The Best Guide To Dog Surgery & Illness

The Best Guide To Dog Surgery & Illness

Dog surgery can be daunting. This interactive guide is designed to walk you and your dog through the steps before and after surgery.

Although it’s not a pleasant topic, recognizing the signs of illnesses in dogs can make a difference in how quickly you can get your pup to a veterinary surgeon. Pet ownership isn’t only about belly rubs and tossing a tennis ball around; it’s also about helping maintain your dog’s quality of life through the good and the bad. 

Those of us at WINPRO Pet know just how important your pet is to you… because we feel the same way! To help your dog have a long, happy life with you, we wanted to create this starting resource on surgical procedures and illness in dogs. That way, you can identify potential symptoms to know what you can do and what types of surgical care are out there. 

Although this situation may cause anxiety, knowledge is power. Understanding common elective procedures and emergency surgeries can help you help your pooch.

The Most Common Types of Cancer in Dogs

One illness that often requires pet owners to schedule surgery and seek the help of a veterinary team is cancer.

Cancer in dogs is different from many other species because they are susceptible to many of the same types of cancer that humans are. Cancer happens because the normal cells in the body start to grow out of control due to various potential triggers. 

While we may never know what those triggers actually are, the result is, unfortunately, the same… and the word “cancer” is any pet owner's worst nightmare. However, the prognosis is not the same for all types of canine cancer, nor are the recommendations from most veterinary clinics.


Leukemia is essentially cancer of the blood. Instead of taking over healthy cells, the number of abnormal cells slowly outnumber and take over the healthy ones. Oddly enough, male dogs seem to be more affected than female dogs, but leukemia has no age preference in who it strikes.


If the cancer is located in any of the blood-forming tissues, it is called lymphoma. Just like leukemia, lymphoma doesn’t form tumors. However, one of the most common symptoms is the enlargement of the lymph nodes (especially in the neck). Certain breeds, like Golden Retrievers, seem to be more susceptible. 


If cancer occurs on the skin, in the glands, or in any hormone-producing cells, they are known as carcinomas. Examples of carcinomas are lung, skin (squamous cell, melanoma), colon, thyroid, and mammary gland cancer. Some of these cancers are more serious than others, but there really is no common age or breed to expect them in.


Sarcomas are the name for the type of cancer in dogs that starts in the connective tissues, muscles, or bones (medically, those cells are known as “mesenchymal”). A few of the more common types of sarcomas that can happen in dogs are osteosarcoma (cancer of the bone) and hemangiosarcoma (cancer of the blood vessels). Unfortunately, sarcomas are also not easy to treat and don’t have a very long survival rate. 

Signs and Symptoms of Cancer in Dogs

The tricky thing about identifying the signs of cancer in dogs is that some of them are fairly subtle. Spending plenty of time with your dog is helpful so that you can recognize changes before they get out of control. 

Whether that is a small bump or a change in your pup’s activity, there’s really no such thing as overreacting when it comes to your furry family member. With that in mind, here are just a few of the more common signs that your dog may be dealing with cancer:

  • New or growing lumps and bumps
  • Abnormal or foul odors coming from the body (mouth, ears, etc.)
  • Evidence of pain
  • Changes in bathroom habits (more/less often)
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Coughing
  • Abdominal swelling
  • Abdominal discharge (from the eyes, rectum, ears, mouth, etc.)
  • Wounds or sores that don’t seem to heal
  • Sudden, unexplained weight loss
  • Changes in appetite
  • Depression or lethargy (excessive sleepiness)

Because there are two major sources of cancer in dogs, the kinds that cause tumors and the kinds that happen more silently, every symptom is important to stay vigilant for and have checked out. Understanding what's going on with your pup can help you better inform your veterinary technicians during an exam. 

Why Early Detection of Cancer in Dogs Matters

The earlier you can recognize the signs of cancer in dogs, the more likely it is that a wider array of treatment options are available. Also, just like cancer in humans, cancer in dogs can spread into the circulatory or lymph system, which allows it to impact other areas of the body and tissues.

Cancer in dogs can also be often caught by routine screenings at your pup’s annual wellness exams. This is part of why wellness exams are usually done twice annually once your dog hits his or her senior years. Screening blood work, physical checks where your vet feels for any abnormal lumps or bumps, and just getting a general history of how your dog has been doing for the past year are excellent ways to catch cancer early if it does occur. 

