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Post-Surgical Complications in Dogs and Cats

Surgery is a part of pet ownership

Pet owners first learn about surgery for their dog or cat when pets have an elective procedure to spay or neuter them. Another time when pet owners consider surgery is when dogs or cats are injured and require emergency surgery. All surgeries just like all anesthetic procedures have the risk of complications. For example surgery involves making an incision. There is always the risk that the incision will open up instead of heal.

Complications are inevitable

Just like accidents, complications happen. Complications are expected and range from red skin to death. Factors to consider are the pet, the surgery and the surgeon. Pets can create problems by being too active or chewing at their sutures when their e-collar comes off. Surgery is known to have more complications when there is more “time, trash, and trauma”. It is important to have procedures be as short as possible and to cause as little trauma as possible. Horrible wounds have more complications than healthy tissue. The wound needs to be as clean as possible and have dead or infected tissue removed. An experienced surgeon would be aware of the complications and how to deal with them.

Minor complications include:

  • Depression

  • Dehydration

  • Lack of appetite

  • Vomiting after anesthesia

  • Diarrhea

  • Coughing from endotracheal tube

  • Lethargy from anesthesia

  • Red and itchy skin around the incision


Major complications include:

  • Pale gums from blood loss

  • Discharge from infected incision

  • Abscess from suture reaction

  • Suture failure resulting in tissue coming out of the incision

  • Hernia from abdominal contents coming through abdominal wall

  • Seroma from fluid accumulating under the skin


If you notice any of these major complications, your pet should be seen by a veterinarian as soon as possible to prevent further complications. We are open 24 hours and can help your pet even if the pet had surgery at a different hospital.

How do you prevent complications?

Complications are expected but can often be prevented. The first step in preventing complications is knowing your pet is in skilled and capable hands for surgery. Most times, the cheapest hospital isn’t always the best option for preventing complications. Consider having a board-certified surgeon with over 28 years of experience perform your pet’s surgery. Our hospital has the best anesthetic monitoring equipment. Our technicians are trained to thoroughly monitor the smallest and largest pets no matter how old, sick or critical they are at any time of day. We treat critical pets on a regular basis. We pride ourselves on our higher standard of care including overnight, intensive and critical care.

We provide all our clients with detailed aftercare instructions. When you are caring for your pet at home, we are here 24 hours to answer any questions you have. You are responsible for helping avoid complications. Owners must administer medications on time and should not stop any medication early. Always double-check the label instructions. Not giving medications as prescribed can lead to pain and infection as well as other complications. E-collars should be worn for the entire time recommended. A few minutes without the e-collar can cause a major complication such as your pet chewing their stitches out. Check your pet’s incision daily to make sure no sutures are missing, no blood is coming from the incision, and the skin is not red or swollen. Blood is never a normal discharge. See a veterinarian immediately if blood is coming from the incision.

What do you do if a complication arises

Be prepared for the complications. Your dog may vomit after anesthesia. Your cat my not want to eat due to pain. Not every pet reacts the same to anesthesia and surgery. If you are concerned something is wrong with your pet, either call or have your pet seen by a veterinarian. You do not need an appointment at our hospital, just come in and your pet will be seen right away. Sometimes you will be able to manage the problem with simple steps such as a warm compress or additional pain medications. Complications may involve sutures that have been chewed out or are absent for other reasons and need to be replaced. If you see the incision is opening, have the incision checked by a veterinarian before the severe complication of herniated tissue and infection occurs. No matter what the concern, consult a veterinarian immediately to determine the best course of action.

Why should your pet have surgery at PETSURG & ER4PETS?

The PETSURG & ER4PETS team provides surgery and emergency services 24 hours a day 7 days a week. A veterinarian is on-site to help you and your pet. The knowledgeable, compassionate technical staff care for your pet before, during and after surgery. Our state of the art facility is always ready. Bloodwork and high quality digital radiographs can be performed while you wait. We perform emergency surgeries and nonemergency soft tissue and orthopedic surgeries. For example, Dr. Jones saved a 1 pound kitten born without an anus by performing reconstructive surgery and also repairs very complicated fractures. She is a board-certified surgeon with over 28 years of experience as a veterinarian. Our team strives to make your pet’s surgical experience the best it can be. Your pet is our top priority!