and water bowls within reach of their bed, so they can easily and reliably stay well-fed and hydrated.
While the recovery process from your dog’s surgery may seem daunting, there are several things you can do to make it easier to get through – for both of you. Remember to always follow your veterinarian’s post-surgery guidelines, even if it seems like your dog is healing quickly and ready for more activity. Dogs are notorious for shouldering through their pain, and even if they’re still feeling the effects of surgery, they may push themselves too far too quickly. So keep a close eye on your pet during their recovery and most importantly of all, provide plenty of TLC.