Can Cancer in Dogs Be Treated?

The answer to this question is yes… and no. While we wish there was a one size fits all approach to cancer treatment, there is a lot that goes into making that decision. 

Your pet’s age and physical health, the type of cancer they are dealing with, and what stage it is in when it was diagnosed all play a role in how successful treatment may be and what type of treatment is available. 

Unfortunately, finances can also play a major role in what pet owners are willing and able to do… It can be expensive and even cost-prohibitive to take your dog to the vet. 

Luckily, there are a lot of alternative sources of payment out there, like Care Credit. It shouldn’t have to come down to being able to afford for your pet to make it through a health scare. 

Treatment options for cancer in dogs are also very similar to those we may go through, with the only difference being that our pets often don’t really understand what’s happening to them. These include chemotherapy, radiation, surgery, and even alternative therapies. In many cases, people may have to take their pets out of town to a larger hospital or vet school for treatment. 

Prevention Techniques

A lot of loving dog owners often find themselves wondering… is there any way that I can stop my dog from getting cancer? 

While we wish that we had an answer for that, there really isn’t. However, keeping your dog as happy and healthy as possible can help them live as long of a life as they can. Focusing on making sure that you are feeding your dog the best diet possible and treating any other health conditions that may pop up (like seasonal allergies) are all ways to help make your dog’s life the best it can be. 

No one knows how long we will be lucky enough to keep our pups, so why wouldn’t you want to do everything you can to make every day awesome for them?

A spay or neuter for your pets can also drastically reduce your pup’s risk of various cancers, like mammary or testicular.

What Are Other Pet Illnesses, and How Are They Treated?

Cancer isn’t the only canine illness that you should keep an eye out for as a dog owner. There are many reasons your dog may fall ill or require surgery, including cataracts, ACL injuries, hip dysplasia, CCL rupture, osteoarthritis, and soft tissue surgeries. Below, we discuss some of the more common surgeries a dog may encounter during its lifetime.

TPLO Surgery For Dogs

You’ve researched, taken your pet to a veterinary clinic, and decided the best course of action for your dog's torn CCL is TPLO surgery. While we know this decision did not come lightly, here are a few tips to make TPLO Surgery a little easier on both of you.

What Is TPLO Surgery?

Watching your dog experience pain is heartbreaking, especially if that pain causes loss of mobility and lameness in a leg. Your dog may be experiencing a ruptured CCL, and your dog’s vet has probably recommended a TPLO surgery. 

TPLO surgery changes the biomechanics of the knee, bypassing the CCL using a metal plate and screws. While any surgery sounds terrifying, TPLO surgery is fairly common. With the right recovery plan, your furry best friend will be back to their normal spunky self in no time.

Pre-Surgery Prep

While the TPLO surgery has a great recovery rate at over 90% and less than a 5% chance of serious complication, there are ways to help your dog have an easier recovery. 

Let’s face it, after surgery, the only thing you and your dog will want to do is snuggle. Prepping your house and dog beforehand will give you time to give them the extra TLC they will need, especially in the first week of recovery. 

Prepare House

After surgery, your dog will not be able to move freely around the house. Keeping them in a small area with non-slippery floors will help with excessive movement. 

Make sure it’s an area they can be comfortable in where there are no temptations to jump up on a couch, climb stairs, or run around. Block off any stairs and lock all doggie doors. Even though you will be supervising, boredom sets in after the first couple of days, so it's best to keep any potential risks off-limits.

Preparing Your Furry Patient

There are ways to comfort your dog during this time. Staying calm in front of your pet is crucial. You are their leader, easier said than done, but you need to show them how to react. 

Another way to make your dog less anxious is by making sure your dog is comfortable in its new surroundings when making preparations in the home. If you decide to keep them in a room that is not their normal lounging spot, give them the extra comfort they will need to help them adjust. 

Put their favorite bed, blanket, or toys in there to help them get more comfortable before healing post-surgery.

Coming Home and the First Two Weeks

The first few days after surgery, your furry patient will be a little out of it. Not only will they be coming off of the anesthesia, but the vet will have prescribed pain medication. Get in those extra furry snuggles. Just like our dogs give us love and support, they need it from us too. 

Veterinarian's Orders

Make sure to follow the vet’s medication directions to the T, as this will help with rehabilitation and keep your dog comfortable. The vet will likely send you home with a list of discharge instructions and possibly even recommend physical therapy. 

