What is a total hip replacement?

A total hip replacement or THR in cats and dogs is a surgical procedure that involves removing the ball and socket of the hip joint and replacing it with an artificial version. It is most commonly performed to restore normal function and reduce pain arising from osteoarthritis, hip dysplasia or trauma.

When is it needed?

If your pet is struggling with serious hip pain or mobility, your vet may recommend a total hip replacement to help your cat or dog back to full health.

Please bear in mind, however, that a total hip replacement is normally only recommended once your pet has undergone physical therapy or other rehabilitation techniques and while the surgery isn’t uncommon, the decision to operate is not taken lightly.

Symptoms of hip pain in your pet may include:

  • Limping or unsteady gait
  • Stiffness
  • Decreased mobility
  • Swaying
  • Restlessness
  • Pain when getting up or climbing stairs

What age or size does my cat or dog have to be?

Where before size was a limiting factor for surgery, with the introduction of nano and micro hip replacement kits and systems, even smaller cats and dogs weighing as little as 4 kilograms can now benefit from a total hip replacement. If you have a kitten or a puppy who needs a THR, ideally your vet will wait until they are fully grown (normally over 9 months old). However this is not always possible, and veterinary professionals approach each case individually in order to make the best treatment plan for your pet.

 

vets wheeling dog into surgery
 

What does total hip replacement surgery involve?

During a hip replacement surgery, the damaged ball (femoral head) and socket (acetabulum) are removed and replaced with artificial implants made from a titanium or cobalt chrome and polyethylene respectively. There are two different methods for hip replacement surgery – cemented or cementless. A cemented method uses quick-drying bone cement to attach the artificial components, while a cementless (or press fit) joint relies on the bone to grow onto the implant to fix it in place.

Your veterinary surgeon will decide which technique will best suit your individual case depending on the damage to the hip and any other factors such as activity levels and other possible health conditions.
 

What are the potential risks?

While most hip replacement surgeries are successful, as with any surgical procedure there are a number of complications that may arise such as swelling, infection, hip dislocation and limb weakness. If the artificial hip dislocates, your pet may have to undergo another surgery in order to correct it. However, the outcome is a positive one in the majority of cases, and your cat or dog should be able to live a pain-free and active life following the procedure.
 

vet surgeon performing procedure

 

How do I look after my dog or cat if they’ve had a total hip replacement?

After any surgery, you will need to make some adaptations in order to ensure your pet is properly rested and to assist with healing. Aftercare should be individual to every patient, and this will depend on the surgical technique, the overall health of your pet and their general activity levels and goals. However, after most THR procedures your pet is likely to be kept in for observation for a few days and to ensure weight is kept off of the affected hip and leg.

 

Restricting activity: after your pet has undergone a total hip replacement, the most important thing to make sure of is that they follow a restricted activity schedule for at least the first 6 weeks. This is to avoid any postoperative complications or shifting of the implant, and so it’s important to take extra care to ensure your pet doesn’t do any climbing, running or exertive activity.

Keeping your pet comfortable: as your pet recovers, you may need to restrict their movements around the house, such as keeping them in a smaller room or in a crate or pen – especially as they start to gain better mobility. Be firm and stick to these restrictions for a minimum of 6 weeks to avoid any complications.

Medical management: your vet may prescribe pain medication or antibiotics to help your pet manage following surgery, and it’s crucial that you follow the schedule laid out by your vet and administer medications as prescribed.

Physical therapy: like humans, your pet will benefit from physical therapies and other rehabilitation methods in order to improve muscle strength and mobility.

 

It is also likely that your vet will ask you to come in regularly for follow up examinations in order to ensure the implant is secure and properly functioning.
 

What is the prognosis and how long will the replacement last for?

The goal of hip replacement surgery is to offer pain relief and restore normal hip function. Most artificial hip joints should last around 15-20 years and so, typically, your pet will not need a replacement within their lifetime and should, after the appropriate rest and recuperation, be able to go on to lead a normal, active lifestyle.