Caring for Recovering Pets

While your pet is recovering from illness or surgery it will need extra care and attention.

You may have to give medicines, observe the surgical wound, or look after bandages. During the convalescent period, nutrition and feeding are especially important. Your pet may need a special diet, and you may have to encourage it to eat, but the extra care you give your pet at this time will help them recover.

The need for sleep, rest and peace

During recovery, your pet may feel weak and tire easily. He or she will probably spend more time than usual resting or sleeping. This is a natural reaction to illness or surgery and helps to conserve energy and mend tissues while the body is getting back to normal.

Special dietary needs

Good nutrition is especially important for a pet which has been ill, injured, had an operation, or not eaten in several days. Feeding a good diet at this time, will help speed wound healing and reduce the chances of infection. Supplying high-quality nutrients in the right amounts also prevents the body from using its own important tissues as energy sources at this time of stress.

All pets require a nutritionally balanced diet. The essential nutrients; proteins, fats, carbohydrates, minerals and vitamins need to be provided in the correct proportions to meet the needs of your pet during this period of recovery. During convalescence, the balance of nutrients needed by your pet will change and feeding their normal diet may not provide the correct balance of nutrients that they need.


Proteins are the major building blocks in the repair process and are important in helping your pet to fight infection as part of the immune system. Protein requirements of the convalescing pet are usually higher than for the normal, healthy pet.

Fats and carbohydrates

Fats and carbohydrates are excellent sources of energy. Energy is needed in larger amounts than normal for repairing the tissues affected by illness, injury or surgery, and to fight infection. The ideal diet for the recovering pet should, therefore, contain higher levels of these “energy providing” nutrients.

Increasing the fat level of the diet provides a more “concentrated” food. Smaller amounts of food, therefore, need to be eaten for your pet to receive higher levels of energy and nutrients that are needed for repair. This is also of great benefit to pet’s who have a poor appetite during the period of recovery as it is not necessary for them to eat a large volume of food.

Minerals and vitamins

Certain minerals and vitamins are important in the healing process. Diets designed for convalescence must have the correct balance of minerals and vitamins to help to reduce the period of recovery and the depletion of body stores.

During recovery, a pet’s appetite may often be poor, and you may need to encourage it to eat. For these reasons, your veterinary surgeon may prescribe a special diet for your pet which provides all its dietary needs in a concentrated form and which is palatable and particularly tempting for an animal that is not well.

Medical needs of a convalescent pet

Keep a close eye on your pet during convalescence; stoke and groom it gently and look for any changes in its coat or skin. If it has an injury or if surgery was done, observe this area for any redness or discharge. Be alert for any weight loss or gain, lumps or swelling, vomiting or diarrhoea. Inform your veterinary surgeon immediately if you notice these signs or anything else unusual.

Giving medicines to your pet

Always give the full, course of the treatment of any drug prescribed by your veterinary surgeon. Do not stop giving the medicine because your pet seems better; this may cause your pet to become worse and may make future treatments more difficult. If you think your pet is reacting badly to any drug, seek your vet’s advice at once.

Your vet can show you how to give the medicine. Try to give tablets as gently as possible to your pet, and praise or reward it when it has swallowed the medication. If your pet is eating, you may be able to give some medications in their food. Your veterinary surgeon will advise you if this is possible.

Care for dressings

Bandages, splints, casts and other dressings may be needed if your pet is recovering from an injury or surgery. These may stabilise a healing fracture or protect the wound from contamination with dirt. Dressings are important because they also provide protection from your pet’s natural tendency to lick a wound.

If you have a young, energetic dog, splints and casts can easily be forgotten in the excitement of a game with other dogs or children. If this is a problem, you may have to keep your pet away from other animals or restrict its access to children. Ensure that the dressing stays clean and dry by keeping your pet away from dirt and water, especially puddles.

Feeding during convalescence

Because good nutrition is particularly vital during recovery from illness, injury or surgery, your veterinary surgeon may prescribe a special diet for your dog or cat. This will contain all the nutrients and energy a convalescent pet needs and may be a diet in a more concentrated form.

A concentration diet is important in a pet that has a decreased appetite so that it will receive all the nutrients it needs even if it eats less than normal. Your veterinary surgeon may recommend a liquid diet as a source of complete nutrition or as a complement to the diet. Pets with mouth and throat problems may find a liquid diet easier to manage.

Concentrated diets are often fed in veterinary hospitals. If your pet has been fed a concentrated diet in hospital, your veterinary surgeon may want you to continue this diet at home during the convalescent period.

Your pet should always have clean fresh drinking water available. If your pet’s condition restricts its ability or desire to move, you may need to take special care to see that it has access to water.

Encouraging your pet to eat

Concentration diets prescribed by your veterinary surgeon are specially formulated to be particularly palatable so that an unwell pet is tempted to eat; however, you may still have to encourage it.

The following tips may be helpful:

  • Feed on a little and often basis dividing the daily allowance of food into two to four small meals of fresh food
  • Warm the food gently to just below body temperature. Food that is very hot should not be offered to the pet
  • Leave the food down for the pet for about 10 to 15 minutes, and then remove it if your pet is no longer interested. Your pet is more likely to eat fresh food offered later on

When to contact your veterinary practice

If you are caring for an animal and they have a sudden change in condition, always contact your vet or emergency number. See also if they:

  • Collapsing or convulsions
  • Increased frequency of urination and increased amounts of urine produced, or urination in the house by a previously house-trained pet
  • In cats; straining, crying when using their litter tray, or spending an abnormally long time in their litter tray
  • Greatly increased thirst and water intake
  • Persistent cough or abnormal breathing
  • Diarrhoea or vomiting which lasts for more than 12 hours
  • Loss of appetite for longer than 24 hours
  • Weakness or lethargy
  • Swelling, bad odour, or change in colour of the skin around a dressing
  • If a dressing slips out of place, falls off, or is chewed off
  • If your pet is determined to chew a dressing or lick a wound
  • Lameness or a change in the way your pet walks or runs
  • If your pet is in obvious discomfort: persistent head shaking, abnormal vocalisation, excessive scratching, pawing at ears, or rubbing its bottom along the ground may be signs of distress