How Do I Prepare for My Dog or Cat Having Surgery?

How Do I Prepare for My Dog or Cat Having Surgery?

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Dr. Phil Zeltzman is a traveling, board-certified surgeon in Allentown, PA. His website is He is the co-author of “Walk a Hound, Lose a Pound” (

Kelly Serfas, a Certified Veterinary Technician in Bethlehem, PA, contributed to this article.

If your dog or cat is scheduled for surgery, your veterinarian will likely ask you to take a few steps to prepare. Following these steps will help everything run smoothly on the day of the procedure.

Fasting before anesthesia
Any time your pet is scheduled for anesthesia, fasting will be required. Why is that?

Tranquilizers and anesthesia drugs decrease the swallowing reflex. If your groggy pet vomits from the drugs, there is risk of aspirating, or inhaling, the vomit into the lungs. This can cause a type of pneumonia called aspiration pneumonia, which can be fatal.

Different veterinarians will have different time requirements for withholding food. Sure, your dog or cat may complain about it, but please don’t give in! It truly is for your pet’s own safety.

There are a few exceptions to the fasting rule:

  • Puppies and kittens have little energy in reserve, so your veterinarian will likely instruct you to give them a small meal in the morning.
  • Pets with diabetes may also need a small meal in the morning, along with insulin, so please discuss this with your family vet.

Most vets will allow your pet to drink water overnight, until you leave home, to prevent dehydration.

Preparing for surgery
Before the procedure, ask your veterinarian if you can give medications in the morning — some may be needed, but some can be skipped. Also ask if you should drop off your pet’s medications or food the day of surgery. It’s always betterfor your pet to eat his normal food, whether it’s generic food or a special diet.

You may have been told how much confinement your pet will need after surgery, and what that entails; please make sure you have a room, a play pen or a crate prepared for the day your pet comes home.

The morning of surgery
You will need to drop your pet off early in the morning, even though surgery may not occur until late morning or the afternoon. Why is that? There are multiple reasons, depending on your pet’s specific situation. Your veterinarian may wish to:

  • Run a physical exam
  • Run blood work
  • Place an IV catheter
  • Administer IV fluids
  • Start specific medications
  • Take X-rays
  • Perform an EKG
  • Calculate anesthesia drug doses

This list offers only a few examples; even more may be necessary before surgery is performed.

Your pet’s veterinarian and nurses will have to fill in several documents, regarding the physical exam, the anesthesia plan and the care needed for your pet. In addition, surgery may actually occur earlier than expected if there is a schedule change.

Your veterinary team needs to be as prepared as possible so that your pet is safe and sound during anesthesia and surgery. One last reason for the early drop-off is to ensure that your pet doesn’t get into any food by accident!

What to expect at the clinic
Once you arrive at the hospital, you will likely need to read and sign an estimate and a consent form to make sure everybody is on the same page. It’s important to review them and ask the nurse or the receptionist to explain anything that’s unclear. Don't forget to review:

  • Questions To Ask Before Your Pet's Surgery
  • Questions To Ask Before Anesthesia

Make sure you leave a reliable phone number so that you can be reached easily at any time.

Once your pet has been dropped off, it’s time to try and relax by keeping your mind busy!

If you have any questions or concerns, you should always visit or call your veterinarian -- they are your best resource to ensure the health and well-being of your pets.

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Tips for Preparing Your Pet for Surgery

What Should You Do Before Your Pet’s Surgery?

A veterinarian will often give you specific instructions on what you should do before your pet goes into surgery. For example, many pets will be fasted for at least 12 hours prior to the procedure. In some cases, such as puppies and kittens or animals with diabetes, pets may not be able to fast, and your veterinarian will let you know if that is the case for your pet. Liquid intake may be restricted, but in some cases, a small amount water is fine.

Medications may also need to be restricted prior to surgery, or conversely, your veterinarian will need your pet to take certain medications leading up to the procedure. It can also be beneficial to take your dog out to potty one last time before the procedure to prevent accidents while under the anesthetic.

To get yourself prepared for the surgery, you will want to ask questions to make sure you understand the process. You will also want to make sure that you understand the cost and billing situation. A written estimate should be provided to you by the GCVS staff for any surgical procedure at our hospital. You may also want to ask questions about what you will need to do after the surgery so that you feel more prepared, though a detailed, written discharge summary will also be prepared for you when your pet is released after a procedure here at GCVS.

What Should You Expect at the Veterinarian’s Office?

When you drop your dog off at the veterinarian’s office, you will need to fill out the admission forms and leave all medical history and contact information that is needed.

