Pet Care Resources Common Questions About Canine Total Hip Replacement


Common Questions About Canine Total Hip Replacement

If your dog has difficulty rising from a sitting position, climbing stairs, or has rear limb stiffness, your veterinarian can perform an exam to determine if your dog’s hips are the source of discomfort. They may also refer you to a veterinary orthopedic surgeon for further evaluation. 

Is My Dog a Candidate for a Total Hip Replacement?

Dogs that have hip dysplasia (abnormally shaped hips) or osteoarthritis can experience pain and mobility issues. A total hip replacement (THR) may be recommended. This involves replacing both the ball (head of the femur) and socket (acetabulum) of the hip joint with implants. These surgically placed components are designed to interact and function in the same manner as a normal hip joint.  

There are many factors that must be evaluated to determine if your dog would benefit from a THR, including: 

  • Comprehensive review of your dog’s medical history 
  • