Dog Rehab 101

I’d like to preface this post by saying, I don’t have any official veterinary job experience. I am not veterinary professional, especially not with dogs. Luckily, horse ownership and general equine care require a plethora of DIY-type skills: I can bandage a horse’s leg with my eyes closed, I can detect subtle lameness, and I can provide a variety of first aid treatments. I know which common medications to give a horse and under what circumstances. I’m even relatively confident giving horses intramuscular (IM) injections. I’ve rehabbed horses with soft tissue injuries, provided post-surgical care, and even helped bring one back from a nasty case of bacterial pneumonia.

My small animal experience includes general trickery, like concealing pills well enough to get said animal to scarf them down. I can do eye ointment. Oh, and I can give a cat subcutaneous fluids if needed.

I also spent a year working in a hospital for the Aging Adult Services program, which focused on helping seniors and their families transition from hospital to home, and another year working for a home care agency, which staffed caregivers for said seniors. I’ve aided in discharge planning and safety checks. Nothing huge.

So, my dear dog Riley underwent two major orthopedic surgeries recently (which you can read about here, if you haven’t already).  Before the first surgery, the veterinary staff at the clinic told me how hard rehab was going to be. The new hardware was still setting, and she would (hopefully) look much better than she actually was. She would have to stay quiet, not walk on her own, and learn to go to the bathroom while being sling-walked. So far, so good.

Here are my Dog Rehab suggestions, which have thus far worked for Riley:

  • DO WHAT THE VET SAYS. Seriously–it’s very simple.
  • Confinement: If they say that the dog shouldn’t move around freely, don’t let the dog move around. Riley is pretty content to lie down and stay put, but if we’re not home in the room with her, she’s in her crate. I know some people have strong sentiments against crates, but none of us want to deal with another surgery.
  • E-Collar/Cone of Shame: Just keep the cone on. I know, you feel terrible. Better safe than sorry. Riley has three e-collars for different circumstances (big one to wear at night that really blocks her peripheral vision, and two smaller ones to wear during the day). She hates them all equally. Too bad.
  • Meds: for the first week, Riley was on three medications. Two, she took twice a day, and the third she took 4x/day. The tramadol, she hated. I folded two tablets into 1/2 a slice of provolone cheese whenever she needed it. The Rimadyl is pretty easily concealed in some canned food, as are the antibiotic capsule contents. I bought a pillbox/med reminder so my family and I would know if she’d gotten her pills each day. The thing has been awesome to have.


  • Keep notes: I bought a spiral notebook the day Riley was discharged, and have tried to write in it at least daily. You never know what info might be important later. I try to write down questions I have for the vet in there, and bring it with me to our follow up appointments. Also helps family members stay up-to-speed with Riley’s recovery process.
  • ASK QUESTIONS! If I’m unsure about something–anything–I’ll ask the vet’s office. Better safe than sorry.

Because I have lots of experience bandaging and wrapping horses’ legs, Riley’s surgeon (thankfully) decided to show me unbandage and re-bandage her front leg. Although it was an intense, multi-step process, doing bandage changes at home saved me a good chunk of change:

  1. Triple antibiotic ointment over the incision, then 2 Telfa pads.
  2. One layer of cast padding, wrapped back-to-front of the leg, from bottom to top.
  3. One layer of cast padding, front-to-back, bottom to top.
  4. Cast padding again, back-to-front, bottom to top.
  5. …and again, front-to-back–you get the picture. Four layers of cast padding.
  6. Then, vet wrap. Front-to-back, bottom to top.
  7. Vet wrap again, back-to-front, bottom to top.
  8. Line up metal splint with back of leg, below elbow. Hold while adding another layer of vet wrap, to keep splint in place.
  9. Secure at top with medical tape.

This stuff is cast padding.

The kicker? Replace whenever her paw felt moist. Riley has had lymphedema from her surgery, this bandage was changed 2x daily for the first two weeks.

Bottom line? I follow the instructions of the vet, and if I’m not sure about something, I ask until I understand. I hope you’re reading this because you know Riley and I, not because your dog is hurt. However, if your dog is recovering from a surgical procedure, I hope I was able to help you out.



  1. She looks pretty comfortable, all things considered. So glad she is feeling better! For future aches and bumps, you might want to try CanineActiv for pain relief. It has worked wonders with my babies.

    1. I’ll check it out! She’s doing great, so far. I’m VERY lucky to have found such an amazing surgeon, have had so much help in funding everything, and that Riley is such a chill, otherwise healthy pup.

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