Incision site madness post-op in pets (and five ways I handle it)

Patty Khuly, DVM
By Patty Khuly, DVM on Apr. 24, 2009
Incision site madness post-op in pets (and five ways I handle it)

I have a relative whose two adult dogs were both neutered last week. So I knew to expect the cross-country phone calls––in spades. But nothing prepared me for the onslaught of incision site issues that awaited me in the wake of this simple procedure. 

Sure, they’re nervous nellies. But they’re really no different than you and me when it comes to watching out for the minutest signs of an unhappy suture site. Redness, puffiness and weeping is not a pleasant sign and I would hope that any pet owner would be on the lookout for these symptoms post-operatively. 

That’s why I’ve been fielding photos from afar, checking the site remotely due to their own [wonderful] veterinarian’s 1.5 hour distance (you know she’s beloved if they’re willing to travel so far for her care). 



Her take? Haul ‘em in for a close-up look-see. It’s best, after all. Mine? Here’s my basic recommendation for any angry-looking incision site:

1. Avoidance, part 1

Make sure the E-Collar fits well. Can she get around it? Is he licking it when you’re not watching? Is it just long enough to bang into the surgery site and undo all our good work?

2. Avoidance, part 2

Try a light, loose cotton T-shirt, some boxer shorts or a clean sock, depending on the area affected. A light dressing, changed often, will sometimes be indicated if the area allows. 

3. Pack it

Alternate applications of warm and cool packs on the affected area (with a clean kitchen towel soaked in comfortably hot or cold Epsom salts works for me). Though you should know that many veterinarians despise the idea of any wetness on their suture lines. 

4. Meds?

Sadly, antibiotics are sometimes necessary. We often culture the affected area to make sure we’re killing the right bugs with our choice of drugs. 

5. Movement restriction

Crate ‘em, please! No exercise for a week or two (unless your surgeon recommends more careful, lengthy restrictions, as for orthopedic procedures). And for some areas, especially after mass resections in highly mobile spots (underarm or inner thigh, for example) we recommend keeping your pet in hospital for a few days so we can watch pets carefully and limit their movements.  


After dealing with all this neuter-site stress, another family member underwent eyelid surgery. More careful attention to sutures, swelling and local antibiotic application. 

And then, the kicker: A second-opinion case (I hate these). A local surgeon had refused to see him due to the lack of a direct referral from the original veterinarian (this is typical). So he was all mine. (Gee, thanks, Dr. Surgeon.)

After one month and three surgeries (a mass removal on his right flank) the dog’s sutures had continued to open up...completely, every time. The long incision (about 8 inches!), was a scary sight. Thankfully, the large dog’s capable healing mechanisms had  led to a nice, dark pink bed of granulation tissue. 

“Let it heal all by itself,” I’d said, after cleaning the area, culturing it and changing his [too-small, non skin-specific dose] of antibiotics. Hot packs for three days, some crating for a week, and the site should be three times as pretty by next week’s re-check. If I’m lucky. 

Pets are tough on suture lines, it’s true. They’d love nothing better than to lick the wound into submission, lie in the dirt, roll in carcasses and run around like silly creatures after surgery. Meanwhile, you and I would be feeling sorry for ourselves in bed. Pets are just special that way. Too bad they can’t be a little more like us on these occasions. 

Patty Khuly, DVM


Patty Khuly, DVM


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