Last Updated on May 13, 2023 by Becky Roberts
So the vet is about to spay or neuter your dog. Are you a first-time pet parent? Do you have any idea what your dog might experience after the surgery? (Or did you already forget some of the general guidelines they told you about spayed dogs?)
Never mind, we’ve got you covered! Here’s exactly what to expect after your dog is spayed or neutered.
- 1 The 2-week recovery period
Issues to watch out for
- 2.1 Normal symptoms
- 2.2 Abnormal symptoms
- 2.3 Behavioral changes to expect
The “Do’s” and “Don’ts”
- 3.1.1 1. Do prepare a comfy, clean, and dry place for your dog to stay isolated while recuperating.
- 3.1.2 2. Do feed your pet with good dog food and water.
- 3.1.3 3. Do use an E-collar.
- 3.1.4 4. Do use an old shirt.
- 3.1.5 5. Do keep your dog isolated from other animals or anything dirty.
- 3.1.6 6. Do stay in touch with the vet.
- 3.1.7 7. Do seek a second opinion if something goes wrong.
- 3.1.8 8. Do keep your dog well-exercised.
- 3.2 Don’t:
- 3.1 Do:
- 4 The bottom line
The 2-week recovery period
Dogs take at least 10-14 days to fully recover from any surgery. Spaying or neutering is a major procedure. So yes, there’s that long wait before you and your dog can get back to your normal selves.
During these two weeks, your most important goal is to get the surgical incisions to heal properly. As your dog’s parent, you must make sure nothing gets in the way of the healing process.
First, you need to restrict your dog’s physical activity levels. No jumping, running, going up the stairs, or romping around with other pets.
Second, you must keep the surgical incision clean and dry. No water, saliva, dirt, pee, poo, or any other contaminated material should ever make it to your dog’s body and into the wound. This is to prevent the development of serious infections.
But that’s going to be a bit of a challenge, thanks to certain issues.
Issues to watch out for
Your dog will start displaying symptoms and behavioral issues that may confuse or trouble you. Here’s what you can expect.
Don’t be alarmed if your dog presents any of the following:
1. Disorientation and lack of physical coordination.
During the first few hours after surgery, your dog won’t be able to see or move well. You’ll see your dog looking dazed or cross-eyed, and unable to raise his or her head. There will also be some involuntary head-swaying or nodding, drooling, shivering, and abnormal panting.
That’s the effect of the general anesthetic, which takes some time to wear off. All you need to do is wait and these symptoms will fade away.
2. Swelling around the surgery site
During the first day after the surgery, the incision area will look swollen. This is normal. The wound is fresh and your dog’s body is still adapting. The swelling will gradually disappear as the days go by.
3. Red or “crying” eyes
If your pet’s eyes look like he or she cried throughout the surgery, it’s because of the protective lubricant the veterinary surgeon applied. Dogs often don’t close their eyes to sleep when given a general anesthetic, and the lubricant is there to protect their eyes from becoming dry and infected.
4. Discharge from the surgical incision
Some blood and water will seep out of the wound and stain the bandages. The discharge can be colorless, pinkish, or red. This is due to your pet’s blood pressure going back to normal, causing smaller blood vessels running throughout the tissues to bleed a bit. This should start disappearing 24 hours after surgery.
5. No bowel movements
Similarly, don’t worry if you notice your dog won’t poop in the next 24-36 hours after the surgery.
Remember how the vet instructed you not to feed your dog right before the operation? That’s part of the reason why. Moreover, most dogs defecate before or right after surgery while still at the operating table. These, plus the surgery itself and the general anesthesia, will cause your dog’s bowel movements to slow down or stop for a day or so.
6. Diarrhea or liquid stool
In the couple of days that follow, when your dog’s body starts going back to normal, his or her poop might initially be extremely soft and watery. This is also fine, as long as your dog is eating and drinking properly. The stool should firm up and go back to the usual brown solid lumps in a few days.
