girl kissing her dog after surgery
Behavior & Training

10 Ways To Entertain Your Dog After Surgery

Postoperatively, it can be frustrating to figure out how to entertain your dog after surgery. You must follow the veterinarian’s orders in terms of physical activity, rehab, and recovery. However, there are ways to occupy a dog’s mind and body as he recovers from an operation.

Some of the best ways to entertain your dog after surgery depend on the type of operation he had. A few of my favorite ways to stimulate my dog postoperatively include brain games, modified favorite toy time, at-home rehab, and a few other clever ideas to prevent boredom.

I’ve been through multiple surgeries with my dogs over several decades, and each time I talked to their vets before starting any form of activity. When my dog was recovering from ACL (ligament) surgery, he had to stay on strict crate rest, but we managed to keep him occupied and happy.

Here are 10 of the best ways to entertain your dog after surgery along with a few suggestions to products to prevent canine boredom.

Disclosure: Some of the links in this article are affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.

Understanding Your Dog’s Postoperative Instructions

If you’ve ever undergone surgery, you know that anesthesia can make you feel groggy, pain medications can cause constipation or side effects, and you might not feel like doing much of anything. Dogs are the same way.

After surgery, dogs can’t tell us what hurts or how they feel, so it’s up to you and your dog’s surgical team to have a solid plan of pain management in place. If your vet says your dog must be on strict crate rest, follow those orders to prevent problems.

When my Cocker Spaniel underwent two ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) repairs, he was not allowed to run, jump, play vigorously, or go for long walks for four long months. Try explaining that to an active 5-year-old dog. I wrote all about my dog’s journey with two ACL surgeries, what we tried, what worked, and what didn’t.

I knew if I didn’t keep his mind stimulated in the months following surgery, my dog would get bored, depressed, and lose his spirit. Dogs are resilient creatures, but like people, they need stimulation in the postop period.

Each dog’s recovery will be different. For example, if your dog had orthopedic surgery, you will likely be instructed to restrict movement other than potty breaks, vet and rehab visits. A dog who was spayed or neutered will have activity restrictions during wound healing.  

How To Stimulate A Dog After Surgery

After a few days to a week, most dogs start getting antsy and want to move around. This can be the most difficult part of the healing process. Your dog has no idea why he can’t run, play, jump, or walk as he did preoperatively. After all, the surgery worked and the meds kicked in.

Don’t give in to your dog and let him do things that are totally restricted. Veterinarians I’ve spoken to over the years share stories with me about busted stitches, re-injury, and uncontrollable bleeding in canine patients whose parents ignored postop orders.

Puppies are even worse because they are learning all about the world and suddenly you’ve hit the brakes on what they can and can’t do.

In the list below, we’ll share our favorite ways to entertain a dog after surgery along with ways to keep their spirits up until they can resume normal activity.

1. Lose the E-Collar If You Can

Many dogs are required to wear the “cone of shame” after surgery. If your dog ever came out of surgery with a lampshade-looking apparatus around his neck, you know what the E-collar (Elizabethan collar) is.

Dogs can become incredibly depressed by an E-collar because they don’t understand it is there for their protection and safety. When my dog was recovering from ACL surgery, I discovered a viable option to the E-collar.

Tulane’s Closet makes a product called the Cover Me By Tui. Basically, it is a dog onesie with some special features that are a dogsend after surgery. It goes on easily, has a built-in potty cover, and you won’t have to remove it during your dog’s bathroom breaks. It comes in step-into or pullover and is available in a variety of sizes. I bought two so I could wash one and keep one on my dog after surgery.

Tip: If clothes aren’t your thing or your dog simply is not allowed to wear a onesie after surgery, consider a soft collar such as the Original Comfy Cone.

2. Play Nose and Brain Games

Most dogs won’t be allowed to move much after surgery, so nose games and brain games give dogs a good mental workout.

Activity toys and nose games such as the collection from Nina Ottosson invoke a dog’s olfactory senses to keep his mind active. My dog has three AKC titles, including trick dog titles, and brain games came in handy for his training, too.

Try these fun nose games:

  1. Which hand? Put two closed fists in front of your dog but keep a treat in one of them. When he looks at our bumps the correct hand with his nose, praise and reward. If your dog has no idea what you are doing, start slow with the treat in an open hand.
  2. Interactive puzzles: Such as the Nina Ottosson Interactive Beginner Puzzle can be played with dogs who are allowed to stand or move a bit. Since sedentary dogs tend to gain weight, keep the type of treats to a low-cal or healthy minimum.

