Sienna’s Surgery Recovery – Top Tools

When recovering from any major surgery, it’s really important to follow your vets instructions!  Every dog is different, and even though they may have had the same procedure, if your vet has recommended something there is a reason for it.  This site does not provide medical or veterinary advice.  It is intended for informational purposes only.  It is not a substitute for professional medical or veterinary advice, diagnosis or treatment.  If you have a medical emergency or situation, contact your local veterinarian or emergency animal hospital.

Sienna in her recovery pen, relaxing with an ice pack post surgery

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Before Sienna’s femoral head ostectomy (FHO) surgery, I was lucky that the surgical care manager provided a detailed rehab guide (our vet had us follow the Top Dog Rehab Guide. There is a free download available on their site).  It helped me understand what to expect and what I needed to prepare for Sienna’s recovery.  I also joined a Facebook group to learn about others’ experiences and pick up some tips.

Some dogs recovery quickly, some take a long time.  There are so many factors in play.  Sienna walked out of surgery using all 4 legs.  This is relatively uncommon, but I’ve been told by several professionals that it’s likely because she had been in pain so long and had learned to live with it.  Although her initial recovery was great, her long term recovery has been slow.  I attribute this mostly to her PTSD.  Whatever your situation, it’s important that you work with the dog in front of you and take it day by day. 

While your instructions may differ, these are the things we found useful:

Sienna about a week post off, on a slow walk, wearing her belly sling
  • A cone – we already had a traditional plastic cone at home, but I wanted to try to make Sienna as comfortable as possible so we opted to try a soft, inflatable cone.  If she could still reach her incision we planned to revert to the hard cone
  • A heat pack – we borrowed a rice bag from my mom.  Anything that delivers moist heat will work: a magic bag, a rice or bean bag that you can microwave, a hot water bottle, a small electric pad
  • A cold pack – we found the gel one to be best as it molded to her leg well.  Make sure to wrap it in a towel so it’s not too cold on your pups leg!
  • A belly sling – you can use a large towel if you’re comfortable.  Sienna was about 45 pounds at the time, and I am short and would be the primary care giver.  It was also winter and icy!  I felt more comfortable buying a belly sling that would Velcro around her belly and had handles.  I wanted to make sure I didn’t drop her!  For even larger dogs they also make bands that go over your shoulder, giving you even more support!
  • Pill pockets – we didn’t need these for Sienna (she eats so fast we could hide her medication in her food), but many dogs do.  Chances are good that your pup will be on a variety of medications for a few weeks so unless your dog is as easy as Sienna, it’s easier to mask the pills in something.  You could also try cheese, peanut butter or meat!
  • Yoga mats, foam mats or rugs  – we got all of the above.  We only have carpet in the bedrooms and we didn’t want Sienna slipping on the floors.  We put foam mats under her pen in the living room, and made a walk way to the back door with yoga mats (did you know you can throw yoga mats in the washer!?!) and medium sized rugs / runners.  Once she was allowed a bit more freedom we had to buy more mats because she would get excited or scared, slip or flail a little bit and hurt herself. Avoiding set backs like this is important!
  • A pen or crate or room to isolate –  somewhere that your dog can recover, relax, but not enough room to do zoomies or be able to jump up on furniture.  It was also important to be able to keep Willow and Sienna apart so that they wouldn’t wrestle or play.  We opted to buy 2 dog play pens and set it up to the size of 1 1/2 in the living room.  That way she didn’t have enough room to run or go crazy, but there was enough room for us to sit (or me to lie down!) in there with her, and enough room for a big bed for her and her food and water.  She could also get up and walk around a little or stretch
  • Pillows, blankets and old towels – we tried to make Sienna as comfortable as possible.  We had 2 old sheets we would swap out to keep the floor of her pen super clean.  We also covered the wall facing sides of the pen in old blankets to help keep the draft out (it was her first winter in Canada!), or to cover her up when she felt cold. 
  • Passive, calming enrichment activities – having some calm yet mentally stimulating games and activities in your pocket is definitely helpful while your pup is recovering.  For the first little while they will likely be on drugs that keep them a bit sedated, but after that you will want to make sure that they are still entertained and challenged while not overdoing it or injuring themselves.  We used a lot of food based enrichment, serving meals on lickimats or in kongs or hooves, and using puzzle games and other calm games

Some people also use recover suits.  We got one, but didn’t use it much as we were advised not to in case it got caught on the stitches.  We did buy a few sweaters though.  It was Sienna’s first winter in Canada (coming from Mexico!) and she was often cold, even inside.  Having a bare, shaved leg likely didn’t help. Her hair didn’t start to grow back for about 6 months!  Happy healing!

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