Total Hip Replacement in Dogs

By Malcolm Weir, DVM, MSc, MPH; Tammy Hunter, DVM; Robin Downing, DVM, CVPP, CCRP, DAAPM

My dog has been diagnosed with severe osteoarthritis from canine hip dysplasia. What does this mean?

Canine hip dysplasia is a developmental disorder in which the hip joint is abnormally shaped. Because of the altered biomechanics of the hip joint, osteoarthritis (degenerative joint disease) develops early, causing significant pain and disability.

I have been told my dog needs a total hip replacement. What does this surgery involve?

The hip joint is a ball and socket joint. The ball is at the top of the thigh bone (femur), and the socket (acetabulum) is in the pelvis. Total hip replacement surgery removes and replaces both the ball and socket with prostheses (artificial parts). Most canine hip replacement prostheses have a metal ball at the top of the femur that fits into a dense plastic socket. The prostheses are generally held in place using special bone cement. Some surgeons place hip prostheses that use no bone cement. These are referred to as “cementless” implants. There currently appears to be no distinct advantage between cemented versus cementless implants for the total hip replacement.

How do I know if my dog is a good candidate for total hip replacement?

The dog must be in good overall health with no other bone disease, nerve disease, or other serious medical conditions. Her skeleton must be mature, so she must be finished growing. This typically occurs between 9 and 12 months of age, sometimes later in giant breed dogs. However, total hip replacement can be performed on younger dogs when their dysplasia is too severe to wait. A board-certified veterinary surgeon can evaluate your dog’s X-rays and hip function to guide your decision making.

How will my dog be prepared for her total hip replacement, and how long will she be in the hospital?

Most commonly, dogs having a total hip replacement will have a thorough examination and a blood screening profile to prepare for general anesthesia. If she is cleared for surgery, she will spend 1 to 3 days in the hospital after the surgery to get her healing off to a good start. Approximately 90-95% of dogs who have a total hip replacement do very well and end up with excellent function. All surgery carries an element of risk, but your dog's surgeon will do everything possible to prevent any problems. Hip dislocation, loosening implants, infection, and nerve damage are uncommon complications that can usually be successfully treated.

What about post-operative care for my dog?

Once your dog is released from the hospital, it is critical that she leaves her incision alone to prevent infection and speed healing. Stitches or staples will be removed in 10 to 14 days. Comprehensive pain management is also critical to get healing off to a good start. Your veterinarian can answer your questions about what's best for your dog.

Physical rehabilitation with a qualified canine rehabilitation practitioner should begin shortly after surgery. Strict activity restriction at home, along with crate confinement when she is unsupervised, are very important. The rehabilitation practitioner will instruct you on how to gradually increase your dog's activities as healing progresses. Most dogs are ready for full activity within 3 months.

Both of her hips are affected, so will she need surgery on both hips? How long must I wait between surgeries?

Approximately 80% of dogs with osteoarthritis in both hips only require one total hip replacement in order to enjoy good comfort and function. Your veterinarian and the veterinary surgeon will work with you to determine which hip should be operated on first, and then to decide if the second hip needs to be replaced as well.

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