Your pet should be given a routine check-up before any sedatives are administered – something that is always done here at GCVS.After the exam is complete, your pet will be placed under anesthesia. After this point, your pet should be continuously monitored to ensure stable vitals until they are out of recovery. At GCVS, we have a board-certified anesthesiologist on staff, as well as specially-trained, registered technicians whose job is to monitor anesthetized patients. Your pet’s hair near the surgical area should be closely shaved or clipped.

After the surgery, your pet will be put in a clean, dry area that is warm and comfortable until they are ready to go home. At GCVS, we have 24-hour care from our licensed veterinary technicians for all of our post-operative patients.

Post-Surgery Care Tips

Once your pet is out of surgery, staff should monitor him or her until they are awake and ready to go home. Upon your arrival at the office to pick up your pet, you should be instructed about any medications your pet needs to be given. Your at-home care instructions are instrumental in the proper healing of your pet, so ask for a printed list of instructions or take notes on what you need to do. At GCVS, your written discharge instructions have the list of medication needed for your pet’s home care.

Depending on the surgery, you may need to be shown a good way to lift or support your pet to get him or her around your home. If you are unable to carry out the duties established by your veterinarian, ask if they have outpatient support that they can provide for you. You will also be able to set up a follow-up appointment or a time to have any sutures removed.

Once you get home with your pet, you will want to give them a quiet, contained, non-slippery area that doesn’t give them enough room to run around. In some cases, patients need to be kept strictly confined to ensure they do not damage the surgical repair. Try to keep the energy in the area calm so your pet can rest. Only allow your pet outdoors to relieve himself or herself. You will want to keep your pet on a leash during these trips to limit their movement and so that you can make sure that their bowel movements are normal and that they aren’t straining to urinate.

Check on your pet’s surgical site to make sure it is healing properly. There shouldn’t be any signs of oozing or discharge (of any color), incisional redness, or odors. Call your veterinarian right away if you see anything that looks unusual. It is imperative that pets are not allowed to scratch or bite at the bandage or sutures. Elizabethan collars are often necessary during this time.

At GCVS, our surgical team will ensure that your dog or cat is well taken care of throughout the surgery and recovery time. From check-in to check-out, your pet will be evaluated and monitored accordingly. Our doctors want to make the process as easy for pet owners as possible, so we will make sure that you thoroughly understand our process and get all of the information that you need to keep your pet happy and comfortable once you get him or her home. If your pet is in need of surgery, have your family veterinarian contact GCVS at 713-693-1111 for a referral.

Preparing for Surgery

Many people have questions about various aspects of their pet's surgery, and we hope this information will help. It also explains the decisions you will need to make before your pet's upcoming surgery.

Is the anesthetic safe?

Today's modern anesthetic monitors have made surgery much safer than in the past. Here at Point Vicente Animal Hospital, we do a thorough physical exam on your pet before administering anesthetics, to ensure that a fever or other illness won't be a problem. We also adjust the amount and type of anesthetic used depending on the health of your pet.

Preanesthetic blood testing is important in reducing the risk of anesthesia. Many pets need blood testing before surgery to ensure that the liver and kidneys can handle the anesthetic. Even apparently healthy animals can have serious organ system problems that cannot be detected without blood testing. If there is a problem, it is much better to find it before it causes anesthetic or surgical complications. Animals that have minor dysfunction will handle the anesthetic better if they receive IV fluids during surgery. If serious problems are detected, surgery can be postponed until the problem is corrected.

We employ three levels of in-house blood testing before surgery, which we can go over with you when you bring your pet in. Our doctors prefer the more comprehensive screen, because it gives them the most information to ensure the safety of your pet. For geriatric or ill pets, additional blood tests, electrocardiograms, or x-rays may be required before surgery as well.

It is important that surgery be done on an empty stomach to reduce the risk of vomiting during and after anesthesia. You will need to withhold food for at least 8 to 10 hours before surgery. Generally, taking up the food before you go to bed will suffice. Water can be left down for the pet until the morning of surgery. Remember, no breakfast!

Will my pet have stitches?

For many surgeries, we use absorbable sutures underneath the skin. These will dissolve on their own, and do not need to be removed later. Some surgeries do require skin stitches. With either type of suture, you will need to keep an eye on the incision for swelling or discharge. Most dogs and cats do not lick excessively or chew at the incision, but this is an occasional problem you will also need to watch for. We can fit your pet with a broad collar that will impede their ability to get to their sutures, if needed. If there are skin sutures, these will usually be removed 10 to 14 days after surgery. You will also need to limit your pet's activity level for a time and no baths are allowed for the first 10 days after surgery.

Will my pet be in pain?

Anything that causes pain in people can be expected to cause pain in animals. Pets may not show the same symptoms of pain as people do they usually don't whine or cry, but you can be sure they feel it. Pain medications needed will depend on the surgery performed. Major procedures require more pain relief than things like minor lacerations.

