What You Need to Know About FHO Surgery in Dogs and Cats

JoAnna Pendergrass, DVM
By JoAnna Pendergrass, DVM on Nov. 16, 2018


Dogs and cats can develop hip problems due to genetics, injury or simply old age. For example, canine hip dysplasia is a genetic disease that causes abnormal hip joint development. Legg-Perthes disease, which is a lack of blood flow to the top of the femur, is an uncommon hip condition affecting dogs and cats. These hip problems and others, including arthritis in cats, may cause enough pain and mobility problems to require veterinary orthopedic surgery.


Hip Joint Anatomy


The hip joint is a “ball-and-socket” joint. The femur, which is the long thigh bone, has a “ball” at its top (head of the femur) that sits snugly inside the hip bone’s acetabulum, which is the “socket” portion of the hip joint. This ball-and-socket anatomy allows easy hip movement in all directions.


Injury or disease of the hip joint disrupts its normal anatomy. This leads to abnormal joint function, decreased mobility, and chronic pain and inflammation, all of which can reduce quality of life for your pets.


A femoral head ostectomy (FHO) is a type of veterinary orthopedic surgery that treats hip disease by relieving hip pain and restoring mobility, thus improving quality of life.


FHO Surgery for Dogs and Cats


FHO surgery in dogs and cats is a relatively inexpensive procedure. During an FHO, a surgeon removes the femoral head, leaving the acetabulum empty. Initially, the leg muscles hold the femur in place. Over time, a “false joint” is created as scar tissue forms between the acetabulum and femur. This scar tissue provides a cushion between these two structures.


The following hip conditions can benefit from an FHO:


  • Hip fractures

  • Severe arthritis

  • Legg-Perthes disease

  • Hip dysplasia in cats and dogs


Dogs who weigh less than 50 pounds and cats who are at a healthy weight are good candidates for an FHO. The false joint can more easily support the weight of smaller pets than larger or overweight pets. If your dog is over 50 pounds, your veterinarian will discuss whether an FHO surgery would be appropriate.


Surgical Recovery From FHO


Recovery from an FHO occurs in two general phases:


Phase 1


Phase 1 occurs in the few days immediately following surgery and primarily involves pain control. Pet pain medication, such as a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug, helps reduce pain, inflammation and swelling. Your veterinarian will prescribe this prescription pet medication.


This first phase also involves strict activity restriction. For your dog, this will involve only short dog leash walks to go to the bathroom. Your cat will need to be crated or confined to a small room where she cannot run or jump (In this case, a cat pen may help).


If your pet is not in too much pain, your veterinarian may recommend passive range of motion exercises to gently move the hip joint through its natural range of motion.


Phase 2


Phase 2, starting about one week after surgery, involves gradually increasing physical activity to rebuild muscle mass and strength around the hip joint. Physical activity also improves mobility and prevents the scar tissue from becoming too stiff.


Examples of appropriate physical activity include walking up the stairs and walking on the hind legs while you hold the front legs in the air. High-impact physical activity, such as rough play, should be avoided during the first 30 days after surgery. Your veterinarian will advise you on increasing your pet’s physical activity after surgery.


Dog lift harnesses, such as the Outward Hound PupBoost lift harness and Solvit CareLift lifting aid mobility dog harness, can help your dog safely become more mobile after surgery. Speak with your veterinarian about which type of dog lifting harness would work best for your dog.


Most dogs and cats recover fully within six weeks after surgery. Pets who do not fully recover in this timeframe may need formal physical therapy or rehabilitation. Be aware that pets who are relatively active before surgery tend to recover more quickly because they already have more muscle mass around the hip joint.


At any point during recovery, contact your veterinarian if your pet is in a lot of pain or is not doing well for any reason.



Featured Image: iStock.com/csredon

JoAnna Pendergrass, DVM


JoAnna Pendergrass, DVM


Dr. JoAnna Pendergrass is a veterinarian and freelance medical writer. She is the owner of JPen Communications, a medical communications...

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