FHO Surgery in Dogs: What You Need to Know

Is your dog suffering from a hip problem or condition? Your veterinarian may recommend FHO surgery as a treatment option. Here, our Westport vets explain hip anatomy in dogs, conditions that can happen, and what's involved in FHO surgery and recovery. 


How do hip problems happen in dogs?

Injury, old age and genetics can all cause hip problems in dogs. For example, canine hip dysplasia is a genetic disease that can cause hip joints to develop abnormally. 

Legg-Perthes disease, which is marked by a lack of blood flow to the top of the femur, can cause spontaneous degeneration of the head of the femur, leading to the collapse of the hip and arthritis. 

Both of these conditions can cause pain and mobility issues for your dog. To correct the issue, orthopedic surgery may be needed. In this post, we'll describe how your dog's hip joint works and how it may become vulnerable to conditions that would require surgery to remedy it, along with hip conditions that can benefit from surgery, symptoms your dog may be in pain and more.

FHO Surgery in Dogs, Westport Vets

How does my dog's hip joint anatomy function?

Your dog's hip joint can be compared to a ball and socket. The ball (the head of the femur) is located at the top of the long thigh bone (femur) and rests inside the hip bone's acetabulum (which forms the socket part of the joint). 

In healthy dogs, the socket and ball joint work together so your dog can run and enjoy pain-free activity, with hips moving easily in all directions. Abnormal joint function can be caused by injury or disease that disrupt your dog's normal anatomy. 

The result: rubbing and grinding between the ball and socket can lead to chronic pain that may bring their adventures and exercise to a halt. Other symptoms include inflammation and decreased mobility, which can reduce your pet's quality of life. 

To restore pain-free mobility to the damaged or diseased hip, your dog may need FHO (femoral head ostectomy) orthopedic surgery.

Which hip conditions can benefit from FHO surgery?

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

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

To qualify as a good candidate for FHO surgery, your dog must weigh under 50 pounds. A smaller pup's weight will work in their favor in this circumstance, as the false joint that forms can more easily support the body compared to a larger or overweight dog. 

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

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

There are a few indications that your dog might be suffering from hip pain, including:

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

If any of these signs appear, your veterinarian is a valuable resource - they may be able to diagnose the issue and recommend a solution.

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 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 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 he's 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. 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 veterinary surgeon.

What should I ask my vet about FHO surgery?

  • If you cannot perform this surgery, can you refer me to a veterinary surgeon who can?
  • 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?

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 experiencing hip pain? Contact our Westport veterinary team to schedule a consultation. Diagnostics are part of our services. 

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