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Preparing your dog for surgery is stressful, whether it’s a dental cleaning or something more complex, like a hip replacement. There’s a lot of information to remember. Is your dog allowed to eat? Are there any medications they need to take? Is there additional testing that needs to be done before the surgery?

Your veterinarian will provide you with instructions, but the process can still feel overwhelming. We’ve broken down the basics to help you plan ahead as much as possible.

The Week Prior

One whole week before your dog’s surgery may seem a little early to start thinking about preparation, but your veterinarian might require additional tests that need to be done before your dog goes under general anesthesia. These tests could include blood work, radiographs, ultrasounds, and other diagnostics that are vital to the success of your dog’s surgery and their health. Make sure to ask your veterinarian if this is the right time for updated vaccines. Some veterinarians may not want to vaccinate depending on the condition and medical history of your dog.

It’s also a good time to figure out how you will get your dog to and from the veterinary hospital for surgery. Additionally, if your dog goes to a groomer, or if you bathe them regularly, consider doing it a few days prior to the surgery, as you’ll be instructed to keep the incision dry following their procedure.

Golden Retriever getting comforted while lying on a table at the vet.
alexsokolov/Getty Images Plus

The Night Before

The night before surgery will be different for individual dogs, so you should discuss your dog’s case with your veterinarian. Ask the following questions if they’re not included in your discharge instructions:

  • Can my dog take their medication?
  • Can my dog exercise normally the day before surgery?
  • When does my dog need to stop eating or drinking?

The night before is also a good time to prepare your home for the next day. Make sure you have an area in your house ready for your dog’s recovery. This could mean separating your dog from other pets, getting their crate set up, and making sure any medications and food required to meet special dietary needs are packed and ready to go to the veterinarian with them. You might also want to wash your dog’s bedding to help lower the risk of infection.

The Morning of

The most important thing you can do the morning of your dog’s surgery is make sure they don’t have access to food or water. Eating and drinking could cause your dog to aspirate during anesthesia, which is potentially life-threatening.

Many veterinarians will have you drop your dog off at their office in the morning. This gives them time to do any additional testing, blood work, and catheter placement before the surgery, so make sure you get there on time. Double-check that the front desk has your phone number for you so they can reach out with any updates.

Golden Retriever senior at the vet wearing a cone on its head.
© 2019 Charles Mann via Getty Images

Post-Operative Care

Your veterinarian will give you detailed instructions about how to care for your dog after their surgery. Your dog will most likely need to take a few medications to help with pain and to reduce the risk of secondary infections. If there’s an incision, your veterinarian may send them home with a recovery collar. Your dog might not like the “cone of shame,” but leaving the collar on until the incision has healed will reduce the risk of it reopening.

Your veterinarian may prescribe restricted activity for your dog. This can be hard with energetic breeds, but is crucial for proper healing. Consider placing your dog in their crate, or talk to your veterinarian about a sedative. You’ll likely be told not to give your dog a bath or to get the incision wet for the first two weeks (or until the sutures come out).

Following your veterinarian’s instructions exactly will help your dog make a full recovery. Watch for any signs of discomfort or unusual behavior and prevent them from irritating the area of the incision. Call your veterinarian or the closest emergency veterinary hospital if you have any concerns.

Related article: Dog Anesthesia: What Every Dog Owner Should Know