Cat licking

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.

7. Keep checking. Just because it looks good right now doesn’t mean it will tomorrow morning. Or the morning after. A smart pet owner uses common sense and keeps checking for signs of complications.

8. Don’t hesitate to go back to your vet’s place for a re-check. Many veterinarians don’t charge for routine post-surgical follow-ups for good reason: We want you to feel comfortable coming back as often as you need to. But do keep in mind that significant complications (such as the need for re-suturing or additional medication) aren’t typically your vet’s fault and won’t likely be financed by his or her hospital.

9. Is there anything additional you can do to help minimize complications? This’ll differ depending on the surgical site and the kind of procedure, so ask your veterinarian for recommendations.

10. Crate training is a godsend when it comes to minimizing complications. In fact, one of the best reasons to train your pet to a crate is for just this kind of possibility. Crating is the surefire answer for keeping many pets “quiet.” Maybe it’s time you invested in one and started some basic training.

11. When all else fails for a too-active pet or complication-fraught situation, sedation and/or a stay at the vet’s may be required. I have to hospitalize at least one pet every couple of months because he won’t let his incisions alone — no matter what his owner tries. I’ve even been forced to sedate some of these pets when confinement and round-the-clock supervision proved insufficient. Luckily, this scenario is definitely not the norm.