11 Tips to Help Minimize Post-Surgical Complications in Pets

Cat licking
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In last month’s post, I bemoaned the fate of veterinarians whose patients were beset by post-op complications. Oh, the stress!

As I explained, dealing with complications is unavoidable when it comes to any kind of medicine, but much more so when we’re talking about pets who tend toward excess activity or possess a penchant for self-trauma.

But whining about it doesn’t tend to do much good. Instead, I decided, it’s better to head off any problems by teaching pet owners how to prevent post-operative complications with the following 11 tips:

1. Always tell your vet about your pet’s propensity for “bad” post-op behavior (if you know about it ahead of time). This way your vet can help you take extra precautions to keep your pet safe.

2. Use avoidance devices. Know the worst-case scenario (for example, incision-site dehiscence, or when the sutures fail to keep the incision closed) and prevent it to the best of your ability by being diligent about using avoidance devices.

3. Age matters. Recognize that pets may react differently according to their life stage. For example, a young dog will probably experience more complications associated with excess activity than an older, sedentary one.

4. Type and location of a surgical procedure can make a difference, too. For example, an extensive abdominal surgery and a superficial procedure performed on a hard-to-reach body part will differ in their complication rates.

5. But personality matters more than anything else. Given half a chance, some nervous or neurotic pets will always make a mess of a suture site. Which probably explains why Doberman owners (among others) will get a lot of advice on complications from their veterinarians. Meanwhile, owners of more relaxed breeds of pets might not get quite the same pre-op lecture.

6. Knowing what a complication looks like is half the battle. Some owners assume that some licking and some redness or swelling is inevitable. But everyone should know that a) licking of a surgery site is never a good idea and b) redness and swelling aren’t always unavoidable. Ask your vet’s staff for clear guidelines on how to know if things are going south.

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