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Warning Signs After Dog Neutering: Spotting Post-Op Problems! - PawSafe

Warning Signs After Dog Neutering: Spotting Post-Op Problems!

Photo of Tamsin De La Harpe

Written by Tamsin De La Harpe

warning signs after dog neutering

You might think it’s all tail wags from here after taking your doggo to the vet for a neuter. But since dogs can’t tell you when something’s off, it’s up to you to play detective and spot the warning signs that spell trouble.

Spotting signs like swelling that looks like a tennis ball under their belly,  a stitch that’s gone rogue, or lethargy could be red flags that your pup needs a little extra TLC or possibly another check-up.

Early detection can mean the difference between a quick trip back to the vet and a severe health concern. To understand the dos and don’ts of post-neuter care, we engaged Dr. Sara White, DVM, the editor of High‐Quality, High‐Volume Spay and Neuter and Other Shelter Surgeries, to enlighten you and to ensure your buddy bounces back to their playful self in no time.

Note: one group of dogs most vulnerable to problems after neutering are dogs with blood clotting diseases such as von Willbrands. This makes them vulnerable to losing too much blood during any kind of surgery. So if your dog belongs to breeds like Doberman Pinchsers who can carry these genetic diseases, test them before doing any kind of surgery.

Castration in dogs involves the surgical removal of the testicles in males (neutering) or the ovaries and sometimes the uterus in females (spaying). It’s a standard surgical procedure with 64% prevalence in the US.

Veterinarians recommend it for various reasons, including population control, the primary reason for neutering, changes in some behaviors, and some health benefits. However, these surgeries can have some risks and complications, just like any surgery.

Sterilization also eliminates the sex drive in males and reduces the likeliness to be attracted to a female on heat. However, some altered dogs may experience erections, getting stuck while mating, and sexual behavior like humping but cannot breed or mate successfully.

What Is Normal For A Neutering Procedure

Veterinarian close up man holding male dog who has just been neutered with cone on to prevent them breaking open stitches

Following dog sterilization, you can expect several changes and potential behaviors during their recovery period and beyond.

1. Immediate Post-Surgery

Your dog might be dizzy or disoriented after the anesthesia wears off. They may experience pain or discomfort, which your vet typically manages with pain medication. They might also have a cone (Elizabethan collar) to prevent them from licking or biting the incision site.

During this stage, your dog should return to normal within 24 hours. If they are still lethargic, confused or apathetic after 24 hours, or if they show signs of a fever or don’t want to eat, then it may be time to go back to your vet.

2. Healing Time

The incision site will take some time to heal. This is typically only five to seven days before they are completely healed from the surgery.  It’s essential to monitor it for any signs of infection, excessive swelling, or discharge. Your vet will give you specific instructions on caring for the incision site and when to remove stitches, if applicable.

3. Activity Level

Your dog may need rest and reduced activity for a few days post-surgery. Vets often recommend limiting exercise and rough play to allow for proper healing. However, after the first 24 hours, you can expect your dog to want to go back to normal activity levels, and it should be up to you to keep they from overexerting themselves.

A big red flag is a dog that stays inactive for more than two days after having the procedure.

4. Changes in Behavior

There might be temporary changes in behavior due to hormonal adjustments. Some dogs might become more irritable, anxious, or subdued as their hormones fluctuate. Keep in mind, dogs can take up to two months for the testosterone to get out of their system, So neutering your dog will not mean they immediately change their behaviors.

In dogs that are neutered later in life, many of the behaviors, such as aggression with other male dogs may be permanent.

However, castration reduces 74% of behaviors associated with mating, such as mounting, roaming, and aggressive tendencies to other males. It can also decrease urine marking behavior in both male and female dogs.

It is also important to note that neutering is unlikely to make an aggressive dog calmer. However, some pups may become slightly less active in other cases, while others might not show any noticeable difference.

