10 Tips about Cancer Surgery Recovery for Dogs

Fenway enjoying summer up north in Wisconsin after his surgery!


Deciding what to about Fenway’s cancer was really stressful. We ended up deciding to go ahead and have his tumors removed. They couldn’t be staged until they were out, according to the vet, and so there was a chance that we would go through all the stress of surgery just to find out that he was too far gone.

Luckily for him and all of us, the tumors came out and they were in early stages. The vet also said he got great margins and all of the tumors. I don’t know if the cancer will come back one day, but Fenway is doing great now that he is three weeks out. I wanted to share my learnings with you so that you can avoid pitfalls of cancer surgery:

  1. Take the cone off when going home from surgery — I tried to have Fenway jump into our minivan with his cone on when we left the vet. He had never had trouble with jumping into the car before. I mean, car riding is one of his favorite things. Poor thing was sore after surgery and tried to jump into the car and the cone hit the side and he flipped all over the place and out of the car. It was painful and disorienting. If we had just taken the cone off before he got into the car, all would be avoided.
  2. Give pain medication before leaving the vet — Fenway was due to take a dose of pain meds right as we left the vet. I should have insisted they give them to him, because when I got him home he was too disoriented to eat.
  3. Expect a change in personality after anesthesia — Fenway is a nice dog that loves us, but because he was in such pain and unsure about his place in space with the cone on and the pain in his body, he actually tried to bite me for the first time in his life. Fenway took a step when trying to walk and when he hurt, he turned around and snapped at me. I was shocked and upset because he is not a biter.
  4. Consider having your dog spend an extra night at the vet’s — After I realized how much pain Fenway was in and after he tried to bite me, I turned my car around and went right back to the vet’s. He spent an additional night there because he was not ready to be home. When I picked him up the next day, he was in better spirits.
  5. Anti-anxiety meds are your friend — In addition to antibiotics and pain meds, Fenway ended up on anti-anxiety meds because he was upset about the cone and the fact that he had trouble taking stairs. We’ve actually continued having him take them because they have really helped him adjust and be okay if someone leaves the room. Fenway wants to be with us at all times and with his decreased mobility after surgery, he was mightily upset about not being able to follow us everywhere.
  6. Recovery is worse than surgery: Expect it to last two weeks — People think long and hard about surgery, but the real consideration should be recovery. It took Fenway two weeks to completely heal even though staples came out before then.
  7. Your emotions will fluctuate — Expect that you will have trouble seeing metal staples in your dog as well as the blasted plastic cone. It’s very tough to see your dog in pain and to be confused.
  8. You will be up at night — Dogs will need medication at night and you will need to get up and give it to him. Depending on how your dog is, you may need to change their sleeping arrangements due to mobility issues and bleeding concerns, etc. Just an FYI.
  9. Accidents increase — Before the surgery Fenway took five days worth of prednisone. It made him so thirsty that he couldn’t stop drinking. Of course that mean that he needed to pee constantly. He had several accidents before surgery. Then, after surgery, he had a couple poop accidents. Having accidents is something Fenway never did so this was new. Luckily now that he has healed, we’ve had no accidents.
  10. Personalities and routines change, potentially forever — Fenway is super mellow now (yes, some of it is the medication) and he is a much better walker. I think he’s more cautious now because walking hurt before and so he takes it slower — it’s become a habit. We’ve changed him to a grain-free diet, which seems to agree with him. Also, I’m taking him on walks more instead of letting him just run around in the backyard. The backward was boring to him, I guess. He is loving going on walks and, so am I.

We’re lucky that Fenway is back to a new normal now. I think I am happy we had the surgery, but my husband and I agree that we will not make him go through that again, even if the cancer returns. It’s too traumatic for all of us.

P.S We were able to afford the procedure because of CareCredit.com. Check it out for any major human or animal medical expense. I’m recommending them because we had a good experience (they are not paying me).

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