Monitoring a Pet’s Incision After Surgery

Monitoring a pet’s incision after surgery is an important part of post-operative care. Infections, suture problems, and other issues can result in a life-threatening situation for the pet, so it’s vital that owners closely monitor the incision.

There are four different types of incision closures and each one requires a slightly different form of care. They are as follows:

  • Traditional Sutures or “Stitches” — Traditional sutures must remain in place for 10 to 14 days. Then, they must be removed at the veterinary clinic. Generally, you don’t need an appointment for suture removal and a vet tech often handles the removal. It takes just a minute or two.
  • Dissolving Sutures or “Stitches” — Dissolving stitches are always used subcutaneously (stitches are often applied in layers, with one layer of stitches applied to close the muscle or other subcutaneous structures, and a second “layer” applied on the skin’s surface.) They are sometimes used to close the incision at the skin’s surface. These stitches don’t require removal; they dissolve in 10 to 14 days.
  • Staple Incision Closures — On occasion, a veterinarian will close an incision using surgical staples. These are fairly uncommon and they tend to be reserved for use in hospitalized patients. Staples are typically removed after 7 to 10 days.
  • Glue Incision Closure — Some incisions are closed using skin glue. Over time, the glue dissolves, so there is no follow-up care required, providing the incision heals properly and without infection.

If your cat, dog, rabbit, ferret or other pet has dissolving stitches or a glued incision, it’s important to know that in rare instances, the animal’s body may cause the stitches or glue to dissolve prematurely. This can cause the wound to open after just a day or two. If this occurs, this is a veterinary emergency and it’s vital to seek immediate medical attention for your pet.

Monitor the incision for the following signs of a problem:

  • The edges of the incision are pulling apart or a gap has formed between the edges of the incision;
  • Swelling that gets worse after 24 hours post-operation;
  • Worsening redness;
  • Foul, slightly “sweet” odor;
  • Lots of discharge, especially white, green or yellow discharge;
  • Bleeding;
  • Stitches have been chewed out or staples have become dislodged;
  • Incision has re-opened after partially healing.

Generally speaking, after the first 24 hours, the incision should gradually begin to improve in terms of appearance. If you observe worsening redness, swelling, discharge, etc., this is a sign of an infection. In terms of discharge, a slight bit of clear or blood-tinged discharge is not uncommon over the first 24-72 hours. But discharge late in the healing process can be indicative of an infection, especially if it’s white, green or yellow in color or if it has an odor.

I’ve found it’s helpful to photograph the incision on a daily basis; this is extremely useful in terms of monitoring. It’s important to use the same lighting and position for each photo, so they’re consistent in this regard. Then, simply compare the photos to determine whether the incision is getting worse in appearance or gradually improving. Failure to improve over several days can also be a sign of a problem.

If a problem arises, the photographs can also serve as a handy display for your veterinarian.

Some incisions may also have a drain — a rubber tube that extends out of the incision at the skin’s surface. This is often used in wounds and in situations when there is significant drainage or a high risk of infection. This will prevent drainage fluids or pus from accumulating in a pocket beneath the skin (called an “abscess”), which could cause the incision to open.

Drains are secured with one or two non-dissolving sutures. Once healing is mostly complete, the stitches will be removed and the rubber drain will be pulled out.

Remember to keep your pet’s incision dry if it has been closed using dissolving stitches or glue. Bathing or washing the area can cause the sutures or glue to dissolve prematurely.

If your pet was sent home with a “cone” or an inflatable e-collar, it’s important to keep it on until the incision is completely healed. Near the end of the healing process, the incision will get itchy and the pet may scratch, lick and bite the incision. This can cause the incision to re-open, so it’s important to keep the cone on!

Stop by PetLvr’s archives for additional articles on pet health care, including an informative piece on the benefits of inflatable e-collars!

Photo Source: Mitchell Powell Photo on

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Mia Carter is a professional journalist and animal lover. Her furry family members include 6 dogs and 12 cats. She is also a feral cat colony caretaker. Carter specializes in pet training and special needs pet care. All of her animals have special needs such as paralysis, blindness, deafness and FIV, just to name a few. She also serves as a pet foster parent and she actively rehabilitates and rescues local strays and feral kittens.

7 Responses

  1. Luna
    | Reply

    After surgery, you will need to take care of the incision as it heals. Doing so may limit scarring, may help you avoid pain or discomfort, and may help lower the risk of problems like infection.

  2. Krobelus06
    | Reply

    You will need to keep the area clean, change the dressing according to your doctor’s instructions, and watch for signs of infection.

  3. Mia Carter
    | Reply

    Wonderful points, Krobelus and Luna!
    I’ve addressed incision care in today’s article. The approach varies from case to case, but in most cases, you do not bandage the incision. And cleaning the incision is not always recommended.

    You can learn more here:

    Best regards,
    Mia Carter
    Pet Care Writer,

  4. Lee
    | Reply

    Thank you for sharing this wonderful information. I am a dog lover that’s why I am concerned about this stuffs.

  5. Renea
    | Reply

    After two infections, I can understand where it could still be tender, but your doctor would be the best resource to tell you if it’s normal for YOU, based on the kinds of infections that were there, how recent they were, and what kind of symptoms those infections normally produce.

  6. Emily
    | Reply

    I adopted a kitten from a woman that adopted the kitten from an animal shelter. Her older cat was very aggressive towards it, so she gave it to me. I have the papers from the shelter saying that 20 days ago the kitten was spayed. Its incision is well healed, no redness, swelling or pus but the stitches have not fallen out yet, and where they enter the skin looks healed yet the stitches are not coming out. I am unsure if she has dissolvable stitches inside because I know they use different types on different layers of tissue but for the outer stitches that look healthy do I need to take her to a vet to have these cut out or is it possible to do it myself? / should I wait longer and then take to vet?

  7. adorable dogs
    | Reply

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