Below are answers to many of the most common post operative questions that owners ask us regarding their pets.

My pet had surgery and will not eat. What can be done?

Dogs:

  • Many pets may not eat their regular dog food after surgery, especially if it is kibble.
  • Try canned dog food; such as Hill’s A/D diet (available at the hospital). To enhance the flavor sprinkle a very small amount of garlic powder or chicken or beef broth on the food.
  • Try Gerber strained meats for babies such as the chicken, beef, turkey, or veal.
  • Try warming the food gently in the microwave to increase the aroma of the food. Test the temperature with your finger to make sure it is not too hot.
  • Offer a cooked diet having a 1:1 ratio of a protein source and carbohydrate source. The protein source can be any meat (example: chicken breast, turkey breast, lean hamburger) that is low fat and should be cooked and any residual fat skimmed off. The carbohydrate can be pasta, potato or white rice.
  • Hand feeding; place a small amount of food in the mouth so that they get the flavor.
  • Warm the food slightly in a microwave as the food will be more aromatic; remember to stir the food before feeding and test the temperature on the bottom side of your wrist; it should only be luke warm.
  • Remember that most pets will not eat the first day or two after they get home from surgery.

Cats:

  • Offer smelly foods that contain fish such as tuna or smelly cat foods.
  • Try Gerber strained meats for babies such as the chicken, beef, turkey or veal.
  • Hand feeding; place a small amount of food in the mouth so that they get the flavor.
  • Warm the food slightly in a microwave as the food will be more aromatic; remember to stir the food before feeding and test the temperature with your finger; it should be only luke-warm.
  • Some cats will only eat dry food, try kibble if your cat normally has been fed that food.
  • Petting and stroking your cat frequently will help to stimulate appetite.
  • Remember that most pets will not eat the first day or two after they get home from surgery.
  • Appetite stimulants such as cyproheptadine may be helpful.
  • If your cat refuses to eat anything for 7 days a stomach tube should be placed to provide nutrition so that a serious liver problem (hepatic lipidosis) does not develop.

My pet is vomiting now that he/she is at home. What can be done?

  • The first thing for you to discern is whether your pet is vomiting or regurgitating. Both will result in fluid or food being brought up. Vomiting always will have heaving or retching of the abdomen prior to expulsion of the vomitus. Regurgitation is not associated with heaving and the pet usually just opens the mouth and fluid or food will be expelled. Usually the regurgitant will be clear or brown colored fluid.
  • Next is to identify the cause of the vomiting or regurgitation.

Causes and Treatment of Vomiting after Surgery from Our Veterinarians

When some pets return home after a stay in the hospital they may drink excessive amounts of water at one time and then vomit; if this appears to be happening the water should be limited to frequent smaller amounts.

  • Medications such as antibiotics or pain relief medications (deramax, tramadol) may cause vomiting after surgery. In order to see which medication is causing the problem, the administration of each drug should be separated 2 hours apart. Usually the pet will vomit or appear nauseated (drooling and sick look) within 1 hour of administration of the medication that they are sensitive to. The antibiotic in some cases may be changed to a different one, or may be discontinued. The pain medication may need to be changed as well.
  • Stomach upset from anesthesia is a potential cause of vomiting and usually will pass within a couple of days.
  • Unusual cause of vomiting after surgery is internal organ failure. Blood testing will confirm this problem. For this reason vomiting should not be ignored if it persists for more than 24 hours.

If your pet had surgery of the bowels or stomach, vomiting is always a concern, as it may indicate that infection of the abdominal cavity, called peritonitis, is present. Do not ignore this sign.

Symptomatic treatment of vomiting involves with holding food for 8 to 12 hours, then introducing small amounts of bland food such as rice and lean cooked hamburger. It may be necessary to try various drugs to stop the vomiting. These need to be issued by our veterinary staff.

Causes and Treatment of Regurgitation after Surgery from Our Veterinarians

The most common cause of regurgitation is reflux of acid from the stomach into the esophagus while your pet is under anesthesia. Acidic fluid from the stomach can cause a chemical burn of the esophagus and result in a bad case of heartburn, which is called esophagitis. This results in poor motility of the esophagus so water and food will accumulate in this structure. If this is suspect, we may prescribe drugs to reduce the acid content of the stomach and to improve the sphincter tone in the stomach.

