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FHO Surgery in Dogs: What You Should Know

FHO Surgery in Dogs: What You Should Know

FHO surgery may be a good option for your dog if a hip condition is impeding function or quality of life. Here, our Charlotte vets describe hip anatomy in dogs, conditions that may happen, what’s involved in an FHO surgery and the recovery aspect.

How do dogs develop hip problems?

Dogs can develop hip problems due to a number of factors such as genetics, injury or old age. For example, canine hip dysplasia is a genetic disease that can cause abnormal development of the hip joint.

Legg-Perthes disease is another condition that can impact dogs’ hips. It is characterized by a lack of blood flow to the top of the femur. These two conditions and others can cause pain and mobility issues for your dog. Orthopedic surgery may be needed to resolve the problem.

How does hip joint anatomy work in dogs?

Your pooch’s hip joint works similar to a ball and socket. The femur is a long thigh bone, and its head (the “ball”) sits at the top. This “ball” rests inside the acetabulum of the hip point (the “socket” part of the joint).

In healthy dogs, the ball and socket joint are a pair that allow your dog to run and play sans-pain, with the hip moving easily in all directions. However, the normal anatomy can be broken down or disrupted by injury or disease, leading to abnormal function of the joint.

This results in rubbing and grinding between the ball and its socket, which can cause inflammation, decreased mobility and chronic pain for your dog. As you might predict, this significantly reduces quality of life for your pet.

To resolve the issue, your pup will need FHO (femoral head ostectomy) orthopedic surgery.

How can FHO surgery fix hip conditions?

An FHO surgery may improve your dog’s hip condition. These conditions include:

  • Hip fractures
  • Joint dislocation (luxation)
  • Hip dysplasia
  • Severe arthritis
  • Weak muscles in hind legs
  • Leff-Perthes disease

To be a suitable candidate for FHO surgery, your dog must weigh less than 50 pounds - the lighter the dog, the more easily the false joint can support their body weight, compared to a larger or overweight dog.

If your pooch weights more than 50 pounds, ask your veterinarian whether FHO surgery would be the best option.

What are signs of hip pain in dogs?

Signs that your dog may be experiencing hip pain include:

  • “Bunny hopping”
  • Limping when walking
  • Stiffness in joints
  • Decreased tolerance to exercise or less motivation to play

What’s involved in the FHO surgery procedure?

During an FHO surgery (a relatively inexpensive procedure), the surgeon will remove the femoral head, leaving the acetabulum empty.

Though the femur will initially be held in place by the leg muscles, a “false joint” will develop over time as scar tissue grows between the acetabulum and the femur. This tissue provides a cushion between the two areas.

Recovery from surgery typically happens in two phases:

Phase 1

In the days immediately following surgery, you and your vet will focus on managing pain with medications such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory prescription drugs. This will help reduce inflammation, swelling and pain.

Make sure your dog avoids strenuous, high-impact physical activity for 30 days after surgery. Most dogs will need about six weeks to recover. While you and your pup may take short, leashed walks to go to the bathroom, she shouldn’t jump or run.

If she doesn’t seem to be in too much pain, your veterinarian may recommend passive range of motion exercises to get the hip joint moving through its natural motion.

Phase 2

Phase 2 typically starts about a week after surgery and involves a gradual increase in physical activity so your dog can strengthen her hip joint and rebuild muscle mass.

Physical activity will also improve mobility and prevent scar tissue from growing too stiff. Examples of appropriate physical activity might include walking up stairs independently, or having your pooch walk on her hind legs while you hold her front legs in the air.

You should still prevent her from engaging in high-impact physical activity at this point. After the 30 days are up, she may resume physical activity with the vet’s okay.

A dog lift harness or other mobility aid may be useful for you and your dog during Phase 2. Dogs who were relatively active before surgery tend to recover more quickly due to the amount of muscle mass surrounding the hip joint.

The level of care required on your part may vary depending on your dog’s needs and individual circumstances. If your pup does not fully recover within the typical six-week period, she may need formal rehabilitation or physical therapy. As with any procedure, contact your veterinarian if she seems to be in a lot of pain or is not doing well at any point after surgery.

What should I ask my vet about FHO surgery?

  • Would my dog be a suitable candidate for FHO surgery (a physical exam may be required to determine this)?
  • Who would be the best surgeon to perform the FHO?
  • If rehabilitation or physical therapy is required following surgery, would you be able to recommend a facility?

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

Is your dog suffering from hip problems? In these cases, veterinary care is essential. Contact your primary care vet for a referral to Carolina Veterinary Specialists in Charlotte. Our emergency veterinary team has specialized training in emergency medical care and triage.

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