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Totally paws-ome canine total hip replacement surgery

by Dr. Pippa Elliott January 18, 2021 4 min read

Dog recovering after a hip surgery

When it comes to total hip replacement dog surgery, seeing is believing. Let's face it, when a dog goes from shuffling about in pain to leaping after a Frisbee (in the space of three months) for the concerned owner it's close to a miracle.

This article explains:

  • What is total hip replacement dog surgery?
  • Which dogs might benefit from hip replacement surgery?
  • Can any dog have canine total hip replacement?
  • What is the recovery time?
  • What are the complications of this surgery?
  • What does dog hip replacement cost?

What is Canine Total Hip Replacement Surgery?

Both human and canine total hip replacement surgery share a lot in common. The idea is the same for both groups, which is to surgically replace a gronky, painful joint with an artificial one that moves as sweetly as an oiled ball-bearing.

Total hip replacement dog surgery is a specialist procedure, undertaken by vets with additional qualifications in orthopedic surgery. This usually means referral to a specialist center with the right facilities with specially trained vets and nurses.

The hip joint is a ball-and-socket joint. The top of the thigh bone (femoral head) is a ball, which sits in a cup-shaped socket (the acetabulum) in the pelvis. The surgery replaces the damaged head with an implant and places a smooth lining in the socket. Once healed, this better-than-new joint moves smoothly and makes for pain-free play and exercise.

Is Canine Total Hip Replacement Surgery Suitable for All Dogs?

Pretty much any dog can be considered for hip replacement surgery, but with some provisos.

The first issue is the size of the implant. For very tiny or extremely large dogs there may not be an off-the-shelf canine implant to fit them. However, some specialists are breaking new ground by using CT-scan models to create one-off implants for non-standard sized patients.

The second proviso is the dog is well enough for a long general anesthetic and that they don't have a health problem (such as being obese or having a skin infection) which may cause complications.

Also, if the patient is taking certain medications, such as steroids, these may need to be weaned down ahead of surgery as they slow up healing.

Which Dogs Need Canine Hip Replacement Surgery?

Common reasons for total hip replacement dog surgery are severe hip dysplasia or advanced arthritis. When pain relief and physiotherapy stops helping, and the dog's quality of life suffers, then total hip replacement dog surgery may be the answer.

The factors that tip thinking towards surgery include:

  • Pain: This is long term pain which meds no longer help
  • Poor quality of life: This may be a young dog that can't walk more than 20 steps or an older dog that can't get up.
  • All other options are exhausted: Hip replacement surgery isn't a first line option, but considered when physiotherapy, pain-relief meds, laser-treatment, heat therapy, acupuncture, or TENS don't cut it.

These dogs are already under the care of a veterinarian, who will x-ray the hips to confirm the reason for their pain and discomfort. The vet may also run other tests to check the dog is fit enough for a long surgical procedure.

And last but not least, it is best that young dogs have finished growing before going to surgery. This is because the implant doesn't grow with the dog, and surgery at too young an age can lead to implant failure further down the line.

What is the Recovery Time from Total Hip Replacement (THR) Surgery?

The average time from surgery to running off-leash is around four months. Within 24 - 48 hours post-surgery, the dog is gently encouraged to walk on the leg. This is followed by around six weeks with no strenuous activity and exercise limited to pottering on the lead to toilet. Then from six-weeks onwards, each patient works on an individual exercise plan designed to have them back on their paws by the 16-week mark.

What are the Risks and Complications of THR Surgery?

Canine total hip replacement surgery has a great success rate of around 95%. However, no procedure is completely without risk, and THR is no different. Possible complications include:

  • Anaesthetic complications: To reduce this risk, each patient has a detailed pre-op workup.
  • Infection: A dog licking their op site is a big No-no. This can introduce infection which tracks down to the implant. But with the use of collars or surgical shirts, the risk of infection falls to a low one-in-two-hundred dogs.
  • Implant loosening: This may happen if the dog is over-active during the first six-weeks or over time.
  • Trauma to the new hip: A dog that slips and does the splits, may dislocate the new hip or damage it.

Should there be a problem, the new hip may need to be removed and a salvage procedure performed. But the good news is this is relatively rare, affecting just 2.5-5% of all THR cases.

What does a Dog Hip Replacement Cost?

The cost of dog hip replacement surgery averages around $6,000. Pet insurance data tells us that the cheapest is around $4,000 but ranges as high as $10,000. But don't forget -this is per hip.

This cost is down to:

  • The expense of the implants
  • The special training required by the surgical team
  • Highly sterile operating theatres with negative pressure gradients to reduce the risk of infection
  • The length and complexity of the operation
  • Post-operative physiotherapy

Yes, this is big cost but the benefits are huge, and for dogs in constant pain total hip replacement surgery is a totally paws-ome option. From constant pain to the joy of movement, canine total hip replacement can turn a pet's life around for the better.


The article was written by Pippa Elliot, BVMS

Dr. Pippa Elliott
Dr. Pippa Elliott

Dr. Elliott graduated from the University of Glasgow, UK, with a Bachelor of Veterinary Medicine and Surgery. She has over three decades of experience working in companion animal practice and is the designated veterinarian for the Cats Protection rescue center, Harrow. In addition to hands-on work in the clinic, Dr. Elliott is an editor for small animal, veterinary textbooks from Improve International. She also writes a regular newsletter piece for the Webinar Vet and contributed to The Veterinary Times. Dr. Elliott is also qualified as an Official Veterinarian to oversee the export of animal products abroad.