ways to provide mental stimulation after dog surgeries

5 Ways to Provide Mental Stimulation After Dog Surgeries

Well, the worst is ever and to everyone’s relief, the surgery was successful. Now that the bills are paid and you’ve prepared your house accordingly for a post-surgery dog and are ready to care for them, have you given it a thought about how you can keep your dog happy and calm while he goes through recovery?

If you are the owner of a hyperactive dog, it must have already started devising plans on how to keep your furry friend calm and quiet for the next 4 – 16 weeks for a successful recovery. If you’re hitting dead ends here and thinking “this is impossible!” let us bring you some good news. We all realize how hyperactive dogs might express their boredom. They might end up jumping, barking, whining, licking, injuring surgical stitches, and above all, depressing over the issue.

Well, have you ever thought of mental stimulation? It’s just as rewarding as physical exercise and to keep your dog’s mind occupied at the same time, he/she recovers. Here’s what you can do to keep your buddy busy and mentally occupied while he still recovers.

dog after a surgery

Convert Mealtime to Funtime

Vets recommend keeping your pup engaged with their meals for a long time than required. This is said to be a way of providing mental stimulation for dogs. Normally, this involves a serving bowl that encourages them to eat without hurry. There are slow dog feeders for dogs that are specially designed to make them work to get their kibbles. This simply stimulates your pet dog’s senses and encourages them to use problem-solving skills to earn their food.

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If you are keen about serving some special treat for your dog, feel free to prepare some frozen snacks for them. A good idea is to make popsicles for your dog with chicken stock and freeze it with some other food inside it. The trick to this is to keep them glued to it until the Popsicle melts and they get their reward.

Many dog parents prefer KONG dog toys. What they do is fill it up with some of their favorite food or treats and let them play with it for hours. You can also fill the KONG with some pet-safe broth and freeze it. As the broth melts, they will keep licking it and keep themselves occupied.

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Training is always a great way to keep your dog mentally stimulated. How? That’s pretty simple. There are several different types of training. Considering target training, you could teach your dog to touch different objects with their nose. Dog experts recommend that if you’re looking to train your dog, start off by watching YouTube videos. You could get great tips and tricks from those videos online.

Remember, the training does not need to be any complex. When you take your dog home from the hospital, what your vet is likely to recommend you to teach your pet dog is this very trick: “watch me” or “touch me”. “Watch me” command doesn’t require your dog to move, which makes it a great activity during their surgery periods. Whilst the “touch me” command teaches them to touch your hand or any other object with their nose. *Boop the Nose*

dog training after surgery

Go on a Ride

If your furry friend is unable to go for a walk to the park, they still need some fresh air. In that case, you’ll need to take the responsibility in taking them out without making them walk. That sounds like a HUGE challenge but well, if you are a parent of a poodle or any other small dog, you can accommodate them in a doggy stroller. But for the larger breeds, you’ll require to take them in your vehicle.

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However, if your pooch finds car rides or stroller rides rather stimulating, you might need to look for other options. If you notice your dog getting easily excited about things that they see outside, this is certainly not the best option. Your pooch will react and further injure himself/herself.

Make Use of Their Primal Sense

Exposing your dog to different scents and fragrances can be quite enriching. Put down a drop of the lemon essence on the floor where you keep their crate (but in their crate please). Alternate the smell every few days with another scent of lavender, vanilla or cocoa. Of course, your pet dog’s sense of smell is much more superior than yours. So, just a drop of scent away from their crate will do its trick. On the other hand, you may also consider a dog pheromone known as D.A.P. This chemically balanced product imitates the smell of a mother’s milk that is said to be calming for their certain dogs. You can find D.A.P in almost every pet store.

Rotate Toys to Keep Them Fascinated

Find a few different dog toys, or possibly buy them if your dog doesn’t have many toys, and introduce one of them at a time each day. Replace the first toy and give them another new one on day two. Keep repeating this every other day to keep them highly interested. Try to find out which is their favorite and try to play with that even more. This is all to lift up your dog’s spirits.

Is There Any Restricted Activity While the Dog Recovers?

