Post-Operative Patient Care after Spinal Surgery

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Filed Under: Neurology

Your Pet is recovering from spinal surgery.  Neurologic recovery is gradual, and it is normal for it to take several days for the pain from a ruptured disc to resolve.  Sometimes if there has been compression of the spinal cord or nerve roots for awhile before surgery, it may even take a few weeks or more for the Patient to be really comfortable and pain-free again.  Please keep this in mind during your Pet's recovery.  Bed rest is very important after spinal surgery.  Pain medications are also ususally prescribed for you to give at home to improve your Pet's discomfort.

Please also keep in mind that if your Pet was weak or paralyzed prior to surgery, it is normal for this to take awhile to improve.  The average recovery period to walking again after spinal surgery is a few weeks, but some dogs may take even longer than this, depending on how severe and how chronic their spinal cord injury was.  Total recovery after surgery occurs over 2-3 months.  Physical therapy is recommended for most Patients that are weak or paralyzed, and will help shorten your Pet's recovery period, make him or her more comfortable and decrease scar tissue formation.

Rest:  The single most important key to recovery from spinal cord injury is strict rest.  Unfortunately, we cannot talk to our Pets and make them understand this.  Your Pet should be strictly confined to an airline carrier, Pet crate, or playpen for the first four weeks after surgery. Use a carrier that is large enough for your Pet to stand up, turn around, and lie down comfortably, but not so large that it's possible for him or her to jump up.  If your Pet is a jumper, do not use a playpen; rather, use a Pet carrier or crate with a top.  After the first four weeks, your Pet can gradually begin to return to normal activities.  The gradual increase in activity level should occur over another four weeks.

Remember, even if your Pet is feeling great, the healing process is still occurring.  If your Pet becomes overly active too soon, he or she may become very sore and painful.

Incision care: Check the incision twice daily, looking for any evidence of infection.  If you notice any increased redness, swelling, discharge, or pain around the incision, contact us immediately.  It is not necessary to clean the incision.  Small scabs around the incision are normal, and will typically fall off within a couple of weeks.  Some bruising is also normal, and will usually resolve within 1-2 weeks.  Hot packing will help hasten healing, and is often very soothing for the Patient.  You may use a warm, moistened washcloth (test it on your own skin to ensure it's not too hot) directly on the incision for about 10 minutes, 2-3 times a day.  Generally, hot packing can be discontinued once the skin suture or staples are removed.

Urination:  It is common for Pets with severe spinal cord injury to have difficulty urinating.  This is more common with back injuries than with neck injuries.  Typically, Pets are able to urinate well on their own before they are discharged from the Hospital.  Make sure you see your Pet urinate at least two times a day.  Some Pets will need support with your hands or a towel, or walkabout for a sling.  If Pet cannot urinate, their bladder will become distended (it wil not rupture, but will begin to leak or dribble urine constantly) and they can sustain permanent damage to their bladder muscle.  If your Pet is not able to urinate at least twice a day, call us and let us know

Suture / Staple removal:  Sutures or staples should be removed either here or at your regular veterinarian's office, about ten to fourteen days after surgery.

Pain:  Pain should not be confused with anxiety.  Symptoms of pain or discomfort may include restlessness, lack of appetite, lethargy, whimpering.  Anxiety may be distinguished when the whimpering and crying stops when you enter the room, the appetite remains normal, and restlessness stops when you sit with your Pet.  If you are unsure, call the Hospital and ask one of our Technicians for advice. 

***It is not uncommon for your Pet to experience some anxiety for the first twenty-four hours of being home.  In some cases, sedatives may be needed should the anxiety continue, especially if your Pet is not used to being confined.  Sedatives may also be needed if your Pet is feeling too good and being hyperactive.

If you have any questions about your Pet's care, please call us at 972.820.7099.