Why is my dog crying after surgery?

“Doctor, I don’t know what to do, my dog keeps crying ever since coming home from surgery.”

This is a concern we occasionally hear after surgery. So why do dogs cry (or vocalize) after surgery? Note: we do not mention cats below, because, well, cats are different, so only part of what follows applies to cats.

1. Dysphoria

Dys what?


Dogs who wake up from surgery are discombobulated. They have no idea what happened to them. They’re spacey or groggy or loopy while the anesthesia medications wear off. They may not know who you are and where they are.

If you’ve ever had anesthesia, you likely felt the same way. You may also have seen videos of kids or adults waking up from anesthesia, after dentistry or surgery, and they say the weirdest or funniest things – which they don’t even remember later.

Since dogs don’t understand what’s happening, it causes anxiety. And they don’t know how to express that, except through whining.

While it’s stressful to any pet lover, the good news is that it should go away after a good night sleep.

If you doubt it, let me give you a classic example.

If we only sedate a dog (not even full anesthesia) to take X-rays or change a bandage or trim their nails, and reverse the drugs, they may experience dysphoria. We haven’t done anything painful, yet they cry like they’re in severe pain.

Why is that?

Well, it’s exactly for the reasons explained above. It’s dysphoria. They’ll get over it.

Bottom line: This type of crying should stop when you sit next to your dog, or you call his or her name.

2. Pain

Pain can definitely cause crying. Now, if your vet or your surgeon takes pain seriously, and provided appropriate pain control, the crying is most likely not due to pain.

As I always say, “pain is unacceptable in 2020.” We have enough pain medications available. We routinely dispense 2 or 3 pain medications to make sure your dog is comfortable after surgery.

If you are convinced that your dog is in pain, please call your vet and get an additional pain medication. That’s an easy solution.

Bottom line: This type of crying does not stop when you sit next to your dog, or you call his or her name.

3. Attention-seeking

Some dogs, like some babies (or older kids!) are quick at learning that if they whine, it makes you stop what you’re doing and you pay more attention to them. You pet them. You use your funny voice. You give them a treat.

It’s a learned behavior, which you encourage by “giving in.”

Bottom line: This type of crying should stop when you sit next to your dog, or you call his or her name.

4. Other reasons

There are other reasons for which your dog might cry after surgery. It can mean anything from “I hate this stupid cone around my head” to “I hate being locked up in a room/in a crate” or “Why do I have a 10 pound bandage on my leg?” or “I am bored to tears in here!” or “Why don’t you understand that I need to pee?”

So these are “benign” reasons that make them anxious. Again, they don’t know how to express their frustration besides crying. Other reasons include not feeling well, being unsteady, feeling nauseous, feeling cold.

Some breeds are more sensitive than others. And some individuals are more sensitive than others (“every patient is different”).

So depending on the situation:

. You may bring water or food closer. Some dogs need help when they wear a cone (which you should not take off). Handfeeding may help.

. You may want to give your dog a (safe) chew toy to prevent boredom.

. You can use white noise to drown out the normal sounds of the household.

. You can’t do anything about a bandage, although if it’s too tight, it can cause pain, so you should seek medical attention.

. You should absolutely follow your vet’s or your surgeon’s instruction to keep the cone on 24/7, or to keep your dog confined 24/7.

. If your dog needs to eliminate, then obviously you should allow that. Remember, you’ve trained your dog to be potty trained, so they may absolutely refuse to go on the floor or in their crate.

But be careful, as some smart dogs can learn that “whining = I can escape from jail and go outside” and they may take advantage of that.

Bottom line: This type of crying should stop when you sit next to your dog, or you call his or her name… or your take them outside to eliminate.

These are the main reasons for which a dog may cry. If you’re still not sure what’s going on with your dog, please call your vet clinic and brainstorm with a nurse to try to figure out why it’s happening.

The good news is that if you follow the rules, the whining should stop overnight or within a few days. If it doesn’t, then I’ll give you 2 more options:

. The reason for the crying is not listed above, and you need to figure out what the cause is by talking to your veterinary team.

. All we need is a mild sedative or tranquilizer to “take the edge off” and help your dog relax and accept their new fate: the plastic cone, confinement, a bandage etc.

After all, waking up from anesthesia is not fun for humans, so there is no reason to believe that it’s any more fun for a patient who has no idea what just happened.

Again: this is normal and it will get better with time, so hang in there!

Phil Zeltzman, DVM, DACVS, CVJ, Fear Free Certified

Why did Reagan have a toe removed?

Reagan, a 6 year old Doberman, was seen for swelling in one of her left front toes. It wasn’t painful, but it was clearly larger than normal.

A full physical, blood work and radiographs were performed. The physical exam was unremarkable – except for the swollen toe.

Blood work was normal, so she was a good candidate for anesthesia. X-rays showed a concerning area in one of the bones of the toe (what would be your pinky). The bone was clearly abnormal. Look at the red arrows and notice how rough the edges of the bone are compared to the bones in other toes. This can indicate a variety of concerning diseases, from a fungus to cancer.

