Preparing your dog for post surgical care
By DANIELLE BECK, CAB
At some point in your dogs life they will require a period of time with restricted movement. This might be just a few days or a week after being neutered, or strict confinement after knee or hip replacement surgery; among others. During these times our dogs are expected to stay in a crate for the majority of the day, to be then taken on lead to the garden for the toilet, and back in their crate. This is a huge ask for any dog, and with the current pandemic we can empathise more with them about what it’s like to be confined to a small space 24/7.
My own 8 month old Mini American Shepherd, Spock, will need to do just that. He’s recently been diagnosed with luxating patella’s, Grade 3 in one leg and grade 2 in the other (his knee caps can pop out of place – OUCH !). He therefore needs surgery to pin his knee in place to ensure his legs grow straight, stay strong, and reduce pain from arthritis as he gets older.
This means that he needs two knee surgeries, both require at least 6 WEEKS of crate rest, no walks. As he needs surgery on both knees that’s surgery, 4 weeks rest, surgery again, then further 6 weeks rest. This result in my 8/9 month old puppy needing to be stuck in a crate for 10 weeks, during a very sensitive period of his life – adolescence.
Thankfully, as a Clinical Animal Behaviourist and Trainer I have a few tricks up my sleeve that will hopefully help to prepare him for this. So I’m going to blog about our experience with this surgery and his rehabilitation, to help other owners in similar positions to prepare their dogs for crate rest.
I’ll help to explain the different things you can do each week during their recovery to help ensure they’re kept healthy and stimulated and what worked well and what hasn’t. Remember what works for some dogs wont work with others and i’d love to hear how you’re coping with your dog.
“Teaching your dog to switch off and chill out is essential for their mental wellbeing; especially if they’re going to have surgery”
Things to think about
- House logistics – Your dog will need to have their movement restricted. Where possible make space in a room by you that can be their ‘area’. Invest in baby gates for stairs and doorways to stop them following you.
- Toileting – Squatting after surgery is going to be painful for them. There may be accidents, they may hold it until the last minute and not have enough time to alert you. Use towels and blankets that you can wash just incase to prevent worry or frustration should this happen.
- Rugs!!! – A stable surface is essential to prevent any slips during recovery, which could potentially cause further injury. Rubber backed dog beds like vet bed are great as temporary pathways. Long rubber backed rugs or rugs with the non slip rug tape are ideal so they dont move as your dog walks on them.
- Tablets – Can your dog take medication? How can you help them? Try to avoid putting them in their food bowl where possible, as they may think all food is ‘poisoned’. Some medication treat games are really useful and will have their own blog next.
- Free movement – Start limiting their movement in the house now, it’s a big change to suddenly have that movement restricted.
- Toys – Do you have any ‘calm toys’ like snuffle mats or activity feeders that they can enjoy lying down or with little movement?
- Buster Collar – Waking up in the vets with one of these can be scary, train them to use one now.
- Other dogs – Can your other dog have a ‘holiday’ for a few days? Train them to settle on a lead too, as being unable to play can be a big problem for some dogs.
- Resource Guarding – Dogs that are in pain often guard more than ones that aren’t. Bare this in mind and contact a registered Clinical Animal Behaviourists if you’re concerned.
- Children – Post surgery dogs can be snappy if they anticipate pain from being bumped, or knocked into. Keep children away from the dogs area and prepare them for being unable to play near the dog for a while.
Preparing for Crate Rest
'Chill Out' Training On A Lead
Ensuring your dog can remain calm and relaxed whilst on a lead will be a huge benefit for you. They will need to be on lead to go to the toilet, but we don’t want them bouncing around thinking they’re going for a walk. I adore puppy lines, thin lightweight, long leads that can trail behind your dog. Get them use to wearing this now; it will be the best thing you do.
You want them to be happy wearing it so clip it on and let it drag. Then give them a chew or something relaxing to do while they wear it then take it off. Gradually increase how long they’re happy to wear this. If you have multiple dogs this is great for the others to learn too, as preventing them from playing with your dog after surgery is just as important.
If In Doubt; Chill Out
This is the protocol I follow with all my dogs and recommend to all clients. It’s a way of helping your dog to manage themselves and choose to relax and ‘chill out’ rather than get frustrated. My dogs are assistance dogs and this helps them to learn how to just relax and switch off when i’m out shopping and stop for a rest, regardless of where I am.
It’s one of the first ways I help dogs learn how to cope with frustration, and this will be your biggest hurdle with crate rest and restricted movement. The frustration and possible anger or anxiety around being confined, not being able to play or do what they want will ,m really affect your dog during their recovery, so prepare them the best you can before the surgery. For dogs that can ‘chill out’ on the lead, it means they can rest by your side as they heal, they don’t have to be confined for the whole time, so it’s worth teaching them how to do this. It’s best to start before surgery but that first week ,when they’re sore and sleepy from the medication, is a great time to start too!
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Crates are fantastic, they’re portable bedrooms for our dogs and when introduced well many dogs will happily relax in their room. With or without a chew to occupy them. Those that understand ‘If In Doubt; Chill Out’ will do it faster. One of the best ways of crate training your dog is by associating it with a feeling of relaxation, and safety. Then building on duration and patience whilst in there. ‘Crate Games’ by Susan Garret are by far some of the best ways to help so I highly recommend checking out her work HERE (https://dogsthat.com/crate-games-2/)
Toys and Chews
Start stocking up on toys, chews, bottles and boxes; we’re gonna need them!
Chewing, sniffing and relaxing are all ways to help our dogs to relax. Start seeing what types of chews and toys your dog likes and have a collection that you can alternate ready. KONG type toys, Lickimat, SnuffleMats, and antlers are all great places to start. If your dog isn’t clicker trained now is a good time to start learning the basics.
I’ll go through how we’re using these items, what’s working and what isn’t over the next few weeks. If you’re going through similar join the course and chat with me on the forum and we can share ideas and strategies to help our dogs through their recovery.