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Incision Inspector: What You Need To Look For While Your Dog Heals From Her Spay Surgery

If your dog is coming home from the hospital following her ovariohysterectomy, or spay, it is going to be up to you, her loving pet parent, to make sure that she heals quickly and uneventfully. Part of your nursing duties includes making a visual inspection of her incision every morning and every evening during her recovery period. Knowing what to look for will enable you to address potential complications before they can become serious. Taking steps to head them off can ensure a swifter recovery for your canine companion. Here's what you should know.

The Incision

Your dog will have an incision on her abdomen. The length of the incision will depend on several factors, such as whether your dog's surgery was routine or if it was performed while your dog was in heat, pregnant or experiencing pyometra. The incision will be held closed with either sutures or surgical staples. When your dog is presented to you in the waiting room or examination room upon discharge, take a close look at the incision with your veterinarian or one of his or her technicians. Once the staff member confirms that the incision looks normal, remember the image. This is essentially how the incision should appear until it has healed.

The Inspection

Each day, inspect the incision for any signs of irritation, infection or trauma:

  • Discharge from the incision, such as blood, blood-tinged fluid or pus.
  • Notable redness around the incision
  • Bruising on the skin around the surgical area
  • Swelling of the surgical area
  • Missing sutures or staples
  • Opening at any point along the incision line

Gently touch the area to make sure that it does not feel hot to the touch, and perform a quick sniff test to confirm that no foul odor is emanating from the incision. These are signs of infection. If you observe any of these conditions, be sure to notify your veterinarian without delay. He or she will likely want to examine your dog to head off any further complications.

Incision Care Tips

Do not bathe your dog during the healing period, but be sure that the incision is kept clean and dry. You can help to achieve this by not allowing your dog to lie on wet or dirty surfaces, such as outdoors. If your dog's incision appears wet and she has not been exposed to wet surfaces, she is probably guilty of licking her incision. Another sign of this common transgression is red, irritated skin. Licking often leads to chewing when dogs decide to do the veterinarian's job and remove their own sutures prematurely. If your dog is found guilty of licking and chewing at her incision, your veterinarian will outfit her with the "cone of shame," otherwise known as the plastic collar. This flexible, lampshade-like collar surrounds her head and prevents her from accessing her incision.

Beware of the Seroma

A seroma is a swelling that occurs when fluid accumulates under the skin around the incision. Seromas usually occur as a result of engaging in vigorous activity too soon after surgery. In mild cases, the fluid is often reabsorbed back into the body and the seroma resolves on its own. However, in some cases, the fluid must be drained by your veterinarian. It can be challenging to try to limit your young and playful dog's enthusiastic activity, but all running, jumping, rough housing with the kids or other pets, and swimming must be prevented. One way to reduce outdoor activity is to only allow your dog outdoors for elimination purposes and to take her outside on a leash so that you have control over her actions.  

Your dog should be fully healed after seven to 10 days from the date of surgery. During this time, remember that your dog cannot speak up about what she is feeling. If you observe anything concerning or unusual in her incision's appearance or in her overall behavior, it is better to be safe and contact your veterinarian to voice your concern than to remain silent and be sorry later. Your watchful eye and your devoted, tender loving care will ensure a smooth recovery for your furry friend. For more information, check with a veterinarian like those at Caring Hands Animal Hospital.