Based on the concern that this was most likely bone cancer, we recommended removing the toe. Sadly, there was no other treatment option. Please be warned, the pictures below are GRAPHIC.

The surgery was straight forward. The entire toe was removed and sent out to the lab to identify the abnormality.

Postop, the foot looks pretty cosmetic.

Reagan recovered smoothly from anesthesia. She was given pain medications and antibiotics. She went home with an Elizabethan collar to ensure that she did not cause trauma to the surgery site or cause an infection.

About a week postop, the biopsy results came back. Was bone cancer confirmed?

Amazingly, the report explained that it was all benign. The bone reaction was “reactive and inflammatory”. The changes may have been due to an old fracture of the bone – even though Reagan’s owner never noticed any limping…

Although we don’t have a definite explanation for the swelling and the changes in the bone, the good news is that Reagan made a full recovery and went back to her normal, happy life with a great outcome.

Phil Zeltzman, DVM, DACVS, CVJ, Fear Free Certified

Who does surgery in a 15 year old dog?

Tucker, a 15 year old Shih Tzu, had a concerning mass on his behind. Every time he sat somewhere, he would leave a bloody spot. He was otherwise healthy. He enjoyed going for a 1 mile-long walk every day.

His owners noticed a small lump forming on the side of his anus. He also developed a larger mass behind the other one. The smaller mass became ulcerated (meaning it broke open) and started to bleed.

Tucker’s family vet took a cell sample (aka a “Fine Needle Aspirate”) and wisely sent it to the lab. The results showed that the mass was benign, meaning there was no obvious sign of cancer!

Encouraged by the good news, Tucker’s loving owner decided what few pet owners would do on a 15 year old dog: she decided to have the masses removed!

So Tucker’s family vet asked me to remove the masses. Since Tucker had a heart murmur (treated with medications), there was a concern for placing him under anesthesia. He had preop blood work and a comprehensive physical exam prior to anesthesia. Both were good.

Surgery was done to remove both masses. The smaller ulcerated mass was first removed, then the larger one.

Grandpa Tucker recovered smoothly from anesthesia and went home to heal.

He needed to wear a plastic cone and stay very quiet during his 3 week recovery.

A week later, the results of the biopsy came back: the small mass was a perianal adenoma (aka circum-anal adenoma, aka hepatoid tumor), which arises from the sebaceous glands around the anus. No cancer was found and the tumor had been successfully removed completely.

The larger mass was a lipoma, ie a benign fatty tumor.

So both masses were benign – the best news we could have received.

Three weeks after surgery, Tucker went to his family vet to have the incision rechecked. Everything looked good, so he was allowed to resume normal activity and enjoy his walks again.

As I always say, “age is not a disease.”

Tucker can enjoy life without a painful, raw, bleeding mass on his behind.

And Tucker’s dedicated owner was rewarded for her decision to help her 15 year old dog.

Phil Zeltzman, DVM, DACVS, CVJ, Fear Free Certified

This cutie is a 15 month cancer survivor!

Cartier, a now 14 year old Shih Tzu, had a cancerous tumor in a rib. So we removed 3 of her ribs at the end of 2018.

I am thrilled to report that 15 months after surgery, Cartier the cancer survivor is still doing great!

Read her amazing story here: (https://www.drphilzeltzman.com/blog/cartier-and-the-giant-surprise/)


Phil Zeltzman, DVM, DACVS, CVJ, Fear Free Certified

You removed this poor dog’s what???

Bodie, a 5 month old Pitbull, was in a pickle…

He had skin missing in his prepuce, which led to exposure of a portion of his penis. Because he was a rescue, there was no known cause. Most likely, this was due to trauma (ie a dog bite), or he was born that way.

In addition, he had a hypospadias. A what? A hypospadias is a congenital condition in which the opening of the urethra is located under the penis, instead of the tip. This caused problems to urinate.

Bodie was relinquished to a rescue, presumably because his original owner did not want to deal with a dog with this condition.

The only treatment was surgery. There were 2 options: either try to reconstruct a new prepuce, or remove the entire penis (penile amputation). With the second option, a new opening would be created to allow Bodie to urinate (urethrostomy). This new opening is located where the scrotum is.

Given the hypospadias, it was deemed preferable to sacrifice Bodie’s penis.

A full physical exam and blood work confirmed that Bodie was healthy enough to undergo anesthesia.

Surgery went well, and Bodie recovered smoothly from anesthesia.

He went home on pain medications and antibiotics. Instructions included wearing an E-collar (plastic cone) and rest strictly for 3 weeks.

Three weeks later, Bodie returned to the clinic for a progress exam and staple removal. He received a clean bill of health. He was urinating well and seemed completely unaffected by this surgical adventure.

Bodie got a second chance at a comfortable life by ending up in the hands of a generous rescuer who fell in love with him. She was willing to go the extra mile to give him the life he deserves: peeing freely on all the trees in the neighborhood.

He can now look forward to a long and healthy life in his new furever home.

Phil Zeltzman, DVM, DACVS, CVJ, Fear Free Certified