One of these may be to ice the area for the first week or so. Frozen peas work great since they can mold to the area. Fifteen-minute increments throughout the day are usually preferred. 

If things don’t seem right or if you have questions, give your vet a call. They will put you at ease or have you come in to double-check anything out of the ordinary.


With the reduced mobility of surgery, you can slightly reduce the amount of food you would normally give your dog. 

Adding in a joint supplement can help to aid in recovery and the health of your dog joints and reduce inflammation. Many WINPRO Pet customers have used our Hip & Joint or Recovery supplements to aid their dogs after TPLO surgery. Check out the product reviews here

Cone of Shame

Ah, the cone of shame, dogs hate it, but it is a necessary evil. It helps prevent your dog from biting at its incision site, and the last thing you want is for it to chew on its sutures and stitches. (Plus, let's be honest, cone of shame pictures are some of the cutest!) 

While the e-collar is a favorite among veterinarians, there are alternatives. The most important thing to remember, if choosing an option, is the central role of the E-cone is to make sure the surgical site is not messed with, as this can cause infection at the site. 


Make sure to keep a leash on your dog at all times unless they are in a crate. You want to make sure they cannot go too far from you or start getting bursts of energy, as that can slow their healing process.

Too much activity at this time can hinder the healing process. If your dog is not crate trained, it may be a good idea to hold the leash while you sleep to make sure they are not out exploring during the night.

Potty Breaks

While movement should be limited, walks to go to the bathroom are encouraged. You may have to assist them with going potty. Squatting or lifting a leg can prove painful in the beginning. You can use a towel as a harness for their backend to help them get around if needed. A little weight is good, as it does help to strengthen the bones and muscles. 

As the days go by, your dog should be able to put more weight on the affected leg and need less and less help to do everyday things, like going to the bathroom and getting up to eat. 

Week Two and Beyond

After the second week, you will start to see more of your pup’s personality coming back. They will want to start doing more, but make sure to heed your vet’s advice. 

Even though you both want to get out there and play fetch, don't go too fast. Having frozen treats or slow feeders can help reduce boredom throughout the day. 


Your vet may recommend switching to heat after the first week or so. Moist heat is the most beneficial, as it penetrates faster, allowing for better healing. 

You can accomplish this by heating a washcloth with warm water and wringing it out. Make sure it is not too hot. If it is too hot for you, it is too hot for your dog.


Around this time, you can start incorporating more walks. It’s been advised to start slow, so you don’t overwhelm your dog. Five-minute walks close to the house are a good gradient to get back into activity. Slowly move up from five minutes. Avoid steep stairs where possible, as it can be tough for your dog to climb.

Water Aerobics

With your veterinarian's approval, water is a great way to build back muscle post-surgery. It also helps with weight management after a lack of movement.

Post-Op Appointments

Even if you think your four-legged friend is doing fine, don’t miss any scheduled appointments. 

At the post-op appointments, the vet will scan the surgical site to make sure it is healing properly, look at the outside to ensure there is no infection, and check your dog’s overall health. Once the vet sees how well your dog has healed, they will give you the green light to get back to normal, thanks to all your love and care.

ACL Surgery For Dogs

Have you seen your normally active dog get a little slower and favor one leg? Have your usual long walks been shortened due to your dog limping? 

If this seems to be the case, you may want to visit the vet to evaluate your pup. After a thorough evaluation, if your dog’s vet suspects a torn ACL, surgery may be recommended. 

WINPRO Pet understands your concerns and is here to help. Let’s dive into what a dog’s ACL is, how it can be injured, and a few common surgical options. 

What is an ACL in Dogs?

Dogs have a cranial cruciate ligament (CCL) as the equivalent to the human ACL. However, people use these terms interchangeably, as they have similar functions. They are called different names because of the difference in the anatomy between a human and a dog.

What Can Lead to a Dog Needing ACL Surgery?

Although ACL surgery is common in people, it may come as a shock that dogs with ACL problems may need surgery as well. 

It is very common for people to need ACL surgery because of trauma to their ACL, resulting in a tear. ACL injuries in humans are fairly common in sports like basketball and soccer. 