Ask your vet about a clear post-surgery instruction. Your vet will order some restricted activities for your dog for a couple of weeks after they undergo the surgery. It also depends on the depth or type of surgery/injury that your dog sustained.

Considering dogs with severe to little leg injuries should move as minimal as necessary. It might range from confining your dog in a crate or a pen and keeping them on an extra leash when you take them out for potty breaks. In case of a spay or neuter operation, your pet dog will need to be on a strictly restricted activity to prevent the stitches from opening. The surgical wound needs some time to heal. It never hurts to inquire your vet about the level and length of restricted activity for your dog during that time. For instance, dogs that have experienced a tibial plateau leveling osteotomy will need to be on strictly restricted activity for at least a good 6 weeks!

Despite the level of restricted activities needed for your dog to heal completely, it is a great deal of a challenges to keep control over your high-energetic dog. It’s always best to get creative and look for effective ways that keep their mind stimulated.

post surgery dog walk

Minimizing Their Stress Levels

We often overlook the fact that our furry friends might be in extreme stress levels and we try to compensate it with other stuff. Recognizing their signs of stress and actually knowing how to manage it is your successful key to a happy pet. Read these tips on how you can care for your stressed pup:

  • Promote Independence

Does your furry friend look needy? Discourage that behavior and promote independence instead. Spend enough time with them to reassure them that they are receiving enough attention. This will compensate the number of hours you’re away from them and thus reduce separation anxiety.

  • Build Trust

You have to understand that your dog must be going through some sort of anxiety when they undergo an operation. They might try to isolate themselves from everyone and everything. In such circumstances, allow them to interact with you and everyone in your family on their own terms. Help them in building the trust that you are always there for their welfare.

  • Touch

This is very effective. Certainly, it’s not new for you to know that petting your pet dog brings in relaxation and eventually calm their nervous system. Therefore, learn some easy, circular touches that would help in changing their hormonal balance in the body and thus relieving them from extreme stress levels.

You may also like our guide on Calming Dog Treats.

Common Pet Care Mistakes

There’s no limit to how much we love our furry friends. In fact, they are not our friends, they are like the other part of us; our family. While providing them with all the love and care, sometimes it just goes further than that. There are a lot of mistakes that we do when taking care of our furry friend. Here are some:

  • Punishing Bad Behaviour

There’s nothing more frustrating than coming home after a long day of work only to find that Tommy has scratched up all over the corner of the sofa. However, punishing him for this mistake would only make the matter nothing but worse. Pups don’t really understand the concept of “punishment” and thus they will only act up according to their instincts. Besides, they have just gone through a surgery. Since they don’t have much to do, neither can they move too much, they still need to do something, right? Don’t be so harsh!

  • Forgetting About Their Safety

Your home should be the safest place on earth for your pup. Remove those hazardous items, toxic plants and, cords/wires, and sharp objects out of their sight. If you have a special yard for your dog to play around, make sure it is fenced with a self-latching gate. Protect them from running in front of cars, predators, or other potential dangers.

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  • Poor diet

A proper diet should be the foundation of your pet care regimen after their surgery. Make sure that your furry friend is getting the right amount and type of food. The mistake that most pet owners make is overfeeding. This results in obesity and overweighing. We love those chubby cheeks but sadly, it might lead to another serious medical condition. Ask your vet if you’re ought to provide them with any specific nutritional food, their portions, safe and unsafe foods, and other suitable snacks.

  • Poor Veterinary Care

Surely your pup hates going to the vet and so do you! But proper veterinary care is essential. It’s only when something goes far and beyond, then only we think of taking our furry friends to the vet. Especially during their surgery recovery days, it’s much more important to take them for frequent checkups. It is advisable for you to strictly follow your vet’s appointment schedule.

  • Not enough exercise

Of course, they are unwell! But that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be getting enough exercise. Just like us, humans, just sitting and being able to do nothing would create tension and depression in dogs. Therefore, it is important that you make sure that your pooch is getting at least some light exercise and entertainment in their daily routine.

dog lying on the floor after a surgery

Creating an Improved Environment for Your Pet Dog

Promote behaviors that are more suitable for your pup’s physical as well as psychological needs. Whether you are aware of it or not, know that an enrichment to the environment around them provides mental stimulation. As a result, it would prevent them from behavioral difficulties, improving the overall quality of their life.

