What to Do With Your Pets If You’re Recovering from Surgery

By Eva Briggs

I recently had surgery, and that meant figuring out how to deal with pets while recovering.

Since two thirds of U.S. households own pets, I thought I’d share some tips.

If you are having elective surgery, you will be able to prepare in advance. I’m gearing this article toward dogs, since that’s what I own, but the principles really apply to any companion animal.

First, who will be able to help when you are not yet able to perform all pet care duties? This might be the same person who will help with your care. But not every caregiver wants to deal with animals, so ask. Don’t assume. You may need to enlist a friend, neighbor or professional pet sitter.

If you have been training your pet to behave, polish those skills. If not, at least start training as much as your able. Enlist the help of a professional if needed. The following skills are especially helpful:

1 – Go to your place (crate, mat, dog bed, whatever). That will keep your pet out of the way if you are unsteady, in pain or just don’t want your dog underfoot.

2 – Sit and wait before feeding or going through doors. This is safer for your assistant and safer for you when you resume pet care duties.

3 – Walk nicely on a loose leash.

Will you be taking new or different medicines after surgery? If yes, fill prescriptions and buy needed over-the-counter medicines beforehand. Invest in a pill organizer so that you can count out a week’s medicine in advance. And if your pet takes medication, be sure to fill the prescriptions and place the medicines in a separate pill organizer. Your pet helper will appreciate that.

If your dog prefers to take pills embedded in a tasty treat such as peanut butter or squeeze cheese, stock up on that. Be sure to obtain a supply of pet food and treats so that you won’t run out before you are up to shopping.

Write down all pet care instructions before your surgery. This includes when and how much to feed, medication schedule, emergency contacts, veterinarian name and contact information, and copies of your pet’s immunizations in case of any unanticipated emergency.

Will you be using adaptive equipment — cane, crutches, walker, wheelchair? Expose your pet to the equipment before the surgery, so that he can become accustomed to new or scary items.

Take care of any pet grooming needs, such as baths, haircuts, and nail trimming before your surgery so that you won’t need to worry about them for a while.

If your dog is used to more physical activity than he will get while you recover, you may need to tire him out with mental activities. There are lots of things that you can teach your dog that don’t involve strenuous activity on your part. Two or three short sessions — as brief as five minutes — will go a long way to tiring your dog out. Some activities include: teach your dog to touch or target your hand or an object. You can teach nose touch and paw touch. Leave it — with a treat in your hand, on the floor in front of your dog, even balanced on his head. If you want to go for an advanced version, teach your dog to hold a hot dog in his mouth until you give the OK to eat it! (Tip: start with a frozen hot dog wrapped in plastic wrap). You can teach head down shake, wave, sit pretty, scent identification while you are sitting.

Eva Briggs is a medical doctor who works at two urgent care centers in the Syracuse region.