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.


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


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.

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