Infections After Pet Surgery: What To Know And When To Act

Most pets, at some point in their lives, will undergo surgery. Statistics indicate that 80% of dogs and up to 90% of cats are spayed or neutered, which means an overwhelming majority of pets will need to recover from surgery and their owners will need to keep an eye out for infection.


The risk of a surgical site infection, referred to as SSI in the veterinary field, can vary.

A study conducted by a group of veterinary scientists pegged the average infection rate between 3 and 6.6%. However, Veterinary Practice News reports the risk of infection can range from as little as 2% for spay and neuter procedures to up to 20% for surgeries involving “septic abdomens, draining tracts and necrotic wounds.”


Regardless of the risk, a post-surgical infection increases recovery costs for the owner — by some estimates up to 142% — increases discomfort for the animal and creates stress for both the animal and the owner. Some studies have suggested that longer surgeries increase the potential risk of infection, as does the use of anti-inflammatory medications, the use of a urinary catheter and high blood sugar levels in the animal.


Those factors aside, pet owners should look for certain symptoms, follow aftercare instructions and do their best to understand what an infection looks like should their dog or cat need veterinary care. Here are a few things to remember when looking for an infection after pet surgery.


Ask questions.

Before you leave your veterinarian’s office to take your pet home to recover, ask questions that will give you a better idea of what to expect. Those questions should help you get answers on diet restrictions and meals, medication, urination, how stitches should heal or if they will need to be removed, and what level of activity should be permitted. The more informed you are, the easier it is to detect abnormal behavior.


Keep the cone on.

An e-collar, known casually as the “cone of shame,” is designed to keep an animal from licking an incision site. When an animal has access to an incision site, it could introduce bacteria to the site or compromise the stitches and open the site. Even if the cone is awkward or annoying, keep it on. And, shop around. Cones have come a long way, so you may find more comfortable options.


Be vigilant.

Keep an eye out for abnormalities and alert your veterinarian as soon as you can to avoid further complications. If stitches come loose or an incision site opens, your vet should know right away. It is not normal for an animal to strain or cry out while trying to urinate after surgery, it’s not normal for animals to have blood in their urine or stool, and while animals may vomit after surgery due to the anesthesia, it’s not normal for the vomit to contain blood. If it does, we encourage our pet owners at Dr. Kelly’s to contact us to discuss the animal’s condition and determine what care may be needed. Other indicators of infection include a refusal of food and an unwillingness to stand up or move around, coughing or changes in breathing, swelling at the incision site, an incision site that is red, warm, painful to touch or experiencing discharge, and a generally lethargic state. If an animal is running a fever, that’s also an indicator of a potential infection.


To mitigate the risk of infection after surgery, some veterinarians prescribe antibiotics. However, others don’t. At Dr. Kelly’s Surgical Unit, we perform up to 20 surgeries each day and we routinely prescribe antibiotics for surges like cystotomies, pyometra, and dental extraction procedures. Antibiotics are prescribed on a case by case basis but not typically needed with more common procedures like spays, neuters and routine dental cleanings. Should there be cause to send home antibiotics, your medical team will discuss this with you at your appointment.


Dr. Kelly’s Surgical Unit is a trusted veterinary team serving the Phoenix, Peoria and Tucson metro areas, with accessible locations in each market, offering highly specialized surgery, quality spay and neuter procedures, and accessible  dental care for pets. Contact us to learn more about our specialized services or to schedule an appointment.   

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