Managing your dog through having an operation

Managing your dogs needs through an operation

Hilary Coates, Wagging Tails SN postcode
Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Many of us sadly experience caring for a pet after an operation, for many it's a relatively straightforward procedure such as spaying but for some dogs more invasive surgery with longer recovery time is needed. For those who follow our Swindon Facebook page you will know a bit about the various operations Bandit has been through.

Here Hilary shares her experiences of caring for Bandit during his operations. Please note Hilary is not a trained Vet so her advice is based purely on her experiences and advice she has also received. We would recommend that you run any advice past your dogs own Vet first to ensure you are offering your dog the best possible care.



As poor Bandit is now a veteran of three operations (one on his elbows in 2014 and two separate cruciate ligament operations in 2017), I thought it could be useful to offer some suggestions as to how you can help things along both before and after any operations.

Obviously, my experiences are personal and it isn’t right to generalise too much, but I hope sharing some of my experiences may be useful. 


Before the diagnosis:

Keep a diary of when your dog shows signs of issue – we always think that we will remember, but very often we don’t and sometimes what may seem innocuous can be extremely helpful to your vet.

Take a video of your dog when they exhibit signs of any issues – when dogs get taken to the vet, their adrenaline kicks in and they can masks the pain & won't always show the same symptoms as they did less than 5 minutes ago in the car park!

A simple video (or two or three) taken at a time when the dog is relaxed can help your vet determine what may be troubling your dog.


During the vet appointment:

Ask as many questions as you can – it is up to your vet (or a specialist) to be able to explain why they have come to a particular diagnosis and to make sure that you understand any drawbacks for your pet. Ask for any viable extra tests/scans that may make the diagnosis easier.

NB Remember that it must be extremely difficult to diagnose when the patient can’t tell you what is wrong and does their utmost to hide any discomfort (that animal instinct)!

Beagle Bandit recuperating post op

Bandit recuperating after his operation

After the operation:

Keep an extra special eye on your dog for the first 24/48 hours.

I planned to spend the first few nights on a mattress in the lounge with Bandit on his mattress. This was necessary after his first operation in 2014 as the poor boy had bandages down to his paws and couldn’t bend his front legs properly to clamber onto a mattress of any thickness!

Your dog’s usual body clock will be completely thrown out by an operation – although they may still eat reasonably well when you get home (well, Bandit did!), they are likely to spend much of the evening lying still, but not sleeping (occasionally the anaesthetic can make some dogs feel spaced out, something they may find distressing unless they hear your voice).

I was woken up at 3 am on the first night as Bandit finally needed to answer that call of nature, then expect that your dog may try to get at the stitches and you will need to stop them!


Consider a softer cone type collar:

Bandit was terrified of the traditional “cone of shame”, so I bought a soft doughnut style inflatable one from the vet (only £9.99). Luckily all of Bandit’s operation sites have been sufficiently protected by using this type of collar, although as the days went past and the Velcro got a little furred up, he did discover that he could insert his front paw between his neck and the collar and then manage to force it off! I was woken up abruptly a few times by that sound of Velcro ripping apart!


Helping your dog cope with a wound that is irritating:

Have an ice pack of some sort ready – the stitches can itch as they heal, plus the wound will feel sore as the painkillers wear off, so your dog will want to relieve that feeling by licking or nibbling. Wrap the ice pack in a tea-towel and apply to the wound for a few minutes at a time to help numb things up. Don’t force your dog to accept this, but I found that Bandit liked the feeling of relief and was happy to sit still.

After a few days, you can apply something like Aloe Vera gel to the area around the stitches as well, but NEVER apply over the stitches themselves and always check with your Vet first.


Any internal stitches start to heal up a week or so after the operation:

This one took me by surprise – you are thinking that the worst is over and then you see your dog spending more time than previously trying to lick at the wound site! That’s when to get that ice pack out again and possibly ask your vet for more painkiller for a few days…..and use the collar again.


With hindsight...

Looking back at Bandit’s first elbow operation, I wish I hadn’t allowed them to explore the other elbow as well. He was limping on one leg, but they x-rayed both elbows and performed a CT scan and told me it would be a good idea to investigate as there might be signs of arthritis.

I was told that the operation would be keyhole (arthroscopy) but it turned out to be an arthrotomy, which is where an incision has to be made to allow better access to the joint.  I can understand why the elbow where the trouble was needed that extra attention, but as the other elbow was fine I still don’t understand why the arthrotomy was done on that elbow and obviously impacted on his recovery time.

Poor Bandit had leg length bandages that couldn’t be allowed to get wet, they suggested putting plastic bags over his feet when he needed to go to the toilet…….he hated the feeling and simply wouldn’t go further than the patio and refused to pee. After 36 hours I decided enough was enough and took him to my vet to get them to replace the bandages with shorter ones – outside we went and Bandit peed for England up against the brick pillar immediately outside!

All this was made even worse by the fact that he got an infection in the previously “good” elbow and he ended up on a massive regime of painkillers, anti-inflammatories and antibiotics – if your dog has that then another suggestion is to make up a medication chart and make sure everyone in the family understands when the dog should have medication and to tick it off when administered.


Consider a change of vet:

The next time he needed an operation I didn’t return to the previous vet and was happy with the difference post op – Bandit only had a small bandage and was on Metacam alone. The wound site was swollen and did take a few days for him to feel comfortable at night and sleep through, but he had no infection even with the bandage coming off after two days.

The second cruciate operation went even better and he was comfortable and sleeping through after the first night. The wound site was hardly swollen and you would have to look hard to find the scar. This may have been coincidental, but it feels like the change of vet was the best choice for us.


Possible further treatments:

I appreciate that vets are looking to further their knowledge and to have more and more tools at their disposal to treat our pets, but when you are offered a further treatment or course of treatment that “might help recovery” ask about alternatives that may be cheaper and have been tried and tested.

If, like me, your pet is over the age of 10 years and you pay a contribution towards any treatments after the excess, these things can add up over time.


Be your pet’s advocate:

Just as most parents know their children better than the doctor that sees them occasionally, you know your dog better than your vet. If you think there is something that isn’t right, be persistent about getting investigations done.

Bandit ended up with having excess fluid on his knee after his last operation – as his 5 week x-ray had shown no issue with the operation, it was a mystery why he was still limping badly 12 weeks down the line, but after nearly a further month of lead walks and extra painkillers had done nothing, the vet knew that the next course of action as far as I was concerned was more investigation and was happy to proceed accordingly. 

Luckily, we appear to have reached a stage where he is now pain free and starting to enjoy more freedom off the lead….although it’s still baby steps at the moment!


Hilary Coates and her Beagle, BanditHilary Coates and Bandit own and run the Wagging Tails Swindon franchise offering owners throughout the SN postcode area a home based alternative to kennels. Go here to find out more about her Swindon dog boarding service.