After returning home with a cat or dog that is recovering from desexing surgery, there are some post-surgery steps that owners can take to help assist recovery, says Dr Sylvain David, veterinary surgeon with the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Hong Kong) (www.spca.org.hk). "They can also be applied to other surgical procedures, but if in doubt, always ask your vet," says David.

Pain relief

Proper and adequate pain relief is vital. "At the SPCA, our desexing protocol includes a painkiller injection which lasts for 24 hours." However, he notes that some animals are more sensitive to pain than others, and what is a slight annoyance to one can be real suffering to another.

"Veterinary surgeons will always advise on additional pain relief, and it is vital that the pain relief is tailor-made to ensure comfort. Never self-medicate your pet with your painkillers, as some human drugs are toxic and even fatal to animals."

Feeding

David advises giving the animal less food than usual. "As they have fasted before surgery, they might be extra hungry and eat too much or too fast. This can cause an upset stomach, which is probably already a little delicate due to lack of food, plus the stress of surgery and anaesthesia, resulting in vomiting or diarrhoea."

He adds that it is common for pets to be a bit "sore and sorry" after surgery and therefore may refuse to eat upon their return home, which is OK as long as the non-eating does not persist until the next morning. If it does, veterinary advice should be sought.

Wound protection and care

Protecting the wound while it heals is vital and this is why vets recommend an "Elizabethan collar" (also called an e-collar, pet cone, buster collar or the cone of shame) post-surgery.

"Most owners and pets find these collars annoying. However, without it, your pet will be able to lick or chew their surgical wound with disastrous results. It only takes a couple of minutes for a determined pet to remove its sutures and completely open its wound or simply cause an infection or inflammation through licking," David says.

He adds that, although annoying, it is best to keep the collar on at all times until the post-surgery check. "It usually takes 24 to 48 hours for your pet to get used to the inconvenience. By constantly removing it and putting it back on, you will make it harder for your pet to adjust."

His tip for overcoming problems that pets may have with eating or drinking while wearing the collar is to raise the food or water bowl. "If your pet is still having problems, contact your veterinary surgeon. The collar needs to be adjusted."

Wound care

David says that until the wound has fully healed, it is susceptible to infection. To prevent this, it is vital to keep the wound clean and dry, and check it daily. Showers, bathing or swimming should be avoided until the post-operative check and the veterinary surgeon gives the all-clear. "If the wound gets dirty or soiled, it can be gently cleaned with a diluted disinfectant - seek advice if unsure."

He adds that a small amount of redness and swelling is normal, but any obvious redness, swelling, pain or discharge could indicate a problem.

Stitches

A pet can have two types of stitches: either visible skin stitches that are removed after about 10 days, or intradermal/subcuticular stitches, which are hidden under the skin. "Even if your pet has hidden sutures, it is strongly advised to have a post-surgery check at seven to 10 days to make sure the wound has healed properly."

Minimise activity

David says it takes about 10 days for the superficial skin sutures to heal after surgery, and it is therefore essential that running and jumping is kept to a minimum during this period. Gentle on-lead walking is fine unless otherwise advised.

Pocket pets

Rabbits, chinchillas and guinea pigs are also routinely desexed at the SPCA, and there are some important differences to be noted.

"Unlike cats and dogs, these species must not fast prior to surgery. Being herbivores these animals have a different digestive tract and do not vomit, and lack of food can result in a life-threatening condition called ileum, where the guts stop working."

In addition, these animals are good at hiding pain, and often the only sign will be a loss of appetite. Not eating even for a short period can be dangerous. The SPCA recommends the use of vet-prescribed painkillers for a few days to help prevent these unpleasant issues. 

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