Why is My Dog Shaking After Surgery – What to Do Now?

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Your beloved pet undergoing surgery can be an overwhelming experience. In some cases, the surgery can be elective, but in other cases, it might be a life-saving procedure.

Today there are a host of pre-surgical assessments in place, where the vet will thoroughly examine your dog’s physical condition to see if it is up to the procedure. Plus, there are tests to see if the dog is at risk of any side effects from receiving general anesthesia.

Post-surgery, your dog does not fully understand what has happened, so you must be extra careful with the recovery process. For example, you may be asked to administer medications, monitor the dog, take its temperature, ensure it does not lick or scratch the surgical site, look for signs of infections, and so on.

These points may seem straightforward, but it can be challenging to differentiate if the dog’s behavior is normal or a side effect of surgery.

For example, you see your dog is shaking after surgery – is it because it is cold or in pain? What to do now? Should I rush to the vet clinic?

The article will look at symptoms that dogs can show after surgery, what is normal, what is not, and what you can do in the situation.

Why Do Dogs Need Surgery?

Why Do Dogs Need Surgery
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Based on the priority of treatment, canine surgeries can be categorized as elective and urgent. Elective treatment does not involve a medical emergency. These surgeries may not be life-saving, but some have the capability of improving the dog’s quality of life. In some cases, the surgery may be purely cosmetic.

Some examples of elective canine surgeries are:

  • Spaying
  • Neutering
  • Dental extractions
  • Tail docking
  • Ear cropping
  • Removing benign growths on the skin

In case of medical emergencies, surgery might be the only option to save your pet’s life. For example, if the dog has had an accident, then surgery is necessary to stop internal bleeding and tend to injuries. Or if it is a serious health issue like cancer, the surgical procedure may be life-saving.

Some examples of urgent canine surgeries are:

  • Broken bones
  • Ruptured bladder
  • Malignant tumors and cancer
  • Internal injuries
  • Obstruction due to foreign object
  • Skin lacerations

Regardless of the reason for the surgery, it is essential you responsibly monitor the pet and report any unusual signs to the vet.

Is it Normal for My Dog to Shake After Surgery?

The answer depends on the unique condition of your dog. In general, shaking can be the after-effects of anesthesia or other drugs. However, shaking or other signs like nausea, grogginess, and tiredness should resolve in a day or two.

So, it is not normal for dogs to shake after a considerable amount of time has passed post the surgery.

On the other hand, if your dog used to shake even before the surgery because of an underlying medical issue, then the shaking post-surgery would be normal. For example, if the dog is old or has generalized tremor syndrome, shaking is a commonly presented sign.

If shaking is a new symptom the dog shows after surgery, then it is not normal. You need to consult with the vet, who may call you in for a check-up or adjust the dog’s medication.

Why is My Dog Shaking After Surgery?

With advancements in vet care, canines are usually awake and almost alert when discharged from the hospital. But it is possible for your dog to experience side effects post-surgery.

Here are some reasons why your dog is shaking after surgery.

1. Pain

Pain
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There has been significant improvement in the field of canine pain management in recent years. Preemptive pain management processes in place help reduce the impact of pain.

For example, the vet may inject the dog with pain medication before anesthesia to prepare and protect the dog’s body from pain during surgery.

Once the surgery is over, most dogs receive a pain reliever and also NSAIDs that help with pain and inflammation. Depending on the type of surgery and the pet’s condition, the vet may also prescribe medications you will have to give the dog once home.

Despite these precautionary measures, your dog could still be in pain. It can get restless or agitated because it does not understand the situation completely.

If your dog is shaking due to pain, please get in touch with the vet. The vet may reexamine the pet and adjust its medications accordingly.

2. Changes in Body Temperature

Changes in Body Temperature
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According to research, hypothermia is the most common side effect seen in 40% of dogs and cats that are administered anesthesia.

It takes three stages for the condition to set in post-anesthesia. In the first stage, the core body heat is redistributed when anesthesia is first administered.

This is the body’s reflex response to cold exposure and an attempt to minimize heat loss. The first stage decreases the body temperature by 1°C to 1.5°C.

In the second stage, over the next 2 to 3 hours further decreases as the metabolic heat production cannot keep up with heat loss.

Finally, in the third stage, the heat is constrained in the body’s core, and the core temperature plateaus, typically within 4 hours of anesthesia administration.

