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What to Expect From Your Pet's Soft Tissue or Orthopedic Surgery

What to Expect From Your Pet's Soft Tissue or Orthopedic Surgery

Veterinary surgery is performed on pets to treat health conditions, repair injuries, and help limit the birth of unwanted cats and dogs. But what's the difference between orthopedic and soft tissue surgeries, and how can you help your pet recover after surgery? Our Santa Cruz vets explain.   

Surgery & Your Pet

Much like people, dogs and cats can experience injuries and health conditions that are more effectively treated with surgery. The type of surgery recommended for your pet will depend on the body part affected.

Soft Tissue Surgery for Pets

Soft tissue surgeries are procedures that are performed on your animal's ears, nose, throat, heart, gastrointestinal system, internal organs, skin, or muscle. There is a wide variety of soft tissue surgeries commonly performed on pets, including:

  • Spay and neuter procedures
  • Mass removals, cancer surgeries
  • Foreign object removal
  • Hernia repairs
  • Splenectomy
  • Cystotomy
  • Wound management
  • Treatment of traumatic injuries such as bites, puncture wounds or cuts

Orthopedic Surgeries for Pets

Most surgeries that aren't soft tissue related are orthopedic. These surgeries are performed on your pet's  musculoskeletal  system. This includes surgeries on your pet's bones, joints, cartledge, and tendons. Some of the most common orthopedic surgeries performed on pets include:


  • Hip dysplasia surgery
  • Cranial Cruciate Ligament Repair
  • Luxated patella (kneecap) surgery
  • Surgery to treat intervertebral disc disease


  • Fracture repairs
  • Femoral head removal for pain relief (FHO)
  • Amputations
  • PU Surgery

What To Expect After Your Pet's Surgery

Most veterinary surgeries, whether soft tissue or orthopedic, will require some degree of special care once your pet heads home. But rest assured that our vets at Pacific & Santa Cruz Veterinary Specialists will speak with you before the day of your pet's surgery to ensure that you understand the surgical process and to provide you with an outline of what to expect when your pet goes home. This will allow you to prepare for your pet's at home recovery.

Whether or not your pet will need to stay in hospital overnight following surgery will depend upon the complexity of the surgery and the overall health of your pet. Many pet's head home on the same day as their surgery, but it is not uncommon for pets to stay overnight or for a couple of days so that the veterinary team can ensure that your pet is beginning to recover well. 

When your pet is ready to head home your vet will provide you with detailed instructions for your pet's post-operative care. These instructions will include how to administer any medications that have been prescribed, how to change dressings if necessary, and how to monitor your pet's incision site.

When Your Pet Gets Home

Follow Your Vet's Instructions

When you are at the veterinary clinic picking up your beloved animal things can feel overwhelming. If you get home and realize that you have forgotten some aspect of your vet's instructions please call your vet to ask questions. Your veterinary team want to ensure that your pet recovers as quickly as possible and will always be happy to answer your questions.

Administer Medications Only As Instructed

Always follow your vet's instructions when it comes to administering medications. Never give your pet more than the prescribed dose unless explicitly instructed to do so by your veterinary team. It's also important to note that you should never give your pet human medications. While these meds work very well for us, they can be toxic for dogs and cats. Always speak to your vet before giving your pet any medication not listed on your pet's post-operative instructions.

Allow Your Pet to Rest

Following surgery you pet will likely experience side-effects related to anesthesia. The most common side effects are lack of appetite and drowsiness. Provide your pet with a soft bed, in a quiet corner of the house, so that they can rest comfortably as their healing process begins, and try not to be too concerned if your pet refuses to eat at first. Your dog or cat's appetite should return to normal within 24 hours. If their appetite does not return by the next day, contact your vet for further advice.

Restrict Your Pet's Movements

Whether your pet comes home a few hours or a few days after their surgery they are going to need plenty of rest to help them recover. This will mean restricting their activities.

Your vet will advise you as to how long your pet should be on reduced activity. For many soft-tissue surgeries this could last for a week to ten days, whereas some orthopedic surgeries will require a number of weeks to heal before normal activities can resume.

For cats this will mean keeping them indoors and doing what you can to prevent them from jumping or climbing stairs, whereas dogs may need to be restricted to short outdoor bathroom breaks on-leash.

If your pet has had orthopedic surgery it may be necessary to keep your pet confined to a crate, or a small room, for a period of time as they begin to heal.

Be sure to provide your pet with clean soft bedding so that they can relax comfortably, and always ensure that there is fresh water close by for them to drink. It may also be helpful to sit by their crate to play with them gently and show them you care... just speaking to your pet and stroking them gently can help to keep your dog or cat's spirits up as they recover.

Prevent Your Pet From Licking The Incision Site

To help prevent infection it will be necessary to prevent your dog or cat from licking their incision. E-collars (plastic cones) are very effective at preventing licking, and you will be surprized at how quickly your pet will get used to wearing one. That said there are a number of other options including donut shaped collars and post-surgery onesies that can also be effective.

Monitor Your Pet's Incision For Signs of Infection

It will be important to keep a close eye on your pet's incision site. Watch for increased redness, swelling, openings, and discharge. If you notice anything out of the ordinary contact your vet as soon as possible. 

Also monitor your pet for other concerning symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy and fever. If you notice any of these symptoms it's important to contact your vet, these may be signs of an infection.

Attend Your Pet's Follow-Up Appointment

When your pet is being discharged from hospital after surgery, your veterinary team will book a follow up appointment for your dog or cat. These appointments allow your vet to check that your pet is healing well, and that there are no complications. In some cases stitches will be removed or dressings will be changed, depending on the type of surgery your pet has undergone.

Long Term Recovery

If your pet has undergone orthopedic surgery, physical rehabilitation therapy may be recommended. These therapies help to get your pet up and moving normally again. The physical therapy recommended for your pet may include water treadmill, acupuncture, laser therapy, or massage. Your vet will be sure to let you know which therapy would be most beneficial for your pet.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

Our Board Certified Veterinary Surgeons have extensive experience performing a wide range of surgeries for cats and dogs. Contact our Santa Cruz specialist vets today if your pet requires surgery!

New Patients Welcome

Pacific & Santa Cruz Veterinary Specialists is always accepting new patients! Our experienced vets are passionate about restoring good health to Santa Cruz companion animals. We are open 24/7 to provide your pet with care, whenever they need us.

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Contact (831) 475-5400