Bringing your pet home after hospitalization – what to expect

If your dog or cat was seriously ill, or underwent a major medical procedure, he may have spent several days in the veterinary hospital or ICU. When you bring him home, you are excited to have your buddy back! There is some adjusting that needs to happen though. Knowing what to expect will let you better ease your pet back into your routine.

Lack of sleep

In a 24/7 hospital, veterinarians and technicians are around all the time. The lights are on, machines are beeping, there is a lot of activity. This makes it impossible to tell if it’s day or night. Pets who are hospitalized for days often have their sleep/wake cycle disrupted for this reason. Sure, sometimes we’ll dim the lights a little at night, or cover the cage door with a towel, but we need to still adequately monitor the patients.

Dogs and cats in ICU type situations rarely get a restful sleep. Circadian rhythms are thrown off, and it’s a strange place with strange smells and strange people. So when they return home, dogs and cats often sleep very well. This can be concerning to an owner, who was very worried about their pet, and wants to see their pet be “normal” again. So let them sleep and catch up – they probably need it.

Eating schedules

Your pet was released from the hospital, but quite likely was not eating on the schedule you do at home. Ask the veterinary team when he was fed – it will all be documented on the hospitalization sheets. Learning the schedule your pet was on will help you accommodate them as they readjust to home life. And many pets who return from the hospital are not 100%. The veterinarian may have sent you home with food your pet was eating there, so make sure you feed that same food. If your pet won’t eat at home (sometimes they make liars out of us vets), contact the clinic and ask what else you can offer. Conversely, some animals go home and chow down, happy to be away from the stressful environment.

Routine

Being hospitalized is stressful, and coming home to routine is soothing. Try to keep as much routine as you can. Don’t wash all their beds before they arrive, or rearrange anything. After having been in an unfamiliar and scary place, familiar surroundings can drastically reduce anxiety and increase calmness – which promotes healing.

dog home from hospital

Pooping

Animals who are hospitalized often are not eating or eliminating on regular schedules. Some cats sleep in the litter box as a way to “hide” and don’t use it. Some dogs don’t like to potty on a leash, or are only taken out 2-3 times a day. And if your pet had a procedure and underwent anesthesia, that can have a constipating effect as well. So if your pet doesn’t poop for a day or two once you get home, it’s probably not a huge deal. (Of course, if the primary problem was constipation, this would not apply!) Animals in vet clinics often don’t eat very well either and, well, you need input to get output! Another potential issue is stool that is a little looser. We’ll often feed hospitalized animals special canned food to get them to eat, and sometimes this food comes out, well, looking the way it went in. It’s good to ask the vet tech releasing your pet what to expect.

Shaved legs

Your pet likely had a leg (or four!) shaved for the IV catheter. When the fur starts to regrow, it can itch. I’ve seen dogs give themselves hot spots from licking obsessively. Sometimes that is more annoying than the disease they were hospitalized for in the first place! If your pet is obsessively licking it, ask your veterinarian or vet tech about having it wrapped for a few days.

Being the new guy

This applies more to cats than dogs. After a cat has been in the hospital (or sometimes just after a routine vet visit), she can come home smelling like the clinic. The other cats may find this disturbing, and pick on her. It might be best to give your cat a room of her own for a day or two when she first gets home. This will keep her from getting picked on, but also gives you a way to monitor eating and litter box habits. Of course, if being in a private room is stressful for the cat, then don’t do it.

These are just the most common “surprises” owners have mentioned over the years. Having a pet that is sick or undergoing a major surgery is stressful enough. We don’t need any surprises we can prevent! Hope this helps both you and your dog or cat readjust to home life.

Posted in General health.

3 Comments

  1. My little guy was recently hospitalized with an IV drip for 5 days. (He has kidney disease and the vet wanted to get his creatinine values down, the regular sub q fluids hadn’t worked). Upon getting him home last night, he hasn’t eaten, has been sleeping a lot, and this morning we found him under the bed. I actually feel like he is mad at me. Every time I try to pet him he moves away or turns his back to me. It’s been heartbreaking to have him out of the house for so long, and even more heartbreaking to see this scared/depressed/anxious version of him. We did visit him daily while in the hospital, but he just seems so different now that he’s home. Am I just over reacting? How long are cats usually wonky after a hospital stay? I’m trying to give him his space, but I’m also scared, because he’s normally such a happy cat. I’m also sad/frustrated because I put him through this and it didn’t bring down his kidney values.

    • He might have been extremely stressed by the stay, and some cats take days to get over it. I’m more concerned that his numbers did not come down – he’s probably feeling pretty crummy, and that very well could be more of what’s going on. Worth a call to your vet (maybe not a visit – poor guy!).

  2. My dog just went through major surgery yesterday, she had her womb removed as she had a life threatening infection called pyometra. She has always been such a happy, excited and involved dog, and she has never been away from me and my family for more than 6 hours, and we had to leave her overnight as they hadn’t managed to operate on her the same day we took her, and the moment that my dad handed over the lead to the vet nurse, she started scraping at the floor, and howling and crying for us, it was truly heart breaking, because she has awful separation anxiety, and since we came to pick her up yesterday afternoon, she honestly hasn’t been the same with me or my dad, it feels like she’s mad at us for leaving her there, she hides from us both, and she has been crying a lot when looking at my dad then turning away, it’s breaking my heart because she isn’t the same anymore, she seems afraid of us, and at the same time she becomes shaky and anxious whenever my dad stands up to go somewhere, it’s gotten to the point where he can’t stand up because she knows he’s leaving the room, and she cries extremely badly, and she never used to be like this. :'( Am I being silly? or could she be feeling very traumatized by this, is she still feeling abandoned by us? :'(

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