FHO surgery can often be an effective treatment option for dogs and cats suffering from painful hip problems. Here, our Middlesex vets discuss the problems that could affect your canine or feline friend's hips and what's involved in veterinary FHO surgery and recovery. 

Hip Problems in Dogs & Cats

Is your dog or cat suffering from a painful hip problem? It may have been caused by one or a combination of factors such as injury, genetics or old age. Some of the most common hip problems that our feline and canine friends can develop include:

  • Hip fractures that can't be surgically repaired either because of the patient's health or their owner's financial means.
  • Hip dislocation or luxation, often associated with serious dysplasia, is commonly treated with FHO surgery. 
  • Legg-Perthes disease, which is marked by a lack of blood flow to the top of the femur, leading to the spontaneous degeneration of the head of the femur and resulting in hip damage or arthritis. 

The relatively common conditions above can cause pain and mobility issues for your pooch or kitty. To correct the issue, your vet may recommend orthopedic surgery. 

This type of surgery is classified under orthopedics. Our vets will refer you to a veterinary orthopedic surgeon near Middlesex and work closely with your vet surgeon to ensure that your pet receives the best possible care. 

Hip Joint Anatomy

Think of the hip joint as a "ball and socket" joint. The long thigh bone (femur) has a "ball" at its top (head of the femur) that would normally sit snugly inside the hip bone's acetabulum - the "socket" part of the hip joint. This ball-and-socket anatomy enables easy movement of the hips in all directions. 

If the hip joint becomes injured or develops disease, the two parts can rub or grind against each other, disrupting the normal anatomy and leading to abnormal joint function, chronic pain and inflammation and decreased mobility, all of which can negatively impact your pet's quality of life. 

For cats and smaller dogs, femoral head ostectomy (FHO) surgery may be able to ease pain and restore your pet's comfort and mobility.

FHO Surgery for Dogs & Cats

For both dogs and cats, FHO surgery is a relatively inexpensive procedure. During this operation, a veterinary surgeon removes the femoral head, leaving the acetabulum empty. 

The femur will initially be held in place by the leg muscles and a "false joint" will develop as scar tissue forms between the femur and acetabulum over time. This scar tissue acts as a cushion between the two structures. 

These hip conditions and problems benefit from this type of pet surgery:

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

That said, this animal surgery is not suitable for all dogs. 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 dog.

If your dog weighs more than 50 pounds, your veterinarian will discuss whether an FHO surgery is appropriate. 

How to Spot Hip Pain in Pets 

Your dog or cat may be suffering from a hip problem if they show one or more of these symptoms:

  • Stiffness in joints or reduced range of motion
  • Decreased motivation or tolerance to exercise or play 
  • Limping when walking 
  • "Bunny hopping"
  • Muscle loss in the back limbs 
  • Difficulty jumping 
  • Irritability 

FHO Surgery Recovery in Dogs & Cats 

Each of our four-legged friends recovers differently from surgery, so the recovery process may look slightly different. Following surgery, your pet may need to stay at a vet hospital for anywhere from a few hours to a few days for post-surgical care. The duration of their stay will depend on their health in addition to a few other factors. 

Phase 1 Recovery

In the days immediately following surgery, you and your vet will focus on controlling pain with medications such as prescription non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. Most dogs and cats will need about six weeks to recover.

Your cat will need to have their activity restricted by either keeping them comfortably enclosed in a crate or confining them to a small room where they aren't able to jump or run.

For dogs, strenuous physical activity should be avoided for 30 days after surgery. 

Your pooch won't be allowed to run or jump during their recovery period. However, you can take your pooch 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 cat or dog's hip joint to move through its natural range of motion once again.

Phase 2 Recovery

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

By gradually increasing physical activity, you'll help to prevent scar tissue from becoming too stiff and improve your pet's long-term mobility.

Appropriate exercise for dogs during this phase may include walking on hind legs while you hold their front legs in the air or walking upstairs independently. Your veterinarian can provide instructions on appropriate exercises for your cat. 

After approximately a month, if your dog has recovered adequately, your pooch 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 thanks to the increased strength of muscle mass around the hip joint.

If at any point during recovery your pet is in a lot of pain or not doing well, 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.

Are you concerned about your dog's oral health? We provide canine dental care and can answer any questions.  Contact our Middlesex vets to schedule a dental checkup.