Reviewed and updated for accuracy on July 9, 2018 by Katie Grzyb, DVM
For dogs, exercise is an important part of their overall well-being. Going on walks, playing fetch, jogging, hikingâtheyâre all a part of the routine. But what happens when your pup has to have dog surgery and is unable to exercise? How do you provide your pup with mental stimulation without further aggravating her injury or surgical site?
Keeping your pup mentally stimulated after dog surgery is imperative to healing, regardless of whether the surgery was for a physical injury, like dog ACL surgery or dog knee surgery, or a routine dog neutering or dog spaying procedure.
Mental stimulation for dogs prevents them becoming restless, which may lead to running, jumping and other behaviors that could exacerbate injuries. Additionally, mental stimulation helps relieve post-operative stress.
âThere is a relationship between stress and recovery,â says Dr. Carlo Siracusa, DVM, PhD, MS, clinical assistant professor, Behavior Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine in Philadelphia. âThe calmer and happier your dog is, the faster her recovery is going to be.â
While the go-to option for many pet owners looking to engage their fur friendâs mind are dog puzzle toys, depending on the type of surgery, these might not be the best option for every doggo, especially if you have to restrict food or limit their movement.
But there are other ways to ensure your dog remains mentally stimulated even if she canât exercise.
Provide a Good View
First and foremost, dogs recovering from surgery need a comfy spot to recover, preferably with a good view.
âDogs like to lay in places with strategic value,â Dr. Siracusa says. âThey like couches not just because theyâre comfy, but because they offer a vantage point. They can see doors, they can see windows, and theyâre not isolated because they can keep an eye on everything. When youâre setting up a spot for your dog to recover, giving her a vantage point is important because it keeps her engaged, even if she canât move around very easily.â
If you want to encourage your dog to stick to a certain spot, Dr. Siracusa recommends making that spot particularly cozy, using your dogâs favorite bedding and keeping that spot warm in the winter and cool in the summer.
Stimulate the Mind
Chilling in front of the TV isnât just for people who are feeling under the weatherâsome dogs enjoy watching television as well.
âIf you canât be home with your dog and youâre concerned that sheâll get bored without you, try turning on the TV,â says Dr. Susan Nelson, DVM, a clinical professor at Kansas State University Collect of Veterinary Medicine in Manhattan, Kansas. âEven if youâre not sure that your dog will be receptive, itâs worth trying. There are many dogs out there that find ambient noise soothing, so something calming like a nature program would definitely offer some comfort.â
Dr. Nelson also says that classical music can help keep dogs calm. âThere are studies that show in a shelter environment, classical music can put dogs at ease.â
Make Mealtime More Engaging
Dr. Siracusa says that keeping pups engaged with their meals for longer periods of time is another way to provide mental stimulation for dogs. This may involve a dog bowl that forces your dog to eat more slowly.
You can use a dog slow feeder, which is a dog bowl that is specifically designed to make your dog work to get to her kibbles. These dog bowls stimulate a dogâs senses and encourage pups to use problem-solving skills to get their food.
If you want to provide your dog with a special treat, you can always prepare frozen snacks for her. âMake popsicles for your dog with chicken broth, and freeze kibble or other food inside. They have to stay there and lick until that popsicle melts to get their reward,â Dr. Siracusa explains.
You can use a KONG classic dog toy and fill it up with some dog food or dog treats. You can fill an ice cube tray with a pet-safe broth, like the Honest Kitchen beef bone broth with turmeric, and freeze it for longer-lasting entertainment for your dog.
Both Dr. Siracusa and Dr. Nelson say that training your dog to perform simple tasks is a great way to keep her mentally stimulated after surgery.
âThere are many different types of training,â Dr. Nelson notes. âTarget training is where you teach the dog to touch objects with their noses.â Dr. Nelson recommends that people looking to train their dogs start with YouTube videos. âThere are a lot of great training videos online,â she notes.
Dr. Siracusa says that the training doesnât need to be complicated. âA treatment I recommend often is teaching âwatch meâ or âtouch meâ to the dog. The âwatch meâ command requires no movement on the dogâs part, so itâs great for dog surgery recovery periods. The âtouch meâ commands could be as simple as touching different parts of your hand with their nose. So if youâre right next to the dog, it would require very little movement.â
Go for a Ride
Even if your dog canât go for a walk, getting him some fresh air goes a long way toward the animalâs mental health. For smaller dogs, this could involve walks in a doggy stroller, while larger ones could go for car rides.
However, if your dog finds ridesâwhether in a stroller or carâparticularly stimulating, you may not have this option. âYou have to know your dog,â Dr. Nelson says. âIf your dog gets excited easily, this might not be the best option, because sheâll react to things she sees and may further injure herself.â
Know Your Dog
Dr. Nelson and Dr. Siracusa both stress that knowing your dog is the most important factor in determining the best type of mental stimulation for post-surgical healing.
âYou know your dog best and can see whatâs working and what isnât,â Dr. Nelson says. âAnd if you find that your ideas arenât working, go to your veterinarian and ask for advice. They know you and your animal and can help you come up with new ideas.â
Image via MPH Photos/Shutterstock