5. Weight Gain

According to veterinarian Dr. Charlotte Bjørnvad neutered dogs are at risk of becoming obese after the procedure. Since alteration can decrease a dog’s metabolism and lower testosterone, some may be prone to weight gain if their diet and exercise routines aren’t adjusted accordingly.

6. Hormonal Changes

Castration typically leads to a significant decrease in the production of sex hormones like testosterone or estrogen. This can affect the dog’s behavior and physical development.

According to one study by Dr.  Linda Brent, over time, the changes in hormone levels can affect coat texture, growth, or fear behavior. This usually takes a few weeks to months to manifest fully.

If you notice anything unusual during recovery or if your dog’s behavior significantly changes, it’s always best to consult your vet for guidance and assurance.

Warning Signs After A Dog Is Neutered

warning signs to watch out for after neutering

After a dog has been castrated, it is essential to monitor them for any warning signs that might indicate complications or issues post-surgery. Here are some warning signs to watch out for:

1. Excessive Bleeding (Hemorrhage)

Excessive bleeding following a dog’s neutering procedure can be concerning and typically indicates a potential issue such as poor clotting from a bleeding disorder such as von Willebrand’s disease, surgical complications, or excessive physical activity post-surgery.

It’s essential to monitor the surgical site carefully for any abnormal bleeding, which may manifest as persistent or heavy bleeding, bleeding through bandages, or bloodstains on bedding or clothing.

2. Scrotal Hematoma

A scrotal hematoma, or a blood blister,  is a potential complication that can occur after a male dog is neutered. This condition involves the accumulation of blood within the scrotal sac, which can lead to swelling and discomfort. It’s important for pet owners to be aware of this as a warning sign post-surgery.

Symptoms of a scrotal hematoma may include:

  • Swelling of the Scrotum: This is the most noticeable sign. The scrotum may appear significantly larger than normal, and the swelling can vary in size.
  • Discoloration: The scrotal area may become red, blue, or purple due to the accumulation of blood.
  • Pain and Discomfort: The dog may show signs of pain, such as whining, licking the area excessively, or avoiding sitting down.
  • Firmness to Touch: The swollen scrotum may feel firm due to the presence of clotted blood.

3. Discharge

Any discharge from the incision site, especially if it’s yellowish, greenish, or has a foul odor, could indicate an infection and needs veterinary attention.

4. Lethargy

While some sleepiness or grogginess is expected after surgery, excessive lethargy that seems abnormal for your dog could indicate a problem. If your dog seems extremely weak or doesn’t respond as usual, contact your vet.

5. Loss of Appetite or Excessive Thirst

Changes in appetite and thirst levels can occur, but they’re not typically directly related to the procedure. Alteration involves the surgical removal of the testicles, and while it can affect hormone levels, leading to some behavioral changes, it usually doesn’t directly cause changes in appetite or thirst.

If you notice significant or prolonged changes in your dog’s appetite or thirst after castration, it’s best to consult a veterinarian. It could be due to various underlying reasons like infections, reactions to medications, stress, or other health issues unrelated to the neutering procedure.

6. Persistent Vomiting or Diarrhea

It’s common for dogs to experience stomach upset due to anesthesia or medications, but it’s a concern if vomiting or diarrhea persists for more than 24 hours.

7. Difficulty Urinating or Defecating

If your dog has difficulty urinating or defecating after being neutered, monitoring their behavior closely is essential. This could indicate a more severe problem, such as a urinary tract infection, constipation, or complications from the surgery.

Behavioral Indicators of Distress After Neutering

A Husky dog after neutering with a cone around head close up

Dogs might display behavioral changes or distress due to the surgery and hormonal adjustments. Here are potential behavioral indicators of distress post-neutering:

Restlessness or Disorientation

Restlessness is not uncommon and can be due to various reasons, including discomfort, confusion from the anesthesia wearing off, or the dog trying to adjust to the changes in their body post-surgery.