For dogs and cats, we may recommend an oral anti-inflamatory the day after surgery and several days after to lessen the risk of discomfort and swelling. We use newer medications, which are less likely to cause stomach upset and can be given even the morning of surgery. Because cats do not tolerate certain pain medications, we are limited in what we can give them. However, recent advances in pain medications have allowed for better pain control in cats than ever before, and there are now some medications that can be given by mouth. We administer a pain injection 10 minutes prior to surgery. After surgery, pain medication is given on a case by case basis. Any animal that appears painful will receive additional pain medication.

We use narcotic patches for some surgeries in dogs as well. Injectable pain medications may also be used after surgery on both dogs and cats. Providing whatever pain relief is appropriate is a humane and caring thing to do for your pet.

What other decisions do I need to make?

While your pet is under anesthesia, it may be the ideal time to perform other minor procedures, such as dental cleaning, ear cleaning, or implanting an identification microchip. If you would like an estimate for these extra services, please call ahead of time. This is especially important if the person dropping the pet off for surgery is not the primary decision maker for the pet's care.

When you bring your pet in for surgery, we will need to 5 to 10 minutes of time to fill out paperwork. When you pick up your pet after surgery you can also plan to spend about 10 minutes to go over your pet's home care needs.
We will call you the day before your scheduled surgery appointment, to confirm the time you will be dropping your pet off and to answer any questions you might have. In the meantime, please don't hesitate to call us with any questions about your pet's health or surgery.


1) Our veterinarian will perform a pre-operative physical examination to make sure that your pet is a good candidate for surgery.

2) If your pet is too fractious to handle, a physical exam will be performed under anesthesia.

3) Feral cats receive their physical exams under anesthesia.

4) If your pet shows signs of illness or if there are any concerns (such as age, a heart murmur, severe upper respiratory infection, obesity, food in stomach) we may refuse surgery if we feel surgery is a health risk.


1) Eligibility Verification ( see required documentation )

2) You must pay for additional services at check-in. We accept cash, credit or debit card
(no personal check).

3) Cats must be in a clean pet carrier commercially manufactured for the purpose of transporting felines with a secured door. We DO NOT ACCEPT animals in cardboard boxes, plastic totes, laundry baskets, or other non-standard or homemade devices.

4) Do not put multiple cats in one carrier. Your pet needs to be able to lie down comfortably in the carrier after surgery. Your pet may be agitated or aggressive when they go home due to the after-effects of anesthesia. Cats that routinely get along well may not be tolerant of each other in the immediate post-operative period.

5) If you have multiple cats in one carrier when you arrive, you will be asked to transfer your cat(s) to one of our cardboard carriers to go home
($5.00 each).

6) If your pet has current vaccination records please bring them. If your pet has a current rabies vaccine, we need to see proof (actual rabies certificate).

7) If you are bringing a feral cat you must follow our ( Feral Cat Protocol ).


1) Eligibility Verification ( see required documentation )

2) You must pay for services at check-in. We accept cash, credit or debit card
(no personal checks).

3) Dogs must be under control on a leash or in a clean pet carrier.

4) Please take your dog for walk before you arrive as he/she will be in a kennel all day.

5) If your pet has current vaccination records please bring them. If your pet has a current rabies vaccine, we need to see proof (actual rabies certificate).

Why Fasting Your Pet for Surgery Is so Important

Usually when you’re considering booking surgery for your pet, planned or not, we like to make sure that they have fasted appropriately beforehand, so we can avoid simple complications. With the use of some drugs and anesthesia to get your pet ready for surgery, vomiting could be a factor, and we like to avoid that by making sure an exact fasting period is followed. With your pet being under anesthesia, they are moved around quite a bit, to either x-ray for rads or from the treatment table over to the surgery table. With a lot of moving around and no fasting guideline followed, your pet could be at risk for vomiting food up and possibly aspirating (food going into the lungs).

Before recent research, 12 hours was the appropriate time to fast your pet. Now, guidelines are aimed towards 6-8 hours before surgery. This pre-op fasting time is much more beneficial for your pets because you have enough food in there to neutralize the stomach acid, preventing it from coming up the esophagus that causes regurgitation under anesthetic.

Now we don’t expect you to meet with a perfect 6-8 hours, it’s okay if they have been fasted too soon or too late. If they’ve fasted too late, make sure you notify someone so we can adjust surgery time for that day, so they can have the proper fasting period. If they have fasted too soon, that is also alright. We can give them ВЅ – 1 tablespoon of food prior, so they at least have that coating in the stomach to ensure a smooth surgical experience.

If you have any further questions regarding fasting times for your pet, don’t hesitate to contact your local vet. We’re always looking in the best interest of your family pet.

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