Pro tip: Don’t start your dog off with any brain games that require heavy movement, tossing or rolling if he is on crate rest or restricted activity.

3. Toys For Dogs Recovering From Surgery

As your dog starts to feel a bit better after several days to a week, your vet may allow him some light, modified play with toys after surgery.

Some of our favorite toys for dogs recovering from surgery include:

Snuffle Mat For Dogs to encourage foraging and prevent boredom

Omega Paw Tricky Treat Ball which is designed to fill with treats, is easy to clean, and made of a textured vinyl surface.

Zippy Paws No Stuffing Dog Toy so your pooch can rest his head, snuggle with an adorable fox, raccoon, or squirrel, and pet parents need not worry about squeaking sounds.

Kong Classic Fillable Dog Toy that can be stuffed with treats or peanut butter which is then frozen. For dogs in a crate or on restricted movement, a filled Kong is a boredom buster.

Lickimat Classic Boredom Buster allows dogs to lick treats and food from a silicone-free and environmentally friendly mat. Bonus: Available in a variety of sizes and configurations.

dog in a stroller after surgery

4. Outdoor Strolling & Relaxing With Your Dog

Get outside with a pet stroller. These days, dog strollers are available for all sizes of dogs from Chihuahuas to Labrador Retrievers. I have a pet stroller to this day for my Cocker Spaniel. He will turn 13 years young this fall and has arthritis in his back.

A dog stroller is a viable option for arthritic dogs, dogs after surgery, and for dogs of all sizes for easier transport in a busy city. Bonus: When we go shopping, it doubles as a cart so we don’t have to carry bags around town.

If a stroller isn’t something you’d consider, then just get outside and sit somewhere together. Let the dog feel the blades of grass between his paw pads and just get some fresh air in his lungs.

Find a favorite spot and just sit there for a change of scenery. I know when I had surgery, it felt good to get out of the house. Let passersby know that your dog is not be disturbed. Remember, even a super friendly dog, like my Dexter, will react and snap if in pain.

Here are some dog strollers to consider:

Pet Gear No Zip Jogger Pet Stroller: Features one hand fold, cup holder, and storage basket.

Pet Gear No Zip Stroller For Large Single or Multiple Dogs: Features push button entry, no zippers, spacious protective compartment, and folds flat in seconds.

Vergo Dog Stroller Pet Jogger Wagon: Designed to fit small, medium, or large pets. It features a waterproof interior, frame of strong carbon steel, and holds up to 130 pounds.

5. Physical Rehab Outside and Inside the Home

Your dog’s vet will provide specific instructions if physical rehab is required after your dog’s surgery. Some dogs, like my Cocker Spaniel, require rehab in the form of specific physical movements and therapies. Other dogs may swim or get laser treatments.

Massaging a dog is therapeutic, so no matter what level of recovery a dog is in, a proper massage done by a loving pet parent can help relieve stress, calm the nervous system, reduce pain perception, help eliminate toxins and reduce swelling/edema, and trigger the body’s natural ability to heal itself.

Just use caution in how you massage, where you massage, and pay attention to your dog’s body signals. Stop if he or she is not enjoying the massage. Never apply too much pressure and seek professional guidance on how to massage a dog.

6. 10 Touches To Keep Dogs Healthy

One of the best things you can do as a pet parent is touch your dog with purpose. Your dog will think it’s a game or a massage, but you are specifically looking and feeling for any changes.

Since your dog is recovering from surgery, you can gently touch him when he is up for it. Never do this if your dog is sleeping or isn’t up for interaction.

Here are 10 touches that can save your dog’s life.

7. Play The Cup Game

Besides the Nina Ottosson board games and nose games for dogs, you can play the cup game using plastic Solo cups.

Using three containers, such as plastic cups (that are not transparent), place a high-value treat under one of the cups. Allow your dog to watch you do this. Shuffle the cups around and ask your dog to “find it.”

If your dog has difficulty locating the treat, tip the cup a bit so he can nose into it, then praise and allow him to take the reward.

Pro Tip: Be sure your dog is allowed some movement before attempting this activity.

8. Make Pooch Pupsicles For Your Dog

Although you’ll be the one preparing these, your dog will delight in a postop treat at home. Sometimes all it takes to boost your dog’s spirits after surgery are some easy-to-make homemade frozen goodies.