Hypothermia can lead to delayed recovery times in dogs. The condition is concerning as it contributes to issues like blood loss, wound infection, sympathetic activation, and shivering.

Insulation with blankets can help in mild cases, but vet care is essential for moderate and severe cases.

4. Underlying Medical Condition

It is possible that post-surgery or anesthesia, your dog could be shaking as a result of a previously unknown medical condition.

For example, surgery for tumor removal may uncover the issue with the underlying organ. Or if you have not been monitoring the pet and using an E-collar, there are high chances of the dog developing infections.

How Can Anesthesia Affect My Dog?

How Can Anesthesia Affect My Dog
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In most cases, it is the anesthesia that leads to post-surgery complications. So let us delve deeper and understand how anesthesia can affect dogs and the risks it presents.

The dog may receive generalized anesthesia when going for surgery. The drug depresses the nerve function, and the animal will be unconscious for a short period.

During this period, the dog’s muscles will be relaxed, and it will not feel any pain. Localized anesthesia is given in cases where a particular area needs to be numbed – for example, skin or tooth.

In general, most animals will recover well from anesthesia, but according to studies, 1 in 100,000 animals can have side effects from the anesthetic agent. Now, these symptoms can be mild, like vomiting, and nausea, to life-threatening, like anaphylactic shock, cardiac arrest, stroke to even death.

According to AKC, some dogs are at a higher anesthetic risk due to their breed, size, and age. Let us look at the risk factors in detail.

1. Breed

According to the AAHA guidelines, it is Greyhounds that may have higher chances of complications due to an anesthetic agent. They might also have longer recovery periods.

Brachycephalic breeds, the ones with short skull bones, can show increased breathing-related issues after anesthesia. Examples of such breeds are Bulldogs and Boston Terriers. Also, dogs that are predisposed to cardiac problems may have longer recovery periods.

2. Size

When it comes to size, both the natural structure of the dog and weight are considered contributing factors. For example, small-sized dogs like toy breeds are considered to be at a higher risk for anesthetic side effects.

This is because toy breeds are prone to hypothermia. It can be difficult to monitor such dogs.

On the other hand, giant dogs are also at risk because they would need a significant amount of anesthesia to be put in an unconscious state.

If your dog carries extra weight, it increases the risk of side effects and makes a recovery difficult.

3. Age

Young puppies and senior dogs carry an increased risk of anesthesia. In the case of senior dogs, as long as they are healthy, the risk is comparable to that of adult dogs.

The risk percentage increases if the senior dog already suffers from medical concerns like kidney or heart issues.

What Are Other ‘Not Normal’ Signs that Dogs Can Show After Surgery?

Now, you know that if your dog is shaking after surgery, it is not a normal sign, and you need to reach out to the vet. Let us look at other concerning signs a dog can show after surgery.

1. Straining to Urinate

Straining to Urinate
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Your dog should be passing pee as normal after surgery. The dog may sometimes pee more than usual during the first 24 to 48 hours if it has received IV fluids. But it is a sign of concern if the dog is in pain, cannot move to a proper peeing position, or is straining to pee.

In such cases, you may see the pet leaking urine at places it is sitting and sleeping. Please consult the vet immediately if the dog howls in pain while peeing. The vet may readjust the pain medications, look for urinary blockages, and then provide appropriate treatment.

2. Refusal to Eat

Refusal to Eat
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If the dog refuses to eat or eats only in small quantities during the first few hours after surgery, that is normal. The dog could be groggy or tired. You could feed it small frequent meals. It should get back to its normal appetite in a day or two.

But if the dog completely refuses to eat, it would be best to talk to the vet. The dog could have an infection or inflammation; it could be in pain or stress. The vet can call you in for a check-up, adjust medications, or suggest a specialized diet.

3. Vomiting

Vomiting is one of the signs that is never normal for dogs. And if your dog vomits after surgery, it could be a condition that needs to be checked by the vet.

There could be several reasons for vomiting, like a reaction to anesthesia or other drugs administered; the dog may have developed an infection or has a fever.

If the dog vomits more than once, consider visiting the emergency vet clinic, especially if it has had surgery anywhere in the abdomen.