Changes in Appetite

It’s common for dogs to have a reduced appetite for a few days following surgery. The stress of the procedure, discomfort, changes in routine, or medications can contribute to this decrease in appetite, as Walter Bradford stated in his boo, Bodily Changes in Pain, Hunger, Fear, and aggression.

Conversely, some dogs might exhibit an increased appetite after sterilization. Hormonal changes can affect metabolism, leading to increased hunger. This change might not be immediate but could manifest over time.

Appetite changes after neutering are often temporary. Most dogs eventually return to their normal eating habits after recovering from the surgery and adjusting to the hormonal changes.

Licking or Chewing at the Incision Site

Some dogs might excessively lick, chew, or try to scratch the incision site, which can delay healing. While it might seem concerning, it’s a natural response for them to try to alleviate discomfort or to explore the area.

Vocalization or Whining

Some degree of vocalization can be expected as part of the recovery process. Excessive or prolonged whining might indicate your dog is experiencing discomfort or distress.

Seeking Isolation

Dogs might isolate themselves more than usual as a response to feeling unwell or experiencing pain. They might also isolate themselves when they’re feeling in need of extra rest. Finding a quiet, secure spot to recuperate is a natural instinct.

Changes in Sleep Pattern

Some dogs might experience changes in their sleep routine due to discomfort or the body’s healing process. Pain or discomfort from the surgery site might lead to restlessness or changes in sleeping habits for a few days.

Generally, dogs tend to return to their usual sleeping habits once the initial recovery period passes. If there are prolonged changes or concerns about your dog’s sleep patterns post-neutering, you should consult your veterinarian for guidance and reassurance.

Monitoring the Incision

Monitoring the incision site

Monitoring the incision site after your dog has been neutered is essential to their post-operative care. Proper monitoring helps ensure the incision heals well and reduces the risk of complications. Here’s how to do it:

Observe, Observe, Observe.

Stitches should be snug against the skin. Check out for gaps in the incision line, visible inner tissue, loose or missing stitches, redness or swelling around stitch sites, and excessive bruising. Contact your vet. You can also check out our article on dog stitches that are open but not bleeding.

A healthy incision site typically appears clean and free from discharge or excessive moisture. It should show minimal redness and swelling and be neatly closed without gaps or separation in the incision line.

Some mild redness and scabbing might be present initially, but these should gradually diminish as the incision heals. There should be no foul odor or signs of infection, such as pus-like discharge. 

Additionally, the dog shouldn’t display signs of discomfort or pain when gently examining the area. Regular monitoring is essential, and any changes should be promptly discussed with a veterinarian to ensure proper healing and address potential complications.

Keep It Clean and Dry

Follow your vet’s instructions regarding keeping the incision clean and dry. Avoid allowing your dog to lick or chew the area, as this can introduce bacteria and delay healing.

Check for Healing

Over time, the incision should start to heal. You might notice the edges coming together, scabbing, or the incision becoming less red or swollen. These are signs of normal healing.

Activity Level

Exercise is crucial in a dog’s development and well-being. However, after alteration, It’s critical to restrict a dog’s activity to promote healing, typically for about 7-10 days.

Limit activities to short, controlled leash walks for bathroom breaks, avoiding running, jumping, or strenuous exercise.

Post-Surgery Instructions

Follow any specific post-surgery care instructions provided by your vet. This might include restrictions on activity, medications to administer, or recommendations for keeping the incision site clean.

Pain Management

Managing pain after dog alteration is crucial for their comfort and recovery. Veterinarians often provide pain relief medication and offer specific instructions for post-operative care. Here’s how you can manage pain after your dog has been neutered:

Provide a Comfortable Environment

Encourage rest and create a quiet and comfortable space for your dog to rest. Ensure they have a soft bed in a calm area where they can recuperate without disruptions.

Prevent Licking or Chewing

Use an Elizabethan collar (cone) provided by your vet to prevent your dog from licking or chewing at the incision site. Excessive licking or chewing can irritate the area or damage the stitches, causing more pain. 

