After Surgery: How to Care for Your Pet

Your pet has had major surgery and will need to be well cared-for afterwards to help prevent complications. Following the instructions below will help ensure your pet has a safe and comfortable recovery.

1. Limit Activity

Some animals are active after surgery, while others remain quiet for a while. Either way, it is very important that you limit your pet's movements during the 7 to 10 day recovery period, as strenuous activity, such as running, jumping or playing, could disrupt the healing process and even cause the incision to become swollen or open. To help keep your pet from being too active:

  • Place your pet in an adequately sized carrier, kennel, crate or small room when you’re not able to supervise him/her. The animal must be able to stand up and turn around in the housing unit.
  • If your pet is small, carry him/her up and down stairs.
  • Walk your pet on a leash to allow him/her to urinate or defecate.
  • Do not take your pet for long walks or allow him/her to play with other animals or people. Also, do not allow your pet to jump on or off furniture.

To limit your cat’s activity, as well as help them feel safe and comfortable, place them in a quiet, confined area such as a bathroom, laundry room or kitchen. This provides a safe hiding place for them, where you can easily monitor their recovery. Remember to provide fresh food and water and a clean litter box.

2. Keep Them to a Regular Diet

After surgery, your pet’s appetite should return gradually within 24 hours. Give your pet a half-size meal when you bring them home, and then feed them their normal evening meal. Puppies and kittens may have an additional meal through the day. Water should always be available.

Do not change your pet's diet at this time, and do not give them junk food, table scraps, milk or any other "people food." Changes in their diet could hide post-surgical complications. Although patients' reactions to surgery can vary, lethargy (lasting for more than 24 hours after surgery), diarrhea, or vomiting are NOT normal, and you should contact us immediately if these occur. We can then assess if your pet needs to be examined by a medical professional.

If your pet has an Elizabethan collar, do not remove it for feeding unless you are able to supervise them. If you do remove it for feeding, replace it immediately after your pet has finished eating.

3. Keep the Incision Dry

Dogs and female cats have internal sutures that provide strength to the tissue as they heal; these will dissolve after approximately four months. Surgical glue has also been applied to the skin to seal the incision against bacterial penetration. Male cats do not have any sutures, and, unless you are told otherwise, your pet does not have external sutures. If you are told that your pet has skin sutures or skin staples, they will need to return in 10 days to have those removed.

Do not bathe your pet during the recovery period (10 days), or apply topical ointment to the incision site—the surgical glue on the incision will dissolve too quickly if it becomes wet. Pets must be kept indoors where they can stay clean, dry, and warm, although dogs can be walked on a leash to relieve themselves.

Prevent your pet from licking or chewing the incision site. Licking may cause the incision to become infected or open, which will likely require follow-up visits at a veterinary clinic at considerable cost. If your pet is licking, we recommend you distract your pet with treats, then contact us at (855) 434-9285 or [email protected] and arrange a time to return to our facility to pick up an Elizabethan collar, free of charge. This will prevent your pet from being able to reach the area. You can also purchase one of these collars at a veterinary clinic or pet store of your choice. If your pet is still able to lick the surgery site while wearing an Elizabethan collar, choose a larger collar or contact us at (855) 434-9285 for further assistance. 

Download our tips to prevent harmful licking: English (PDF) | Spanish (PDF)

4. Check Their Incision Twice Daily

Female dogs and cats have a mid-line incision in their abdomen. Male dogs have an incision on the scrotum, and male cats have two incisions, one on each side of the scrotum. Check these incision sites at least twice daily. What you see when we discharge your pet is what we consider normal.

There should be no drainage, discharge or odor in females, and redness and swelling should be minimal. Male dogs may have small amounts of drainage or discharge for up to three days. Male cats may appear as if they still have testicles; this is normal, and the swelling should subside gradually through the recovery period. If there are any bumps or bruises present, they should decrease in size and appearance through the recovery period.

The pictures below show what a normal, routine incision should look like during the healing process. The small green tattoo should heal similarly to those seen in the images. You can refer to these pictures as you monitor your pet’s incision during their recovery from surgery. Your pet’s incision may not match the pictures if your pet had an unusual surgery due to pregnancy, uterine infection or retained testicles, which may result in larger or multiple incisions.




5. Monitor Pain Levels

Our veterinarians employ a multi-modal pain management protocol; this means that different pain medications are administered before, during and after surgery. If your pet appears to be in pain after getting home, please call our clinic at the following:

During office hours: (855) 434-9285
After hours: (855) 434-9285

Our staff can assess whether or not your pet needs to be examined. Do not give human medication to your pet; it is dangerous and can be fatal.

6. Keep In-Heat Females Away From Males

Keep neutered males away from un-spayed females. Neutered males can get an un-spayed female pregnant for up to 30 days after spay/neuter surgery. Keep spayed females away from unneutered males for seven days. Animals returning from the clinic may also smell different to other animals in the household. This can cause the animals to fight, so be prepared to keep your pets in separate areas for a few days following surgery.

7. Look Out for Complications

Spaying and neutering are both very safe surgeries; however, as with all surgery, complications can occur. Minimal redness and swelling of the surgery site should resolve within several days, but if they persist longer, please contact us. You should also contact us immediately if you notice any of the following:

  • Pale gums
  • Depression
  • Unsteady gait
  • Loss of appetite or decreased water intake
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Discharge or bleeding from the incision
  • Difficulty urinating or defecating
  • Labored breathing

ASPCA Spay/Neuter Alliance will treat any post-operative complications resulting directly from surgery. Depending on your location and the time of day, we may see your pet at our facility in Asheville or arrange for your pet to be seen at a consulting veterinary office closer to you. Please call (855) 434-9285 for an appointment as soon as you see cause for concern. We cannot be held responsible for complications resulting from failure to follow post-operative instructions, or from contagious diseases for which the animal was not previously properly vaccinated. Your regular veterinarian must address any illnesses or injuries that are not a direct result of surgery.

Always monitor your pet’s urine for blood; a small amount may be present in female animals during the first 24 hours after surgery. If this continues or occurs at other times, please call us or call your regular veterinarian, as your pet may have a bladder infection unrelated to surgery.

8. Call if You Have Concerns

If you have any questions or concerns directly related to the surgery during the recovery period, please call us at the following:

During office hours: (855) 434-9285
After hours: (855) 434-9285

Prior to seeking any post-surgical veterinary care for your pet, you must make contact with us.

Watch the Video

Learn what you can do to ensure your pet has a quick and easy recovery after a spay or neuter operation.