Try these poochie pupsciles and no-salt chicken broth pops.

9. Netflix and Chill Into A Cuddle Puddle

Your dog will thank you a thousand times for simply being by his side. Sometimes it’s in your dog’s best interest to do nothing but snuggle together and allow the healing process.

Pop your favorite binge-worthy show on the television and gently keep your dog close. When I recovered from major surgery, my dog was there for me every step of the way, too!

10. Rotate Your Dog’s Toys

This sounds simple, but it’s an overlooked way to keep dogs entertained after surgery. Your dog won’t be allowed to chase toys or run after them, so give him a different toy or two each day.

If I’m being honest, I purchased at least 10 new stuffed toys before my dog’s leg surgeries. I gave him a new one every few days and he would rest on it, chew on it, and simply snuggle with it.

Know When To Let Your Postop Dog Alone

Medication, especially antibiotics and pain pills, can lead to an upset digestive tract, constipation, or diarrhea. Never engage a dog who appears to be sick or may have a tummy issue. Keep in mind that dogs, much like their wolf ancestors, hide pain well.

Don’t overdo any sort of interactive session. Keep in mind that a dog with pain can and may snap and/or bite. I know this from first-hand experience. My first Cocker Spaniel injured her knee and en route to the hospital she snapped at a family member out of pain. She was the sweetest dog but pain is pain and dogs will react.

Keep It Short and Sweet

Medication and its side effects also make dogs feel very different from their norm, so don’t spend large pockets of time on any sort of brain games or activity.

If you can do one to two sessions a day of some sort of stimuli, this is perfect. Think about how you feel when you are recovering from surgery. I know the last thing I want is someone bugging me to move around and do something that tires me out quickly.

Never force a dog to do something, especially a dog under strict medical care. Always follow veterinary instructions first and foremost. If you are not sure whether an activity is appropriate for your dog’s recovery, ask.

Did we miss anything? Let us know in the comments below. Cheers to your dog’s successful recovery from surgery!

how to entertain your dog after surgery

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12 Comments

  1. You sure are a good doggy mom. Any animal would be lucky to have you. Your ideas are awesome and I’ve bookmarked this list for future reference. Hopefully, I won’t have to use it, but at least I know where to find it.

  2. I’ve been known to sleep the first 24 hours or so w/one my pets after surgery just to be sure they’re “ok” then we just follow the vets orders & go slow, they usually let you know what they feel up to doing but as was mentioned they hide pain well so you have to be aware of that. Meds can cause upset stomachs so special diets are in order for a while. I like to hide treats around the house one the floor so they can find them easily & simply just sitting outside perks them up! This was a GREAT article!

  3. I’m in full support of anything that keeps a dog off of a wound without one of those wretched cones. That’s actually why I make Koly & Fe wear a variety of clothes, hats, wraps etc. year round. Sure, the halloween costumes are silly and fun, but it’s also teaching them that if I put something on, it STAYS ON.

    Can I suggest a bit of nose work if Dexter is food motivated? It worked wonders with working Koly’s brain during our long, wet BC winter last year and it’s easy to set up in your own living room or yard.

    1. I LOVE the idea of nose work, Jodi – and yes suggest away. Dexter’s half brother does it and is a pro at it. TY for that….he loves hide and seek, btw.

  4. You have some great tips there! That cone of shame is the absolute worst. I learned the no lick command asap as I realized it kept me from wearing that awful thing when I had surgery. My sister has worn Mom’s clothes to keep that awful cone from being put on. I’m such a baby, I did not want to do anything until about 10 days after my surgery but then I slowly came back to life. Four months is a very long time, but you have great ideas and especially getting Dexter outside. Especially dogs like us that are out a lot would really miss it being cooped up in the house. The stroller or even pulling a dog in a wagon if they aren’t the type to jump out are great ideas! Hopefully we will never have to spend four months doing pretty much nothing! Barks and howling get better soon messages from me 🙂

    1. Thanks, Emma. We ordered a second Tulane’s Closet postop onesie today. I talked to the founder yesterday to tell her how much I love her paw-roduct. She tells me they have a cat version they are working on, too. And I ordered a second one so there is always a clean one on hand.

  5. Dexter is one lucky kid! Thanks for sharing his journey. Lots of love and thought (and great photos) that went into this post make the idea of my fur kids needing surgery less scary. Great advice and ideas in planning and preparing for post op for the fur kids….I love the onesie versus an e collar. Hope Dexter is doing well with his recovery!

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