A Pet Parents Guide to FHO Surgery in Dogs

A Pet Parents Guide to FHO Surgery in Dogs

Does your dog have a painful hip condition? FHO surgery may be a good treatment option for your pup. In this post, our Winston-Salem Veterinary Surgeons describe the hip anatomy of dogs, conditions that can occur, and what’s involved in FHO surgery and recovery.

How Hip Problems Happen in Dogs

Hip problems in dogs can occur due to genetics, old age, injury, or a combination of those factors.

When genetics are the key factor, canine hip dysplasia is often the cause. Hip dysplasia causes your dog's hip joints to develop abnormally.

Legg-Perthes disease is another condition that can affect your pup’s hips. Characterized by a lack of blood flow to the top of the femur, this condition can lead to the spontaneous degeneration of the head of the femur, resulting in hip damage and arthritis.

Both of these conditions can cause mobility issues and pain for your dog. To correct the issue, orthopedic surgery may be required.

How Your Dog's Hip Joints Work

Your dog’s hip joints function like a ball and socket. The ball is located at the head of the thigh bone (femur) and rests inside the hip bone’s acetabulum (socket portion of the hip joint).

In a dog with hips that function normally the ball and socket work together allowing easy and pain-free movement. When injury or disease breaks down or disrupts your pup’s normal hip function, pain and other mobility issues can result due to rubbing and grinding between the two parts. Inflammation caused by a poorly functioning or damaged hip joint can also reduce your pet’s mobility and quality of life.

If you have a small dog, FHO (femoral head ostectomy) orthopedic surgery may be able to ease your dog's pain and restore your pup's normal mobility.

Hip Conditions That Can Benefit from FHO Surgery

Numerous hip conditions in dogs can benefit from FHO surgery, including:

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

In order to be a candidate for FHO surgery, your dog must weigh less than 50 lbs. A smaller pet’s weight will work to their advantage in this scenario since the false joint that will form after surgery can more easily support a smaller body compared to a larger or overweight.

Signs of Hip Pain in Dogs

There are a number signs that point to hip pain in dogs. Your dog may be suffering from a hip problem if they show one or more of the following symptoms:

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

The FHO Surgery Procedure

A surgeon will perform an FHO surgery to remove the femoral head. This will leave the acetabulum empty. Your dog's leg muscles will initially hold the femur in place as scar tissue develops between the femur and acetabulum. Gradually a “false joint” will begin to form. This scar tissue acts as a cushion between the femur and the acetabulum.

FHO surgery is a relatively inexpensive procedure that can often help to restore pain-free mobility to small dogs.

Recovery from FHO Surgery

Every dog is different. Following surgery, your dog may need to stay in the veterinary hospital for several hours or several days for post-surgical care. The duration of your dog's stay will depend upon your pet's overall health and other factors. Recovery from FHO surgery usually happens in two phases:

Phase 1

In the days immediately following surgery, you and your vet will focus on controlling pain with medications such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, which your vet will prescribe. These will help reduce pain, inflammation and swelling at the surgical site.

Your dog should avoid strenuous physical activity for 30 days after surgery, and most dogs will require about six weeks to recover. Although your pup shouldn't run or jump during their recovery period, you can take your pup for short 'on-leash' walks. 

If your pet is not in too much pain, your vet may recommend passive range of motion exercises to encourage your dog's hip joint to move through its natural range of motion once again.

Phase 2

About one week after surgery, the second phase of recovery begins and will involve gradually increasing physical activity so your pet can rebuild muscle mass and strengthen the hip joint.

This gradually increasing physical activity will also prevent scar tissue from becoming too stiff, and improve your pet's long term mobility. Appropriate exercise in this phase may include walking upstairs independently, or walking on hind legs while you hold their front legs in the air.

After about a month, if your dog has recovered adequately, your dog should be ready to resume regular physical activity. That said, high-impact activity should still be avoided at this time.

A mobility aid or dog lift harness may be useful throughout the Phase 2 healing process. Pets who were relatively active prior to surgery tend to recover more quickly due to the amount of muscle mass around the hip joint.

Care requirements will vary depending on your dog’s individual circumstances and needs. If your dog does not fully recover within the typical six-week recovery period, formal physical rehabilitation may be recommended. If your pet seems to be in pain or is not doing as well as expected following FHO surgery, contact your veterinarian.

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.

If your dog is experiencing hip pain ask your vet about a referral to our Veterinary Surgeon. At Carolina Veterinary Specialists in Winston-Salem our team of specialists with your primary care vet to ensure your pet will receive the best care possible. Contact us today to learn more.

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