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caring for your dog’s incision after surgery

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dog spay incision post-operative care
Posted by Dr. Kim Smyth on Aug 08 2017

Updated February 21, 2019

When it’s time to pick up your four-legged family member from the animal hospital after a surgery like spaying or neutering, pet parents will get specific instructions for their pet’s post-operative care. These discharge instructions are so important for healthy healing after surgery – particularly the part about caring for your pet’s incision.

Here’s what you should expect, what’s probably normal and what’s definitely not normal after your pet’s surgery.

What to expect after your pet’s surgery

First, I want to clear up a common misconception regarding surgical incisions. If your pet’s skin incision is compromised for whatever reason (say, a stitch or two comes out), her internal organs will not come spilling out. Your vet closed the incision in multiple layers – first abdominal wall, then possibly fat and muscle layers and then skin.

That doesn’t mean you should ignore the skin incision, though. In fact, you should check up on your pet’s incision twice a day to make sure everything is looking hunky dory.

What a normal, healing dog spay incision looks like

Whether your pet has stitches, staples or skin glue:

1. A normal, healthy incision should be closed at its edges.

2. The skin surrounding the incision may be pinkish in color, which is a normal part of the inflammation process.

3. Slight skin bruising may be evident.

4. For the first 24-48 hours, it’s normal for the incision to drain a small amount of clear to pinkish fluid.

Caring for your pet’s incision

While the incision is healing, make sure that it stays clean and dry. This means that baths are off limits, as is swimming. Keep your pet from licking or chewing at the incision.

Stitches can be itchy, and our pets are really good at figuring out how to remove them before they’re ready to come out, so we usually recommend an Elizabethan collar (you know, the cone of shame) to prevent this kind of incident.

Signs of an infected incision or that the incision isn’t healing properly

The following things are NOT normal for a healing dog spay incision:

1. Continuous drainage or dripping fluid

2. Malodorous discharge

3. Yellow discharge

4. Swelling

5. Gaping of the edges of the incision

If any of these things are affecting your post-operative pet, call your veterinarian for advice or an appointment. Even if you are a little bit worried that your pet’s incision might not be healing well, call your vet. It’s never, ever wrong to be on the safe side, and I assure you that you are not “bothering” your vet or her staff when you call. If your pet has an infected incision, it can be dealt with quickly, and may be covered by your pet insurance.

If your pet has staples or stitches, those will need to be removed 10-14 days after surgery, or sooner if your vet advises. Until that time, follow the discharge instructions, don’t allow your pet to participate in boisterous play or exercise and keep her incision clean and dry. Before you know it, her incision will be just a scar and you can go back to life as normal!