Common Dog Surgery Questions: Procedures, Anesthesia, Rehab & More

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It's possible that your dog will need surgery at some point in their life. While the prospect of your beloved pooch getting operated on might seem scary, knowing the facts about dog surgery can help reduce your fear around this aspect of pet health care. Here are some of the most common questions that pet parents have regarding surgeries and their dogs:

What Are Common Surgeries in Dogs?

Surgery is an everyday occurrence in most veterinary hospitals, with some of the most common types being dental surgeries, spays and neuters. Whether or not a dog has to stay overnight at the hospital following surgery depends on the type of surgery they have and your dog's overall health.

Common Outpatient Dog Surgeries

These are some of the most common surgeries in dogs that usually allow them to go home the same day:

Surgeries That Might Require an Overnight Stay

Depending on the situation, your dog could be able to go home the same day of these procedures or might need to stay at the hospital or clinic for one or more days:

  • Ear surgery
  • Knee surgery
  • Fracture repair surgery
  • Limb amputation

Surgeries That Usually Require an Overnight Stay

Typically, these procedures require your dog to stay overnight:

  • Abdominal surgery
  • Nose or throat surgery
  • Spinal or brain surgery
  • Heart or lung surgery
  • Anal gland abscess repair or anal sacculectomy surgery

Who Performs Dog Surgery?

All veterinarians are licensed to perform surgery and many are excellent surgeons. The types of surgery your vet performs will depend on their experience, comfort level and the equipment they have at their disposal.

Your dog might require a particular surgery that your vet isn't trained to perform or isn't comfortable performing. If your pet needs a complex or difficult surgery, your vet may refer you to a board-certified veterinary surgeon. Some surgical procedures, such as a tibial plateau leveling osteotomy, can only be done by surgeons who are specifically trained and licensed to perform that surgery. For a list of other surgeries performed by board-certified veterinary surgeons check out this resource from the American College of Veterinary Surgeons.

What Type of Anesthesia Is Used for Dog Surgery?

The kind of anesthesia your dog will receive depends on the type of surgery and the vet's preference. Minor surgeries can be performed under injectable sedation. Most other surgeries use a combination of gas anesthesia, injectable anesthetic drugs and local nerve blocks with lidocaine or bupivacaine. Surgeons performing certain procedures, such as surgery of the spine, hip or urinary system, may also use a spinal or epidural block, which blocks pain from specific areas of the body.

What Is the Typical Recovery Time After Dog Surgery?

Your dog's recovery time will depend on their overall health, age and the type of surgery they receive. It may only take a day or two for a dog to recover from a minor surgery, such as a mass removal, neuter, dental surgery or eye surgery. It can take days to weeks to recover if your dog is already sick or if they undergo a more invasive surgery.

It generally takes dogs the longest to recover from orthopedic and spinal surgeries because bone and nerve cells take longer to repair themselves. In the case of hip or knee surgery, total recovery and return to normal function can take six to eight months.

Recovery is very dependent on your dog taking it easy and following your veterinarian's recommendation to the letter. Your dog should keep quiet or be crated to rest while recovering. It's also very important to follow your vet's advice on medication during the recovery period to avoid complications or extending the recovery period in general.

A Border Collie dog wearing a protective Elizabethan collar after surgery

Will My Dog Have to Wear the Cone of Shame?

The cone of shame is a nickname for the dreaded Elizabethan collar, a hard plastic cone that goes on a dog's neck to prevent them from interfering with the healing process after surgery. While dogs invariably hate the cone, it's crucial. Without it, your dog might chew out their stitches, remove bandaging and/or cause infection at the surgical site, leading to additional costly surgeries, medicine and pain.

There are alternatives to the plastic collar that your dog might prefer, including a fabric cone, surgical clothing and inflatable collars.

Will My Dog Need Rehab After Surgery?

Canine rehabilitation is a relatively new discipline in veterinary medicine. Vets are just starting to realize the benefits of providing physical therapy to dogs after they have surgery. Potential benefits of physical therapy include a smoother recovery, a faster return to normal function and less pain. Vets routinely recommend canine rehabilitation and physical therapy following orthopedic and spinal surgery, but they can also benefit dogs who've undergone other types of surgery. While your dog may not require physical therapy following surgery, it may help your dog get better sooner.

Not all veterinary practices offer rehabilitation. If you'd like to explore physical therapy following surgery, talk with your vet or find a certified veterinary therapist through an online database, like the Canine Rehabilitation Institute's directory.

How Can I Use Nutrition to Support My Dog Post-Surgery?

Surgery can be hard on a dog's body, and good nutrition is an important component of recovery. After surgery, unless otherwise indicated, you can support healing by feeding your dog a complete and balanced dog food.

In some cases — such as with dogs who've had gastrointestinal surgery or dogs who are debilitated or have a poor appetite — your vet may recommend a special therapeutic food to aid in healing. Follow your vet's nutritional recommendations for post-surgery and be sure to call them if you have any questions or concerns about your dog's recovery.

Contributor Bio

Dr. Sarah Wooten

Dr. Sarah Wooten

A 2002 graduate of UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, Dr. Sarah Wooten is a well-known international speaker in the veterinary and animal health care spaces. She has 10 years experience in public speaking and media work, and writes for a large number of online and print animal health publications, such as, petMD, Vetstreet, DVM360 print and online publications, Healthy Pet Magazine, and the Bark. Dr. Wooten has spoken in the veterinary education space for 5 years, and speaks on leadership, client communication, and personal development. Dr. Wooten is also a certified veterinary journalist, a member of the AVMA, and has 16 years experience in small animal veterinary practice. In addition to being a speaker, author, veterinarian, and co-creator of the wildly popular card game 'Vets Against Insanity', she co-owns Elevated Eateries Restaurant group in Greeley with her husband of 21 years, and together they are raising 3 slightly feral mini-humans. When it is time to play, she can be found skiing in Colorado, diving with sharks in the Caribbean, or training kenpo karate in her local dojo. Go big...or go home.