Back in January, we had a big scare around here. It started off as “the dog’s toe nail looks funny – she must have banged it on something” to “She has an infection in it that we need to clear up before doing surgery to remove the nail” to “Actually, she has a giant tumour on her toe and her toe will need to be amputated”. Then once the surgery was done, she wouldn’t leave the affected foot alone and actually chewed out her own stitches, adding weeks and challenges to her recovery time. I learned some important tips during these 7 weeks that I’d like to share with you.
10 Tips for When Your Dog Has Surgery
1) Fortunately I had just seen this idea a couple weeks before her surgery and thought it would be a good one to put in place right away. It was a life saver. I purchased a crib mattress to use as a new dog bed for her. We’ve had many many dog beds over the years and let me tell you, they are all lacking in one thing – how easily cleaned they are. I’ve thrown out hundreds of dollars of dog beds over the year because my dog will get sick, the bed will get really messy, and since none of them that I’ve found so far are waterproof, no matter how much cleaning I do, inevitably I end up throwing the thing away. The crib mattress is waterproof and I was able to purchase protective crib mattress pads and crib sheets for it that make it very low maintenance. I use the old trick I did with my daughter when she was a baby – I put on a mattress pad then a fitted sheet, then another mattress pad and another fitted sheet. If she has an accident (which happened SO OFTEN during her recovery due to the meds she was on), I could just take off the top layer and she still had a clean one to sleep on. In general, Trinity prefers to sleep with me in my bed but thinking ahead, I knew that she might need something closer to the floor – not only because of her sore paw but also because of the meds making her very sleepy and weak. This is the BEST investment I’ve ever made for our dog. With regular dog beds, I would have had to throw out at least 20 of them in week one alone.
2) Remember that your dog may need constant supervision for a while. I’m lucky enough to work from home but even then, there were still times I needed to run a quick errand and that was impossible. You may need to take time off, find someone to run your errands for you, or get a dog-sitter who can come into your home as needed to supervise until her recovery is over. If Trin was left alone, she found a way to rip off her bandages, tear open stitches, and chew on her incision. We tried everything!!! The only thing that worked was to give her heavy sedation medications and make her wear both a cone and a muzzle. It was awful and made me feel like the most horrible person in the world. I know it was a necessity but I did all I could not to have to leave her and do all of that to her.
3) Prepare your home for the possibility of a cone of shame. Especially when trying to stagger around on a sore foot and under heavy sedation, Trinny was like a bull in a china shop. Nothing was safe. She would turn her head and start to fall and smash into my antiques – ones that had TONS of space around them so I had originally thought they were safe. She moved once and the giant cone head ripped an electrical outlet cover right off the wall. She managed to fall into a door and the cone somehow caught the doorknob and shoved the door right into the wall, creating a hole. Had I been better prepared, I would have moved furniture around and put things away to get ready for an 85 lb staggering German Shepherd in a cone.
4) Depending on where and what the surgery is on, you may need to have a supply of plastic bags on hand. Her surgery meant that every single time she had to go outside to go to the bathroom, we had to cover her foot really well with a plastic bag to keep her incision dry. I usually use reusable grocery bags so didn’t have many disposable plastic ones on hand at first. I actually went to a store and paid them 5 cents a piece for some. Most didn’t hold up to more than one or two uses so I needed plenty around. You may also want to hit up the dollar store for some plain socks (I got adult socks for my big dog but kids’ socks might work if you have a little one). When her bandages came off, Trin wanted to lick and chew on her incision so the vet suggested we cover it with a sock and then use tape to secure it. It didn’t work for her – she just chewed right through the sock but it does work for some and would certainly be worth a try.
5) Along with the bags and socks, you will need lots and lots of medical tape – including that kind that sticks to itself but not to skin/fur. I went through 3 rolls securing socks (until that didn’t work) and plastic bags to her foot.
6) You may want to have some gentle food on hand. My dog’s regular food was too hard on her stomach during her recovery and that made things worse for both of us. What works for us is what always works for us when her stomach is upset – plain chicken, brown rice, and pumpkin puree. I cook the chicken (poaching it in water) and then use that chicken broth to prepare the rice. I buy cans of pure pumpkin (NOT pumpkin pie filling) and freeze some in ice cube trays so I have little portions to dole out as needed. This is pretty much a miracle cure for Trinity.
7) You will most likely be giving your dog some pills during her recovery. Are you ready for that? Does she take her pills wrapped up in cheese or peanut butter? Do you use pill pockets? Whatever it is that you use, make sure to stock up on it!
8) Buy a package of puppy pads. Trust me on this. At first, Trinity was having a tough time getting down the back steps to go outside because of her foot pain. Then she was on heavier meds (she had to have a second surgery removing even more of the toe because of the damage she caused by chewing on it) and they not only made it harder for her to walk at all but they also made her pee way more often. Whether she was sleeping on her crib mattress or when she finally made it up onto my bed, tucking a pee pad under her bum saved me a lot of washing and aggravation.
9) Depending on your home’s set up, you may want to think about rigging up a ramp (this would have been so helpful in getting Trin out into the backyard and back into the house– I strained my back having to lift her). You may also find a step handy – Trin became very anxious to get up onto my bed but couldn’t manage it for quite some time without help. I placed a step there so it was easier for her. It’s helpful to learn how to lift your dog in situations like this. My vet showed me the safe way of doing it, using a large towel under her back hips and it was invaluable.
10) Prepare yourself to have lots of patience with your dog. I can’t imagine what thoughts must have been going through Trinny’s poor brain. Her toe was gone. She was in awful pain. I kept taking her back to the vet (where the horrible deed was done) and every time, something new and painful happened. She ended up having to spend part of the time heavily sedated which caused confusion for her and wearing a muzzle (partly for her safety because without it, she would chew on her foot and we didn’t want a third surgery or some awful infection to set in and partly for my safety because the sedation she was on could make her lash out by biting me – thankfully that never happened. She was just pitiful and wanted more love than ever.). I KNOW she was going through a lot but for the first few weeks, she made a high pitched whine all day and all night. It was impossible to sleep for more than 20 minutes at a time. My vet, the amazing person she is, offered to let me leave Trin there for the day so I could go home and catch up on sleep (yes that’s how bad I looked!). It’s tough to go through all of this with your dog, waiting for the news on the biopsy (it was cancerous but they got it all!), going on virtually no sleep, and trying to take care of a dog who has become like a newborn baby in terms of how much care she needs. Do everything you can to take care of yourself too so you can stay patient with your dog.
Do you have any good tips to add to these?