Imagine with me…it’s 2 am and you  just got home from an emergency visit to the veterinary hospital.  “Lucky”, your 2 year old black lab, was running in the yard and cut a tendon in his leg on the lawn edging.  You make it back home with his fresh bandage, e-collar, and a bag with pills in it and all you want to do is fall into bed.  When you wake in the morning your late night saga comes rushing back and you vaguely remember that “Lucky” needs a dose of medicine.  But you can’t quite remember what to do.

Does that sound familiar?  Perhaps a different scenario, but the part about being confused about medicine or bandage changes, follow-up visits or food restrictions might resonate with you.  It can be confusing, and maybe even overwhelming, to get a sick or injured pet back home and be responsible for his/her care.  The important thing is to make sure before leaving the hospital that the instructions are written down and you ask questions.  Then never hesitate to call your Veterinarian’s office if you don’t understand the instructions.

Here are some typical home care instructions and why it is important to follow them:

  1. Medication instructions:  Most medications have a very specific amount and administration frequency to ensure the best outcomes for your pet.  It is important that you follow those instructions.  For instance, check if it needs to be refrigerated, whether the medicine should be given with food or on an empty stomach.  Read all instructions on the bottle and/or in the written instructions from your veterinarian.  If you are unsure, please call for clarification.  Also, if it appears your pets condition is not improving or you think the medicine isn’t working consult with your veterinarian before increasing the amount or frequency of dose.  Increased doses could be harmful to your pet.
  2. Restrict Activity:  This is a tough one, but can be vitally important.  Fractured bones, deep or large cuts, stitches, neurological problems, etc are all conditions that may require one or more days of confinement for your pet so that healing can take place.  If your pet gets too active too quickly there is a greater possibility of added injury or longer healing time.  A crate, small room with a door, or quiet companion can all help to keep your pet from getting too rowdy.
  3. Bandage Instructions:  If your pet is sent home with a bandage the instructions will most likely include something like:
    • Keep the bandage clean and dry.
    • Check the toes twice a day for swelling.
    • Check the bandage for slippage, loosening, pain, limping, bleeding, heat, foul odor, etc.
    • Check for rubbing or pressure sores at the top or bottom of the bandage/cast.
    • Keep your pet from chewing at the bandage.
    • The bandage should be checked by a Veterinarian in 3-5 days to reassess the wound and decide if the bandage needs to be replaced.

    All these instructions are important to decrease the risk of infection and to increase the chances for healing.  If you are unsure call your vet and say “I don’t know if this is a big deal or not, but”…. and describe what is happening with the bandage and the area where the bandage is applied.  It’s always better to ask.

  4. Elizabethan Collar or E-Collar:  We like to call them their “party hat”!  Not many pets like their party hat, but it is important to keep it on.  Pets have a propensity for chewing on bandages or ripping out sutures if left with access to the wound.  They may also try to lick a painful area excessively which can aggravate and cause additional problems.  So the longer they can wear the party hat the better.
  5. Diet Restrictions or Changes:  Often, if an animal comes in for vomiting and diarrhea the veterinarian will recommend restricting access to food or water for a short period.  This can help the pet feel better and can also be an indication of underlying causes should the conditions continue.  Other types of diet changes may include feeding a bland diet of rice or boiled chicken or perhaps adding some sort of fiber to the diet.  These instructions are important and should be followed as close as possible.
  6. Re-check:  If you take your pet to an animal ER it is always good to call your family veterinarian to let them know about the visit and make sure they got a copy of the medical record.  You might also need to follow-up with bandage changes, staple or suture removals, or additional diagnostics.  Your family veterinarian can help with the follow-up care.  Re-checks and bandage changes are important to ensure a safe and full recovery or to find out sooner than later that maybe additional or different medications are needed or that the wound needs additional care.  Be sure to get back to a veterinarian if a re-check is recommended.