The ULTIMATE Guide to Post-Operation Wound Care for Your Pet

Posted on
July 27, 2018

While we don’t know what your vet’s specific instructions might be, we can give you some general information on post-op wound care for your furry and feathered friends, including:

  • General questions and tips
  • How to change a bandage
  • How to give or apply antibiotics
  • Symptoms of infection/complications
  • How to keep your pet from aggravating healing sites

And more specifically:

  • How to care for cats and dogs after spaying
  • How to care for cats and dogs after neutering

General Questions and Tips

A quick internet search of “post-op pet care” brings up many related questions that people often have.  Here, we’ll compile many of these questions and their answers so that you don’t have to go searching on your own.

  1. Do pets whine after surgery?
  2. Yes, pets will often whine after a surgery, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re in pain.  The whining can also be a side effect of medication, especially pain medication because it can sometimes cause pets to become a bit disoriented.  If they’re whining a lot, it’s best to sit with your pet in a quiet room.  Your presence will comfort them, and the quiet environment will keep them from becoming overstimulated.
  3. Do pets get depressed after surgery?
  4. This is very possible.  Because it’s often necessary to confine pets (especially energetic ones like dogs) after surgery, they may become depressed in their smaller, static surroundings or they may become depressed as a result of their pain.  This is especially common in dogs.  You should also know that pain medications often have sedative effects on pets, and the behaviors that result from them (increased sleep time, lethargy, etc.) are sometimes mistaken for depression.  If the personality changes persist even after your pet finishes their medication, then it may be time to seek treatment for pet depression.
  5. What should pets eat after surgery?
  6. There is no single answer to this, and it’s very important that you talk with your veterinarian about what your pet can and should eat after surgery.  It’s also usually a good idea to have the vet write down what kinds of food are needed so that you don’t forget or accidentally grab the wrong kind.
  7. How long can it be before a pet has a bowel movement after surgery?
  8. It’s normal for pets to not have bowel movements right after surgery.  If you’ve ever had a major surgery yourself, you know that often you are made to fast for the day of, night before, and sometimes even the entire day before the surgery.  Your pet had to fast the day of their surgery too, so there’s no food in their system to cause a bowel movement.  After 2-3 days, this should return to normal, and if your pet seems to still be having trouble defecating, then you can ask your vet what foods would be safe to add in with their normal foods to soften the stool.   

How to Change a Bandage

Changing bandages is crucial for a number of reasons.  Bandages must be clean and dry at all times to avoid complications during wound healing including sores, infection, and more.  While certain surgeries require a vet to do this, other procedures allow you as the owner to change your pet’s bandages.  If this is the case, here’s what you do:

  1. Know the layers of your pet’s bandage and why they’re necessary.
  2. Adhesive bandages do not stick to pets’ skin and fur as easily as they do to ours, and they’re easy for cats and dogs to take off.  As a result, layered wrap-bandages are used because they firmly protect the entire wound area and cannot be removed by pets.  
  3. The usual makeup of these bandages are 1) dressing layer,→ 2) cover layer to hold the dressing in place, and 3) → tough (ace bandage-type) layer.
  4. After operations, the dressing layer will always be a soft, non-sticky material like a non-adherent gauze pad to absorb any discharge from the wound without being rough or irritating to the open wound.
  5. The cover layer will often be sheer, stretchy bandages to wrap around the affected area and hold the gauze in place.
  6. The outer layer is often a self-adhering material that is tougher so that it can protect the area better.
  7. Undo the old bandage by unwrapping the self-adhering outer layer and winding it up for later use, then remove the bandages, and the gauze.
  8. Be careful when removing the gauze, as dried fluids may make it difficult to remove, and you don’t want to aggravate or reopen the wound.
  9. Wash the wound with a soft cloth, warm water, and a gentle soap, then dry it.
  10. Place a new piece of clean gauze over the wound.
  11. Wrap the stretch-bandages over the gauze to hold it in place, and follow this with the self-adhering bandage.

Bandages should be changed whenever they become soiled or every 24 hrs, but ask your vet post-op for more thorough instructions on redressing the wound.  Some surgeries and bandages are more complex than others and will require professionals to change them.  If your vet tells you not to change the bandage on your own, DO NOT CHANGE THE BANDAGE ON YOUR OWN!  You could harm your pet or leave them vulnerable to infections and complications, and nobody wants that.


Your pet may also have a splint after a surgery or operation.  Splints are pieces of strong, rigid materials that are meant to immobilize the areas being bandaged, and they can be made from a variety of materials, such as metal, plastic, or wood.  Usually, they are changed much less often than bandages (except in puppies or kittens, where splints may need to be changed to correspond with the young animal’s growth).

Other Reminders

Check bandages frequently to ensure that they’re not slipping or too tight.  A bandage that is slipping isn’t effective as a bandage, and one that’s too tight risks cutting off your pet’s circulation or simply slowing the healing process.  You should also make sure that bandages and wounds never smell and that there is no visible discharge of strange colors/textures/smells, as these could all be symptoms of infection.  