The duration for which the collar needs to be worn can vary based on the individual dog and the vet’s recommendation. Usually, it’s advised to keep the collar on until the incision has fully healed, which could be around 7-14 days post-surgery.

Check out when to remove the Elizabeth Collar after neutering here.

Comforting Presence

Your presence and reassurance can provide emotional support and comfort to your dog during recovery. One study by Science Direct shows that dog-owner interaction during a veterinary examination leads to more cooperation and improves a dog’s well-being.

Cold Compress

Applying a cold compress (a wrapped ice pack or a bag of frozen vegetables) to the surgical site for short intervals (10-15 minutes at a time) can help reduce swelling and relieve pain. Always wrap the cold compress in a cloth to prevent direct contact with the skin.

Follow the Veterinarian’s Instructions

Last but not least, administer any prescribed pain medications exactly as directed by your vet. These medications help manage your dog’s discomfort during the recovery period.

Long-Term Healing Process

The long-term healing process in dogs after neutering involves an initial recovery period of about 1-2 weeks, where rest, limited activity, and wound care are crucial. Stitches, if used, might be removed within this time frame, but total healing typically takes several weeks to a few months.

The incision site should gradually heal during this period, with fur regrowth covering the area. By the end of this phase, most dogs should have returned to their everyday routines without any lingering effects from the surgery.

Regular monitoring for any signs of infection, discomfort, or behavioral changes is important, and it’s advisable to follow up with the veterinarian if any concerns arise during this extended healing period.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

After your dog’s neutering, keeping a close eye on them is key. Knowing what’s normal and what’s a red flag can make all the difference in their recovery.

How Do I Know If My Dog Has Infection After Neutering?

It might be an infection if your pup is sporting redness, swelling, or discharge at the surgery site or if they’re as lazy as a loaf on the couch.

How Soon After Neutering My Dog Should I Start Worrying?

Right after your dog’s neutering, it’s normal for them to be tired or disoriented due to anesthesia, but keep a close eye on it for the first 24-48 hours. Start worrying if you notice excessive bleeding that doesn’t slow down, significant swelling or redness around the incision site, discharge with a foul odor, persistent lethargy or refusal to eat, or any signs of severe pain.

How Often Can My Dog Have Complications After Neutering?

Complications after neutering in dogs are relatively uncommon, with the majority undergoing the procedure without issues. Roughly 1-2% of dogs might experience complications such as infections, swelling, or behavioral changes.

Factors like the dog’s health, surgical technique, and post-operative care significantly influence the occurrence of complications.

What Behaviors Should I Look Out For After Neutering My Dog?

If your dog remains extremely lethargic, shows signs of severe pain, refuses to eat or drink, exhibits abnormal swelling or discharge around the incision, or displays any concerning behaviors that persist beyond the initial recovery period, it’s essential to contact your vet promptly. 

What are the Post-Neutering Issues I Should Brace For?

While many dogs recover smoothly, some may face complications like infection at the surgical site or behavioral changes. These can manifest as increased anxiety or restlessness, though such occurrences are usually transient. Some dogs might gain weight post-neutering if their diet and exercise routine aren’t adjusted accordingly.

Final Thoughts

Neutering is generally recommended as a routine procedure, but discussing the timing and specific benefits with a veterinarian is essential. After your pup has had the big snip, it’s your turn as their guardian to step up and monitor their healing progress. 

Keep an eye on your dog’s behavior for signs of unusual lethargy, weakness, or changes in appetite or thirst. Persistent vomiting or diarrhea, difficulty urinating or defecating, and excessive licking or chewing at the incision site should also be noted.

If you notice any of these warning signs or anything else that seems concerning or abnormal during your dog’s recovery from neutering, it’s essential to contact your veterinarian promptly. They can provide guidance, reassurance, and, if necessary, immediate medical attention to ensure your dog’s well-being and proper healing.

Meet Your Experts

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Tamsin De La Harpe


Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions. Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.

Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions. Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.