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FHO Surgery in Dogs: What You Need to Know

Is your dog suffering from a hip condition or issue? FHO surgery may be a good option to pursue. In this post, you'll find facts about hip anatomy in dogs, conditions that can occur, and what's involved in FHO surgery and recovery.

How do hip problems occur in dogs?

Hip problems in dogs can result from genetics, old age or injury. For example, the genetic disease canine hip dysplasia may cause hip joints to develop abnormally.

Legg-Perthes disease is another condition that can affect dogs’ hips. Characterized by a lack of blood flow to the top of the femur, it can cause the spontaneous degeneration of the head of the femur, leading the hip to collapse and arthritis to take hold.

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

How does my dog’s hip joint anatomy work?

Your dog’s hip joint functions similar to a ball and socket. The ball (the head of the femur) is located at the top of the long thigh bone (femur). It rests inside the hip bone’s acetabulum (which forms the socket part of the joint).

In healthy dogs, the ball and socket joint work together so your dog can play and run pain-free, with hips moving easily in all directions. When injury or disease break down or disrupt your pup’s normal anatomy, this can lead to abnormal joint function.

The result can be painful for your four-legged companion, who may be experiencing rubbing and grinding between the ball and socket, leading to chronic pain. Other symptoms including decreased mobility and inflammation can reduce your pet’s quality of life.

To correct the condition, vets often recommend FHO (femoral head ostectomy) orthopedic surgery.

Which hip conditions can benefit from FHO surgery?

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

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

Your dog must weigh less than 50 pounds to be a good candidate for FHO surgery - a smaller pup’s weight will work to their advantage in this scenario, as the false joint that forms can more easily support the body compared to an overweight or larger dog.

Does your dog weigh more than 50 pounds? Ask your veterinarian whether FHO surgery would be the best option.

Which signs of hip pain should I watch for in my dog?

There are a few signs that your dog may be suffering from hip pain, including:

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

What’s involved in an FHO surgery procedure?

A surgeon will perform an FHO surgery to remove the femoral head. This will leave the acetabulum empty.

Though the leg muscles will initially hold the femur in place, as scar tissue develops between the femur and acetabulum, a “false joint” will grow over time. This tissue acts as a cushion between the two areas. An FHO surgery is a relatively inexpensive procedure.

What are the benefits of FHO surgery?

As a result of the head of the femur being removed, FHO surgery will restore mobility to the hip for most dogs, allowing them to have pain-free mobility in the hip.

What should I expect as my dog recovers from FHO surgery?

Following surgery, your dog may need to stay in hospital for post-surgical care for anywhere between several hours to several days. The duration of his stay could be determined by his health, the surgery and other factors.

Recovery from surgery usually happens in two phases:

Phase 1

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

Your dog should avoid strenuous physical activity for 30 days after surgery, and most pups will need about six weeks to recover. While he shouldn't run or jump, your dog may take short, on-leash walks to go to the bathroom. 

If your dog is not in too much pain, your vet may recommend passive range of motion exercises to get your dog's hip joint moving 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 pooch can rebuild muscle mass and strengthen the hip joint.

This physical activity will also prevent scar tissue from becoming too stiff, and improve 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 the first month, if your dog has recovered adequately, he may resume regular physical activity based on your veterinarian's assessment. However, high-impact activity should still be avoided within the first month of recovery.

You and your dog may find a mobility aid or dog lift harness useful in Phase 2. 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 can vary depending on your dog’s individual circumstances and needs. If your pup does not fully recover within the typical six-week recovery period, he may need formal physical rehabilitation. If your pet seems to be in a lot of pain or is not doing well at any point post-surgery, contact your veterinarian.

What should I ask my vet about FHO surgery?

  • Would my dog be a good candidate for FHO surgery?
  • If physical therapy or rehabilitation is needed post-surgery, would you be able to recommend a facility?
  • Who would be the best surgeon to perform the FHO?

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, contact our vets at Veterinary Specialty Center of Tucson to book an appointment. Our team of veterinary professionals can diagnose and treat hip problems in dogs. 

FHO Surgery in Dogs: What You Need to Know

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