Regurgitation also can be caused by a neuromuscular degeneration of the esophagus and this problem will persist. It is not associated with surgery, rather other underlying diseases.

When should my pet have the first bowel movement after surgery?

Many pets will not have a bowel movement for the first 3 to 4 days after surgery. Reasons that a dog will not have regular bowel movements after surgery include:

  • The dog has been fasted prior to surgery, so there is less food in the system to make stool.
  • Pets may not eat well during the hospital stay.
  • They frequently may not eat well when the go home.
  • They are fed highly digestible food that produces little stool in the hospital.
  • Pain medication that contain narcotics (such as tylenol with codeine, butorphenol, tramadol) can be constipating.

If a pet does not have a bowel movement on the 3rd day of being home, a stool softener such as metamucil can be fed a dose of Metamucil 1 tsp per 50 pounds mixed in with each meal (canned dog food).

Pain Related Questions from the Communities of Alta Loma, Rancho Cucamonga, Upland, Ontario, Claremont, Fontana, and the Inland Empire

How do I know that my dog is in pain following surgery?

Signs of pain include:

  • Crying
  • Biting if you get near the surgical site
  • Grimacing (lips are pulled back and the the dog looks anxious)
  • Tragic look of the face
  • Restlessness and not wanting to sleep; pacing
  • If abdominal surgery was done the pet will not lie down on the incision, or will continually sit up in spite of appearing very tired

The worst pain will be for the first 2 to 3 days after surgery.

What can be done for pain at home for my dog?

  • Pain medication such as tylenol with codeine, butorphanol or tramadol, anti-inflammatories such as Deramaxx or Previcox; in some cases a sedative such as acepromazine will augment the effect of pain medication and allow your pet to sleep.
  • If an orthopedic surgery has been done cold packing the surgical site may be helpful.
  • A cold pack may be a pack of frozen peas, crushed ice in a Ziploc bag, or a cold gel pack; place a thin barrier between the skin and the cold pack. An alternative to a cold pack is to freeze water in a styrofoam cup; after frozen cut the bottom of the styrofoam cup out and in circular motions (directly on skin) to cool the surgical site around the incision. Cooling the surgical site helps to numb the area.

How do I know that my cat is in pain following surgery?

Pain is more difficult to assess in cats versus dogs as signs can be more subtle and they usually do not vocalize. Signs of pain in a cat include the following:

  • Biting if you get near the surgical site
  • Growling or deep cry
  • Not wanting to eat
  • Hiding and not wanting to be near owner (remember, that this could also be caused by the cat just being upset about leaving home and coming back)

What can be done for pain at home for my cat?

Pain medication such as butorphenol or hydrocodone can be administered to block pain. Warning, even a tiny amount of Tylenol will kill a cat, so do not even consider it!

Anti-inflammatories can be used, but the dose is much less than dogs and they should be given only for a few days.

INCISION ISSUES

Is it okay for my pet to lick the incision?

In short, the answer is no!

  • If a dog licks his incision it will actually delay the healing process because they usually lick too much and traumatize the area.
  • Licking can remove stitches/staples and cause the incision to open.
  • Licking can become a severe habit that is difficult to break.
  • Licking can cause infection as the mouth has many bacteria.
  • Dogs will frequently lick the incision when the owner is not watching such as at night time; if the skin looks red or excoriated the most common cause is from licking.

To stop your pet from licking, try the following:

  • Elizabethan collar can be placed on the neck; this will not help stop your pet from scratching at the region.
  • Cervical collar (bite not collar) is a less awkward device and can be effective at stopping a pet from licking the surgical site.
  • If the incision is over the chest a tee shirt can be put on your pet and the waist of the shirt fastened in place with an ace bandage or duct tape.
  • If the incision is over the paw or lower limb a bandage or sock could be put on and kept up with tape.
  • Bitter Apple can be applied around the incision; many dogs will continue to lick after application of this topical.
  • Bitter Apple and Liquid Heet™ (obtain this from a drugstore – it is used for sore muscles) mixed in a 2:1 ratio can be applied around the skin incision.
  • Antipsychotic medication in some cases is needed.

The incision looks swollen and is painful, what should I do?

If the incision is swollen, painful or has any discharge from it, please call our veterinary team at (909) 980-3575 and schedule a time for the doctor to examine it. This could indicate infection or breakdown of the suture line.