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After-Spay Care for Dogs to Keep Your Pup Healthy

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Your dog went in for her spay this morning. You’ve hovered over your phone the entire day, waiting for the doctor’s call that everything went smoothly. The relief drowns out everything else when that call comes through, including the after-spay instructions and warnings. You’re just so happy she’s okay. So when you go to pick her up, you’re startled by the pages they hand you. There’s so much information! Isn’t a spay a routine procedure? It is, but surgery is surgery. Before you panic, take a deep breath. After-spay care is pretty straightforward.

Understanding a Dog Spay

According to the ASPCA, around 6.5 MILLION animals enter shelters and rescues every year. That number’s staggering. Unhappily, only half of those animals usually find homes. Spaying your female pet helps prevent the influx.

The spay procedure removes either the ovaries (known as an ovariectomy) or both the ovaries and uterus (known as an ovariohysterectomy), which is more common. A spay prevents breeding and eliminates the heat cycle. Usually, the surgery happens between 4-6 months of age.

In addition to preventing unwanted puppies, spaying prevents health risks:

Spaying is safe and effective.

After-Spay Care: Anesthesia

Your dog will undergo general anesthesia during a spay. This means she’ll need a little extra TLC in the after-spay care department. Don’t be surprised if you pick up a super-groggy puppy. (If you’ve ever had anesthesia, you know what she’s going through) For the first 24 hours, while the anesthetic works out of her system, she needs special treatment.

Wobbly Puppy

Your girl’s balance no longer exists. This means you need to step up. Walk slowly, so she has time to find her feet. Even in the backyard, keep her on a leash. If she needs to go upstairs, walk behind her so you can catch her if she slips or falls.

She absolutely CANNOT jump. Jumping puts a strain on the suture line. If she misses, she’ll hit that tender abdomen against the couch. You don’t want her to cause additional pain.

Sick Puppy

Anesthesia can make ANYONE sick. That includes dogs. Your vet will advise you to cut her next meal in half as part of her after-spay care. She may not eat anything, and that’s okay. The anesthetics used often cause nausea. They WILL leave the system, and her appetite will return. Offer her small amounts of water to keep her hydrated.

Your dog may vomit. Again, it’s a normal reaction. Excessive vomiting is NOT. You need to call your vet right away if you’re seeing signs of uncontrolled nausea (i.e., non-stop drooling). They can provide her with anti-nausea medications.

Exhausted Puppy

Technically, your dog spent time “asleep” during her spay. However, she’s going to come home and SLEEP. This is also normal. Again, it’s a side effect of the anesthesia. Set up a comfortable bed for her, and let her relax. Her body went through A LOT, and it needs time to recover. Sleep does the trick.

That exhaustion may cause sleep incontinence. Consider covering her bed with puppy training pads to keep it clean. She hasn’t forgotten her potty training; she’s just THAT tired. Once the anesthetics are out of her system, she’ll rebound.

After-Spay Care: Incision

You’ve made it through the first day (go you!). Time to get down to the real after-spay care.

Every veterinarian is different, so your dog’s incision may feature different closure methods. The four most common sutures used are:

  • Staples
  • Standard Sutures
  • Dissolvable Sutures
  • Skin Glue

Staples and standard sutures need to be removed by your vet in 10-14 days. (You don’t see these as often anymore) Dissolvable sutures and skin glue don’t require removable. Both of them get absorbed by the body over time.

Incision Care

Regardless of the suture type, your after-spay care remains the same. You need to check the incision site at least once a day (twice is better). Regular checks allow you to notice any changes so you can alert your vet immediately. Just give your girl a gentle belly rub to take a peek.

Any of the following are cause for ALARM:

  • Gaps between the sutures
  • Pus
  • Swelling or excessive redness*
  • Large amounts of discharge*
  • Foul smell
  • Bleeding

*You may see small amounts of pale red discharge the first couple of days. That’s normal (the emphasis on SMALL). A little bit of redness is also expected. After all, your vet cut through her skin and muscle. It shouldn’t be horrible, though.

Cleanliness

It’s tempting to want to bathe your dog. But that’s a huge after-spay care no-no. The incision can’t get wet. You can use a damp cloth to clean AROUND the incision, but that’s it. For those two weeks, you might want to invest in dog grooming wipes.

The Cone of Shame

After-spay care always involves an E-collar

If your dog so much as nips that incision, it’s game over. The biggest after-spay care note is wearing the E-collar. Yes, she’s going to hate it (no dog loves their E-collar). However, if that incision opens…well, we’ll cover that. Plus, dog mouths are full of bacteria. You DON’T want bacteria in a surgical incision.

Your dog needs to wear her E-collar any time your eyes aren’t glued to her. It takes ONE SECOND for a dog to open an incision. You can’t take the risk. So no matter the sad puppy eyes or whines, she wears the E-collar throughout her after-spay care. It’s only two weeks, and she WILL forgive you (I promise).

After-Spay Care: Activity Restriction

Your dog is feeling more like herself. While that’s a good sign, your after-spay care responsibilities kick in. You have two weeks of activity restriction ahead of you.

Two weeks?! Yeah, two weeks. That’s how long it takes for the incision to fully heal.

Why so long? Your vet cut through the skin, all of the layers of muscle, and the body wall to access your dog’s ovaries and uterus. The incision is usually at least an inch long. Even laparoscopic procedures (where a camera assists in the surgery) involve incisions. The holes are just smaller. All of those tissue layers need time to close.

