All Things Dog

Caring for Convalescing Dogs

While your dog is recovering from illness or surgery, he will need extra care and attention. You may have to give medicine, keep an eye on the surgical wound, or restrict his activities. Nutrition and feeding are especially important at this time. Your pet may need to eat special food, and you may have to coax him to eat. But your extra attention will help him recover.

Let's take a look at the special needs of your dog during convalescence, and see what you can do to make him more comfortable and help him recover as quickly and successfully as possible.

Your dog needs sleep, rest, and peace

While he's recovering, your dog may feel weak, and tire easily. He'll probably spend more time than usual resting or sleeping. But don't worry; in general, this is a natural reaction to illness or surgery. It means your dog is conserving energy while his tissues heal and his body gets back to normal. If, however, your dog doesn’t seem to be improving, make sure to contact your veterinarian. The vet may need to make an adjustment in medication, etc.

Your dog's special dietary needs

Good nutrition is especially important for a dog who's been ill, injured, had an operation, or not eaten in several days. If he doesn't eat properly at this time, his wounds may not heal right away, and he's more likely to get an infection. Supplying the right amount of high-quality nutrients also prevents your dog's body from using its own important tissues as energy sources.

All dogs need to eat a nutritionally balanced diet. And when a dog is convalescing, he needs all the essential nutrients (proteins, fats, minerals, and vitamins) in the correct proportions. Since the balance of nutrients he needs may change, his normal diet may not provide the correct balance. Your vet should advise you about this.

Here's a brief rundown of the essential nutrients your dog needs in order to return to good health:

Proteins. Proteins are the major building blocks in the repair process, and are important in helping your dog's immune system fight infection. The protein needs of convalescing dogs are usually higher than they are for normal, healthy dogs.

Fats and carbohydrates. Fats and carbohydrates are excellent sources of energy. Convalescing dogs need larger amounts of energy so the tissues that have been affected by illness, injury, or surgery can repair themselves quickly. That's why the ideal diet for your recovering dog may include higher levels of energy-giving nutrients.

Minerals and vitamins. Convalescing dogs need to eat food that gives them the correct balance of minerals and vitamins. This helps speed up the healing process, decreases the recovery time, and builds up depleted body stores.

While recovering, a dog may have a poor appetite, and you may need to encourage him to eat. Your vet may prescribe a special diet that covers all of your dog's dietary needs in a concentrated form and that is particularly tempting for a convalescing animal.

If your dog has been fed a special diet in the hospital, your veterinarian may want you to continue this diet at home while your dog is convalescing.

Your dog should always have access to clean, fresh drinking water—unless otherwise instructed by your vet. If he can't move around well, you may need to take special care to make sure he has water right at hand (or paw).

How to encourage your dog to eat

Concentrated diets prescribed by your vet are specially formulated to tempt an unwell dog to eat, but you may still have to give some extra encouragement. Here are a few suggestions on how to do this:

  • Feed your dog small amounts, often. Divide the daily allowance of food into many small meals of fresh food.
  • Warm the food gently to just below body temperature. Stir the food thoroughly before feeding, to evenly distribute the heat. Don't try to give your dog food that's very hot.
  • Leave the food beside your dog for about 30 to 45 minutes. If he's not interested, try hand feeding him, or putting a small amount in his mouth. If he still has no interest in eating, remove the food. He's more likely to eat fresh food if you offer it to him later on.
  • Some dogs have exotic tastes and may like certain flavorings. Ask your vet what flavorings would be fine to use in your dog's food.

The medical needs of a convalescing dog

You need to keep a close eye on your dog while he's convalescing. Stroke and groom him gently, and look for any changes in his coat or skin. If he has an injury or has had surgery, check to see if this area has any redness or discharge. Watch for any weight loss or gain, lumps or swelling, vomiting or diarrhea. Tell your vet right away if you notice these signs or anything else that's unusual.

You may need to give your dog medicine while he's convalescing, to help him recover from an illness, or to prevent infection in a wound or injury. Or, if your dog has been injured, you may have to look after dressings. Please ask your vet for advice on how to do these things.

Here are some of the special skills and care your dog may need:

Giving medicines to your dog. Always remember to give the full course of the treatment of any drug your vet prescribes. Don't stop giving the medicine because your dog seems better. This may cause your dog to become worse, and may make future treatments harder. If you think your dog is reacting badly to any drug, get advice from your vet right away. Your vet can show you how to give the medicine. Try to give tablets as gently as possible to your dog, and praise or reward him after he's swallowed the medication. If your dog is eating, you may be able to give some medication in his food. Your vet can tell you if you should do this.

Caring for dressings. Your dog may need bandages, splints, casts, and other dressings if he's recovering from an injury or surgery. These may be put on to protect the wound from dirt or to discourage your dog's natural tendency to lick a wound. If the bandage becomes soiled or shifts in position, or if your dog licks or chews on it, contact your vet immediately. Also, pay attention to make sure the bandages don’t shift position with activity. When that happens, they can rub on boney areas, thereby causing a painful pressure sore or infection.

You can help keep the dressing clean and dry by keeping your dog away from dirt and water on the ground, and by covering the bandage with a heavy plastic bag when taking him outside to eliminate. Make sure to remove the bandage when you come back inside to prevent “sweating” or moistening of the wrap, which can damage the underlying skin.

If you have a young, energetic dog, he can easily forget about splints and casts and become too active. If this is a problem, you may have to keep your pet away from other animals or contained in a small area or crate.

When to contact your veterinarian

You may find you don't know exactly when to get in touch with your veterinarian. To help you figure this out, here's a list of signs worth reporting:

  • Collapsing or convulsions
  • Increased frequency of urination, increased amounts of urine produced, or urination in the house by a previously house-trained dog
  • Greatly increased thirst and water intake
  • Persistent cough or abnormal breathing
  • Diarrhea or vomiting that lasts for more than 24 hours
  • Loss of appetite for longer than 24 hours
  • Weakness or lethargic behavior
  • Swelling, bad odor, or change in color of the skin around a dressing
  • If a dressing becomes soiled, slips out of place, falls off, or is being chewed
  • If your dog is determined to chew a dressing or lick a wound
  • Lameness or a change in the way your pet walks or runs
  • If your dog is in obvious discomfort, appears anxious, or is restless

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