In addition, remember to put waterproof coverings on your pet’s bandages if they must go outside or into damp areas, and do not leave the waterproof covering on for more than an hour.

Your pet’s exercise should be limited if they are in a bandage or splint.

How to Give or Apply Antibiotics

Okay, this is a broad and somewhat complicated section, as different surgeries will require different post-op medications, and the application of these medications is different between cats and dogs.  As you’ll see below, medicating dogs is often much easier than medicating cats.


In cats:  The expression may be that something difficult is like “shaving a cat”, but really, it should be that “‘x’ is like trying to give a cat pills.”  It’s usually easiest (and best) to hide the pill in your cat’s food.  Give them a fairly small amount of food: enough that it will hide the pill, yet a small enough of an amount that you can watch your cat consume all of it to make sure the pill is gone.  If for some reason you can’t hide the pill in food (your cat spits it out, they have dietary restrictions, etc.), then you have the unfortunate task of manually feeding your cat their pills.

There are a few different ways to go about this, including using your fingers to place the pill in your cat’s mouth, using a pill-shooter (a syringe-ish tool that you place in your cat’s mouth before releasing the pill), or other methods.  Honestly, we’re not the experts on this, and even if you’ve done this for your cat (which I have), it’s difficult to explain; so we’ll direct you to this article from the VCA hospitals for detailed, step-by-step instructions

In dogs:  Most dogs will eat any pills that are mixed in with their food.  If they don’t, gently pry open your dog’s jaw (as you would do when they eat something they’re not supposed to), place the pill on their tongue, close their mouth (and hold it shut) and gently rub downwards on their throat to encourage swallowing.

Liquid Oral Antibiotics

In cats:  As with pills, the easiest option here is to mix the liquid medication in with canned cat food, but if that’s not possible, you will need to use a syringe to squirt the antibiotics into your cat’s mouth.  Restrain the cat in some way before holding their mouth at the hinge of their jaws.  Gently apply pressure to the joint until their mouth is open, then place the syringe (which you should pre-fill with the correct amount of medication prior to restraining your cat) in their mouth, just behind the front canine teeth.  Squirt the medicine slowly into their mouth to prevent the chance of your cat aspirating the medicine, and then allow their mouth to close.  Gently hold the mouth closed with one hand while rubbing your cat’s throat with the other to encourage swallowing.  If you’re lucky, your cat may also lick up the medicine from the tip of the syringe willingly, so before trying to inject it into their mouth, let them sniff the syringe first to see if they will willingly take the medicine.

In dogs:  Again, mix the medication with food.  If they won’t eat it that way, try asking your vet about compounded medications that can be mixed with flavors to hide the taste better than simply mixing the liquid medicine with canned food can.  Or, again, using a syringe is an option; hold your dog’s jaw open while slowly squirting the liquid medication into their mouths.

Eye Drops

In cats:  Make sure your cat is restrained, either by wrapping them being wrapped in a towel or blanket or by recruiting a helper to hold them being held by a helper.  Hold the eyedropper close to your cat’s eye (but not touching it) with your thumb and pointer finger while holding the eye open with both the pinky and ring fingers on that same hand.  Use your other hand to hold the bottom of the eye open, and steady your cat’s head.  Drop the prescribed number of drops into the eye, as close to the center as you can.  Your cat may paw at their eyes a bit, but that is normal (it’s like you using a tissue if your eyes tear after applying drops!).  If the eyes appear unusually inflamed, contact your vet.

In dogs:  Giving eye drops to a dog is almost the exact same process as administering them to cats.  Make sure your dog won’t move (whether that means having someone hold them or restraining them by having someone hold them wrapping them in a towel, etc.) before gently opening their eyes with both hands.  Squirt the drops in using the thumb and pointer finger on your dominant hand while the pinky and ring fingers hold the top of the eye open (your other hand should hold the bottom lid).

Symptoms of Infection and Other Complications

Unfortunately, even with the best intentions and care, a post-op wound can still become infected.  Here are some symptoms to watch for:

  • Lethargy
  • Wound swelling more than 2-3 days after surgery
  • The wound is hot to the touch
  • Strange color/texture discharge and/or pus
  • The wound smelling
  • Fever
  • Lack of appetite
  • Stiffness

How to Keep Your Pet from Aggravating Healing Sites

Honestly, the best way to keep your pet from aggravating a healing site by licking, biting, scratching, and more is to put them in an Elizabethan collar (aka. The “Cone of Shame”).  It’s also best to keep them in an area where you can monitor them.

With these tips and tricks, we hope you have a good idea of how to care for your pet and their wounds post-op.  It can be a rough road to recovery, but it’s worth it in the end.

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Posted on
July 27, 2018