ACL injuries are fairly common in dogs, too, especially in hunting dogs. While trauma resulting in a tear can happen, it is more common for a dog's CCL to deteriorate slowly. Besides normal wear and tear, this deterioration can be caused by several different reasons.

The Breed

Certain breeds are more at risk for CCL issues. Larger dog breeds represent 61% of CCL surgeries. Labs, Poodles, German Shepards, Rottweilers, and Golden Retrievers have some of the highest rates of CCL issues. 

While there is nothing you can do to change the risk factor, be mindful if your dog is one of these breeds and give your dog the support they need. Keeping your large breed dog at a healthy weight can help them avoid potential ACL problems in the future.


Obesity in your pup causes health and CCL problems. The extra pressure on the CCL due to weight can cause serious problems and lead to surgery. 

We all sneak that little extra treat to our cute, furry friend, and while that is fine in moderation, don't overdo it. Make sure your dog is getting the right amount of food for its size. 

Exercise is also an important part of your dog's daily life. When it comes to caring for your dog, maintaining a healthy weight is very important.

How Do I Know If My Dog Needs ACL Surgery?

Dogs can’t tell us if they are in pain. We have to watch for signs that may indicate they are uncomfortable. Signs for a torn ACL may include lameness in the affected leg, limping, or being less active. 

Does your fetch partner move a little slower after a long game? They may be dealing with a torn ACL. If we suspect our fur baby is in pain, taking them to the vet for a check-up should be a top priority. 

During this visit, your dog’s vet will run a series of tests to determine if there’s an issue with their ligaments. The vet will examine the range of motion, swelling, and any scarring around the CCL. They will run x-rays on your dog to confirm a torn CCL. 

What Are the Different ACL Surgery Options?

If your vet has confirmed a torn CCL, there are a couple of options you have for your dog. Understanding your options and discussing them with your vet will help you to make the best choice. 

Here are the most common options:

Tibial Plateau Leveling Osteotomy (TPLO)

The TPLO surgery is the most common surgery recommended by veterinarians for dogs, specifically big breeds, as it has a 95% success rate to return to normal or near normal. 

In this surgery, the top of the tibia is cut and moved to stabilize the knee joint. The surgeon will then support the joint with a metal plate and screws. Usually, the metal plate and screws will not need to be taken out. 

While the success rate for this surgery is high, recovery time is 10-12 weeks, with minimal movement for the first week. While this will be a time for a lot of snuggles with your furry patient, there will be a lot of work for both you and your pet to get them back on their feet.

Tibial Tuberosity Advancement (TTA)

TTA is not quite as invasive as TPLO. The surgeon cuts the same tibia area, but not as much, and there is less soft tissue dissection. The bones are supported by an implant made from titanium, which offers better biocompatibility. The success rates are comparable to the TPLO surgery. 

Recovery for your pup will be slightly less than a TPLO surgery. There is about a month of restricted movement, with a slow movement increase until the three-month mark. 

Lateral Fabellotibial Suture (LFS)

The LFS is not recommended for large or medium breeds. It leads to more complications in these sizes but is a great option for smaller dogs. During this surgery, the surgeon will implant medical-grade nylon in place of the CCL. 

While the recovery time is still long, it is still less than a TPLO or TTA surgery at eight weeks. Even though the recovery time is shorter, the restrictions and care instructions will be very similar.

To Wrap Up

Surgery may sound a little scary, but with our tips for getting through, your dog will be on the other side and back to its normal, playful self. 

At WINPRO Pet, your dog's health is our mission. We offer supplements to keep your furry best friend the happiest and healthiest they can be. 

Having a close relationship with your pup so that you can identify any changes in their appearance or behavior may be able to help you catch these injuries and ailments early. 

Focus on making every day your best day. That important relationship between us and our dogs is why we created WINPRO Pet, after all!



Types of Cancer - Special Pet Topics | Merck

VCA Pet Cancer Alliance | VCA Hospitals

Reducing the Risk of Cancer - Special Pet Topics | Merck

Cranial Cruciate Ligament Disease and the Tibial Plateau Leveling Osteotomy (TPLO) | University of Missouri

Cone of Shame Alternatives | PetMD

Moist Heat or Dry Heat for Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness | NCBI

Canine cranial cruciate ligament rupture in profile | NCBI

ACL Tears | Veterinary Surgery and Sports Medicine of the Gorge

Tibial Tuberosity Advancement (TTA) | Veterinary Surgical Centers