4. Heavy Breathing or Panting

Heavy Breathing or Panting
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In case of breathing issues like panting or struggling to breathe, you need to check in with the vet. 

If the dog shows the below symptoms, you should rush to the vet immediately:

  • Labored breathing
  • Lethargy
  • Pale gums
  • Gray or bluish skin color

Breathing issues in canines should not be ignored or taken lightly, as the underlying condition can be life-threatening.

The dog can develop these symptoms as a result of medications, pain, stress, or anxiety.

5. Seizure

Again, a seizure is not a symptom that is considered normal regardless of the dog’s state. If your dog has already been diagnosed with a seizure disorder, talk to the vet to see if the anti-seizure medications need to be adjusted after surgery.

If it is the first time your dog has a seizure, do not try to interrupt the episode. You could place cushions around the dog in case it falls. If possible, move sharp objects or furniture out of the way so your dog does not hurt itself.

The dog could have a seizure because of an infection or a reaction to the medication. All of the signs we have discussed till now all warrant a visit to the vet.

How Should I Care for My Dog After Surgery?

Surgery can be difficult on the dog’s body. It will need ample rest and care to begin the recovery process. It may continue to show after-effects of anesthesia or medications post-surgery, but they should subside in 24 to 48 hours.

1. Prevent Infection

Prevent Infection
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Ensure the dog has a comfortable place to relax and sleep. The dog bed and its surrounding should be clean; you do not want to risk infections. Using an E-collar would be smart if the surgical incision is in an area the dog can easily lick.

Licking can lead to bacteria contaminating the surgical site. If you have multiple pets, isolate the dog. You do not want other pets licking or scratching the wound.

2. Care for the Surgical Site

Ensure that the surgical site is clean. Look out for signs like blood, pus, and scabs. The vet will instruct you on how the site needs to be cleaned and the correct way to change bandages. You may have to do this once or twice a day as directed.

If you feel the surgery wound is oozing an abnormal amount of discharge, like a yellow or pinkish color substance, please get in touch with the vet.

3. Restrict Movement

Your pet’s surgery was successful, the anesthetic agent wore off, and it feels like itself before discharge. These are good signs, but it would be best if you restricted the animal’s movement for a minimum of 48 hours. Please ask the vet for a better time estimate.

If your dog falls back to its regular routine of playing and running around, the sudden stretching movement can interfere with the healing process. Also, there is the risk of stitches opening.

Even when the dog is recovering, keep movements to a minimum. For example, you can use a crate or carry the pet on the stairs. When you start going out for walks, use a short leash, and walk on an even, obstacle-free surface for a short period.

4. Monitor the Dog

Post-surgery, it is the first two days that are the hardest. You will have to pay extra attention to the vet during this period. Strictly follow the vet’s medication, wound cleaning, and other care instructions.

For example, ensure you give the dog its pain medications on time. Contact the vet if you see the dog shaking or reluctant to move because of the pain.

Do not give the dog any over-the-counter pain relief medications, especially the ones made for humans. Such drugs can be toxic to your pets.

If the dog is shaking or shivering, use blankets to cover it up. If you still see the dog shaking, it could be a severe case of hypothermia that the vet needs to look at.

5. Know When to Call the Vet

Know When to Call the Vet
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If you see the dog showing the symptoms we discussed in the above sections, do not hesitate to contact the vet, especially if the symptoms have persisted for a day after surgery.

Even if the symptoms are mild and can be tended to at home, a call to the vet can put your concerns to rest.

If the symptoms are moderate to severe, then a visit to the vet will be necessary. In case of severe levels of hypothermia, blankets will not help. According to AKC, invasive core warming with warm IV fluids is the recommended treatment.

So to recap, contact the vet if you see signs like shaking, vomiting, lethargy, straining to urinate, loss of appetite, breathing issues, or seizure.

Summary

If your dog is shaking after surgery, it may be a matter of concern. It could mean that the dog is in pain, is feeling the after-effects of anesthesia, or an underlying health issue is making itself known.

The first 24 hours after surgery are critical. It is when the pet needs utmost care and attention. Keep the surgical site clean, use the cone of shame, restrict the pet’s movement, give the pet its medication on time and monitor it for any unusual signs.

Ensure the dog has a clean and warm place to rest, and use blankets for insulation. This should help with shaking. But, if the symptom persists, please check with the vet on further steps.

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