7. Vaginal discharge (for female dogs)
If your dog was in the middle of her heat cycle or estrus during the time of her surgery, the usual bloody discharge may continue after the operation for a few more days. It should disappear afterward. (Of course, spayed females stop having their heat cycle after neutering.)
Other symptoms, however, indicate new medical problems. These need the vet’s immediate attention.
1. Overly bloody incision
If your pet’s surgical wound suddenly bleeds profusely, it means a suture has broken. Some internal tissues have torn and are bleeding. This is an emergency. The vet must fix the damage and prevent further loss of blood.
Related: How To Clean A Dog Wound
2. Abnormally-colored gums and eyes
Depending on your dog’s breed, his or her gums should be pink, brown, black, or mottled. If these are pale or white, it means your dog lacks blood. He or she may need a blood transfusion and medicines to counteract the anemia.
If your dog’s eyes are yellowish, it could mean a different illness or problem has developed. Your vet must be on hand to diagnose what’s wrong.
3. Bruised or distended abdomen
Barring any unusual movement after surgery, your pet’s surgical incisions and abdomen should never look horribly bruised or abnormally shaped (i.e., having odd protrusions, etc.). If this is how your pet’s abdomen looks 24 hours after surgery, bring him or her in for emergency medical services.
4. Difficulty in breathing
While irregular panting is normal within the first few hours after surgery, gasping for air (with a heaving chest) is not. This could be a sign of asthma, lung failure, or any respiratory other complication. You must bring your pet to the hospital ASAP when this happens.
5. Creamy and abnormally-colored discharge
Take note if your dog’s surgical wound starts oozing liquid or a creamy substance that’s white, yellow, green, brown, or a combination of those colors. That means there’s an infection growing at the incision site. The vet needs to perform special cleaning and prescribe a round of antibiotics for your pet to take.
Related: Can You Put Antibiotic Ointment On A Dog?
6. Swelling that lingers
If none of the other above-mentioned dangerous symptoms are present, yet your dog’s abdomen (or some other adjacent part) remains swollen after a few days, that’s still a cause for concern. The vet should immediately examine your dog and determine what’s causing it.
Behavioral changes to expect
Regardless of your dog’s medical symptoms during post-surgery recovery, he or she will likely behave in the following manner:
1. Whining or wailing
In the next 12 to 24 hours after surgery, as the anesthesia starts wearing off, your dog may begin whimpering or crying from the pain, discomfort. and confusion. (Yes, it’s quite heartbreaking for any dog parent to hear.)
This is normal. You’ll just have to comfort your dog the best way you can. Offer a small amount of food and drink, affection, until your fur baby goes back to sleep.
If your dog continues to cry intensely by the second day, you can call your vet for advice. Do not give your dog any pain medications without explicit instructions from the vet, as this may be dangerous in your dog’s current condition.
2. Slow appetite (in the first 12 hours)
Your dog might not want to eat much in the first 12 hours after surgery. Or, he or she might eat a little and then vomit later.
This is fine. Just make sure he or she has drunk enough water, to stay hydrated. Your dog’s normal appetite should return within the next 1-3 days.
3. Slow and grouchy
As previously mentioned, the anesthesia and the surgery are going to disorient and confuse your dog. Don’t be surprised if your dog acts slow, grumpy, or touchy, a day or two after the drugs wear off. Be patient. Your doggie baby should be in a better mood by the second or third day.
4. A strong urge to scratch and lick the incision
Be forewarned: this is going to be the biggest issue with your dog for the next two weeks or more. With each passing day, as the wound heals and the pain subsides, it becomes itchy and uncomfortable. Your dog will constantly try to lick, bite, or scratch away the bandages.
Of course, there are ways to prevent your dog from doing this, which we’ll mention in the next section.
The “Do’s” and “Don’ts”
Now that you know what to expect, here’s how you can deal with all that.
