Health & Wellness

Tips for pet surgery: incision care

What to expect post-op

If your pup is about to have surgery, whether it's a spay/neuter or something else, you're probably pretty nervous. When you pick your pet up after surgery, the vet will give you specific instructions about post-operative care, and it's important to follow these instructions carefully, particularly the part about tending to your dog's incision.

But you'll probably still have some questions as your pet begins to heal over the next few days and weeks.

To help you know whether your pet is healing properly, Fetch worked with veterinarian Dr. Kim Smyth to compile these tips on what’s probably normal—and what’s definitely not—when it comes to post-op incisions.

What to expect after your pet’s surgery

A common misconception is that if your pet’s skin incision is having issues for whatever reason (say, a stitch or two comes out), it's time to rush them back to the hospital—this is thankfully not true. 

Your vet closed the incision in multiple layers: first the abdominal wall, then possibly fat and muscle layers and then the skin. They may have used stitches or staples (which they’ll need to remove in a couple of weeks) or skin glue (dissolving stitches, which will go away on its own as the animal heals). All are effective and safe.

That doesn’t mean you should ignore the skin incision, though. In fact, you should check up on your pet’s incision twice a day to make sure everything is looking OK.

What a normal, healing spay incision looks like

Whether your pet has stitches, staples or skin glue:

1. A normal, healthy incision should be closed at its edges.

2. The skin surrounding the incision may be pinkish in color, which is a normal part of the inflammation process.

3. Slight skin bruising may be noticeable.

4. For the first 24 to 48 hours, it’s normal for the incision to drain a small amount of clear to pinkish fluid.

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Caring for your pet’s incision

While the incision is healing, make sure that it stays clean and dry. This means that baths are off-limits, as is swimming. Keep your pet from licking or chewing at the incision, which can be a challenge. Stitches can be itchy, and our pets are really good at figuring out how to remove them before they’re ready to come out.

Use an Elizabethan collar (you know, the cone of shame) to prevent this kind of incident—especially for the first few days and while your pet is unsupervised.

Signs of an infected incision or an incision that isn’t healing properly

The following things are NOT normal for a healing dog spay incision:

1. Continuous drainage or dripping fluid

2. Smelly discharge

3. Yellow discharge

4. Swelling

5. Gaping of the edges of the incision

6. Heavy bleeding

If you notice any of these, call your vet for advice or to schedule an appointment. Even if you’re a little bit worried that your pet’s incision might not be healing well, call your vet. It’s never, ever wrong to be on the safe side. If your pet has an infected incision, it can be dealt with quickly, and may be covered by your pet insurance.

If your pet has staples or stitches, those will be removed 10 to 14 days after their surgery, or sooner if your vet decides it’s safe. Until that time, follow your vet’s instructions. Before you know it, your pet’s incision will be just a scar and they can get back to having fun.

Dr. Kim Smyth


Pet Health

Pet Insurance



Photo by Bruno Emmanuelle on Unsplash

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