Each dog is unique and has their own individual needs. Depending on their size, breed, age, and health conditions, the environmental modifications will ensure success. Familiarize yourself with some of the ways on how you can create an improved environment for your pet dog:

  • Comfortable Bedding

Other than the food, treats, and other necessities, cozy, and comfortable bedding should top the list for any pet owners. A snuggly dog bed provides warmth, privacy, support, insulation, and security for dogs. Moreover, beds that they cannot easily destroy can help in preventing bedsores. Plus, look at the advantages it has: dogs love to play with bedding and use it as their platform to ask others to play with them too. Their bed is like their own territory and provides them with a sense of belonging to the house. Therefore, this works as a good mental stimulation too!  Check out our guides on Dog Beds and Orthopedic Dog Beds for more info.

  • Perched Elevation

Dogs are more interested in knowing what’s going on in their surroundings. It would be best if you could provide them with space where they have access to the window or they can see what’s going on outside, then they wouldn’t bark as much. When your pet dog can view the busy streets in front of your house, it soothes them more than staring at the sky from a high boundary fence.

  • Sandpit

If your dog is a digger, go ahead and build a sandpit. Or you could even consider purchasing one of those digging boxes that you see at the stores. After that, bury their toys inside the sandbox, which will encourage them into digging the box, keeping their mind busy. Look back to cover the box at the times it’s not in use. Otherwise, they might even mistake using it as their litterbox.

Utilize Computer Generated Interactions as a Mental Stimulation

Dogs are always willing to learn something new and react very positively to cognitive training. Have you ever thought of incorporating computers in making them learn new tricks? Scientists in Vienna have created “dog sudoku” that for dogs to respond to it on a touchscreen monitor. This drew remarkable results. Familiarize your dog to the touchscreen at first with touchscreen food dispensers. Normally, they learn to approach the screen and don’t simply paw at the pipe that fills the food beneath it.

As time passes by, what they do is learn to link with the image on the screen with food as their reward. Just when a colorful circle appears on the screen, you could just apply a lump of food to that spot. Next, remove the food and your dog will learn how to press their nose to the circle instead of putting their tongue. When they finally press the correct answer on the screen, present them the reward (treat or food).

This is how simply you can mentally stimulate your dog when they are unable to perform anything that relates to physical activity. Methods like this sharpen their brain and improve their overall mental well-being.

puppy recovering from a surgery

Bottom Line

Never forget that your dog needs the same amount of social and mental stimulation just like you do, especially when they start to age o have just experienced a major (or even minor) surgery. Even simple activities to stimulate your pooch’s mind, like “the three-cup game” will work wonderfully. The idea is to get your pooch engaged mentally with you because they are all social beings at the end of the day.

Although it might sound a bit unnatural, getting them to interact with their friends (other dogs) is a win! Make sure to keep discipline when mentally stimulating your dog and never forgetting to teach them good behavior while they still recover from the surgery.

Are you still looking for more ideas to engage your dog mentally? You may want to read some of the articles mentioned below.

Dr. Travis McDermott

Dr. Travis McDermott is a small animal veterinarian that has been practicing for nearly 15 years in Las Vegas, NV. Dr. McDermott was born and raised in the great State of Texas and grew up on an emu farm raising chickens and pigs for 4H and FFA. He attended Texas A&M University for both undergraduate and DVM studies.After graduation in 2006, Dr. Travis McDermott started practicing at Tropicana Animal Hospital in Las Vegas, NV. In 2012, he took over as hospital director of Durango Animal Hospital – one of the largest veterinary hospitals in Las Vegas. Dr. McDermott treats dogs and cats as well pretty much any exotic animal that walks in the door. His interests include surgery, dental procedures, and ultrasound, but his main passion is endoscopy. Since becoming a veterinarian, Dr. McDermott has served as a board member and president/chair of both the Nevada Veterinary Medical Association and the American Veterinary Medical Association Political Action Committee and currently serves on the board of the Viticus Group (formerly Western Veterinary Conference).

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