Taking Care of a Dog After Hip Dysplasia Surgery

Mick, a huge Big Barker Fan, is on the mend following two hip dysplasia surgeries. 

If your dog has just had surgery for hip dysplasia, then you have a recovering patient—and important instructions to follow after surgery to ensure that your dog makes as full a recovery as possible.

Recovering from hip dysplasia surgery—or any orthopedic surgery, really—presents its own challenges. There is the pain, of course. Anybody who has ever had knee or hip surgery can tell you that even though the procedure is 100% worth it in the long run, the first week after surgery HURTS. It is the same for our canine companions—when they are operated on, they HURT after surgery. Fortunately, there are very good pain medications available that will control your dog’s pain. Your veterinarian will send you home with the right medications for your dog.

The bones, joints, and muscles need time to heal, which means that your dog is going to have exercise restrictions following surgery. It is important that you follow these instructions exactly, even if they are a pain in your you know what! It can be challenging to stick to the rules, because your dog doesn’t understand why he or she can’t go out and play.

It helps to think of your dog like a two-year-old human. In a dog’s mind, like a toddler’s, they are either fixed or broken. The pain from surgery may be enough to keep your dog quiet for a couple of days, but more likely than not, the pain medication will eventually make your dog think he is “fixed,” and he will want to get moving. That is how a dog’s brain works! It is therefore up to you to strictly limit his exercise to protect your investment in the surgery that was performed. If you cannot keep your dog quiet, talk with your veterinarian about sedatives to help your dog stay off of his or her feet long enough to recover correctly.

Some of you may be thinking that it might be a good idea to stop the pain medication so that the dog feels like he is “broken” and stays quiet. I am ashamed to say that this type of flawed logic used to be prevalent in veterinary medicine, but mercifully it is no longer accepted. Pain actually lengthens the recovery period because pain releases the hormone cortisol, which interferes with healing. A good recovery from hip dysplasia surgery is a non-painful one, and your veterinarian will help you achieve that goal.

If your dog has had a femoral head ostectomy (or FHO), then the recovery period will be shorter and the exercises are different than if your dog has had a total hip replacement. With an FHO, the head of the femur (the long bone at the top of your dog’s back leg) is removed surgically. The joint then scars down and is free of pain. This procedure is good for medium and small dogs. After an FHO, your veterinarian will ask you to get your dog moving and using the leg as soon as possible, because the more your dog uses the leg, the faster it will scar down and recover.

Recovery after a total hip replacement is different. In a total hip replacement, the arthritic joint is removed surgically and replaced with an artificial joint. Dogs who have had a total hip replacement will have a longer recovery, and the exercise will be much more controlled to allow for bone healing. Do not allow a dog who has had a total hip replacement to run before your veterinarian releases him to full activity, or you risk fracturing the bone and causing implant failure.

Other things to consider when caring for a dog who has had hip surgery is to prevent your dog from licking the surgical incision. Licking can remove staples or stitches and open the incision before it is healed. Finish all medication, including antibiotics, and monitor the surgical site for redness, swelling, heat, or discharge, which are all signs of infection. If you see these, call your veterinarian immediately. A dog who is required to restrict his exercise will need fewer calories, so reduce the amount you are feeding by 20% while your dog is resting to prevent unhealthy weight gain.

Follow all these instructions, and your dog will be well on his way to a healthy recovery!

Melissa is the Managing Editor at Big Barker. She is best friend to Phoebe (pictured) and Finian, both rescued Chihuahua mixes.