That means NO:

  • Running
  • Jumping
  • Playing

Consequences

It’s a lot to ask of a puppy. It’s even a lot to ask of an older dog. (Older dogs take longer to heal, by the way) However, if that incision opens, your dog has a HOLE in their abdomen. That means open access to their internal organs. Worst-case scenario, those organs can protrude THROUGH the hole (this is known as evisceration). This is a critical emergency, and it can result in death.

If need be, please crate your dog to keep their activity level to a minimum. Two weeks is trivial compared to the consequences.

After-Spay Care: Pain Management

Pain management is a critical part of after-spay care. As a spay is a routine procedure, many people dismiss the importance of pain medication. Please, please, please: discuss having proper pain medication for after-care with your vet.

Why? Think about what the procedure entails. Spaying HURTS. Dogs cannot receive aspirin or other human NSAIDs. You need to have a dog-safe pain medication ready to go. Waiting until she’s in pain isn’t fair. Make sure you’re all set as soon as she comes home.

Want to know when it’s okay to stop the medication? According to Dr. Marina Tejeda of North Shore Animal League, “If your dog’s comfortable and energetic enough to play, she is probably doing okay.”

Two Weeks Down

Your two weeks are up. Your girl wore her E-collar throughout her entire after-spay care. You checked her incision twice a day without fail, and you kept the incision area clean. Even though she begged to romp and play, you kept her on her leash to manage her activity. You’re a complete pro!

See? I told you it’d be easy!

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Andria Kennedy

Andria Kennedy

Andria grew up in a pet-friendly household. On weekends, the family made trips to zoos and aquariums in the area. So it wasn't a surprise when she gravitated toward a career with animals. After six years working among the background operations at the Philadelphia Zoo, she gained a unique insight into the veterinary world. The vet staff provided her first lessons in terminology, the identification of medical equipment, and glimpses of radiographs (x-rays). She also enjoyed plenty of opportunities to talk with everyone, including the veterinary technicians. And they offered an alternative for someone NOT interested in surgical pathways: Namely, their course of study. Andria enrolled at Harcum College. Philadelphia boasts two programs for vet techs, but only Harcum works with the Ryan Veterinary Hospital and New Bolton Center (University of Pennsylvania's small and large animal facilities, respectively). Harcum's vet tech students receive six months of hands-on teaching and experience alongside Penn's vet students. With the opportunities and connections available with one of the top veterinary schools, the decision was easy for her to make. New Bolton Center: Large Animal Medicine Andria ended up trudging through snow up to the knee and shivering in subzero temperatures during her winter semester, but she wasn't disappointed with her choice. New Bolton provided a thorough grounding in large animal medicine. A horse-lover as a child, the experience renewed those old emotions. And a few memories stood out and remained to this day: • Standing alongside a Clydesdale and feeling TINY • Holding the reins of a horse galloping at top speed on a treadmill • Nursing tiny foals through the first days of their life Ryan Veterinary Hospital: Small Animal Medicine Veterinary students can legally work at a practice while studying. Andria took advantage of the opportunity, gaining "real life" experience while attending class. It provided a slight advantage when she entered her three months at the small animal hospital. However, as Ryan Veterinary Hospital offers treatments unique to the veterinary community, she continued to gain valuable experience. For instance, she spent a day working alongside their Chemo Team. The positivity of everyone she encountered - staff, clients, and patients alike - left a lasting impression. Additional standout moments included: • An afternoon spent with the head of the feline kidney transplant program • A day serving as the anesthesia technician in their new radiation unit • Recognizing a radiograph of a giant elephant shrew (applying her previous zoo knowledge) Emergency/ICU Veterinary Technician Accompanying her Associate of Science in Veterinary Technology, Andria received a passing score on the Veterinary Technician National Exam (VTNE). The two led to her certification/license as a veterinary technician - first in Pennsylvania (CVT) and later in Virginia (LVT). Emergency medicine appealed to her from the beginning. The flux of ailments, injuries, and even species kept her mind sharp at all times. The knowledge required to handle cats, dogs, exotics, and even wildlife is highest in an ICU setting. When a vet tech never knows the patient's stability coming back to the treatment area, skills and the ability to respond in an instant always stay in peak shape. With treatments evolving at a constant basis, Andria sought out the best Continuing Education opportunities. She attended the International Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care Society (IVECCS) Conference whenever possible. This allowed her to discuss the latest wound treatments, medications, and advancements in diet formulations. Cardiology Veterinary Technician With the increased knowledge and experience, Andria noticed gaps in her abilities. Her grasp of cardiology remained at the basic level. She wanted to boost her skills and understanding as much as possible, improving her patient care. When an opportunity within the practice arose to move into the cardiology department, she accepted. She sharpened her ability to read ECGs, recognizing arrhythmias of every type. Speaking with the cardiologist, she learned to read echocardiograms, picking out the most common disease processes. And, courtesy of her position in the department, she took in everything she could regarding the grain-free diet concern. And throughout her ten-year career, she built her store of client interactions. She learned stories of heartbreak and hope. In the middle of the night, she shared touching and humorous conversations. Every moment taught her to engage with people. And the skill blended into her writing ability, capturing the interest of pet-lovers everywhere.

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