1. Do prepare a comfy, clean, and dry place for your dog to stay isolated while recuperating.
It should be a sheltered spot that’s not too hot nor cold and is easy for you to mop up or clean. (Remember, your dog will be drooling, vomiting, peeing, pooing — you get the picture.) There should a clean cot for sleeping and a separate place for urinating and defecating. The feeding bowls should be within easy reach of the dog. (But not too near the bed, in case there are spills.) During the first few days, it can be a small room. Further down the recovery process, you can expand your dog’s area or zone.
2. Do feed your pet with good dog food and water.
Once you bring your dog home from the animal hospital and lay him or her on the cot, wait for the anesthesia to wear off. When he or she is awake, give a small amount of food and water if the dog feels like taking some. (Don’t force-feed your dog. Be patient and give only what he or she can take.) Once his or her energy and appetite return, make sure to go back to the usual feeding pattern.
3. Do use an E-collar.
The “Elizabethan collar” is a plastic cone that’s fitted around your dog’s neck and head, preventing him or her from gnawing at the bandages and sutures of the surgical incision. It should be the right size and weight, so your dog can still feed and sleep with it. Note: some dogs have adverse reactions to the E-collar and may not want to wear it often. In that case, you may have to use alternatives (e.g., spraying non-toxic dog repellent on the outer layer or side of old shirts you wrap your dog’s bottom half with, to deter licking and gnawing).
4. Do use an old shirt.
Even with the E-collar on, your dog can still scratch at the incision with his or her paw. (Or rub his or her abdomen against a rug or rough surface.) One solution is to have your dog wear an old shirt or “doggie clothes” that will cover the whole abdomen and act as a buffer against scratching dog nails and the like. Make sure these clothes still allow your dog to poo or pee.
5. Do keep your dog isolated from other animals or anything dirty.
You don’t want your dog to catch any infection or disease while that wound is healing.
6. Do stay in touch with the vet.
Keep your veterinarian updated on your dog’s healing process. Your vet can clean the bandages for you every few days or so, or teach you how to do that. If something goes wrong, bring your dog to the vet immediately.
7. Do seek a second opinion if something goes wrong.
If you think a particular clinic or veterinarian has been negligent in your dog’s case, be discreet. Simply seek out the advice and help of another vet.
8. Do keep your dog well-exercised.
In the months and years that follow, neutered or spayed dogs tend to have more weight gain. But they can avoid obesity and gain other health benefits if they stay relatively active. So keep up the with regular walks and play dates!
1. Do NOT bathe your pet.
You may wash parts of your dog’s with a wet towel and slightly soapy water, but make sure to dry immediately with a separate clean towel. You must avoid getting any moisture into the bandages and the wound.
2. Do NOT take off the E-collar.
And if you must remove the E-collar, don’t let the dog out of your sight. Never give your dog a chance to lick or scratch the wound. (And he or she will, given that chance.)
3. Do NOT give your dog medicines that the vet hasn’t prescribed.
Don’t use any pain medication at all, unless it’s something the vet tells you to do — and use only what he or she tells you to use. Always ask your vet for advice on pain management.
Don’t give your dog antibiotics “just in case” an infection arises, either. Preempting infection this way is the worst thing you can do and it can complicate your dog’s healing process! Antibiotics are used only when there’s a confirmed infection present, and can only be prescribed by veterinary professionals. Otherwise, you risk building up bacterial resistance to those antibiotics.
4. Do NOT leave your pet alone without toys and someone to watch over them.
It’s not just in case something bad happens during the healing period. Your dog needs love and reassurance during healing. Plus, he or she can get bored and will want to play with their toys or with someone. If you can’t be there, you can have the animal hospital provide 24-hour direct observation and care for your dog during the first few days. Then when your fur baby’s home, you can hire a dog sitter.
The bottom line
If you know what to expect and follow your licensed veterinarian’s professional advice, you’ll give your dog the best healing process possible. Your adorable fur ball will be back to his or her mischief, a lot sooner than you think.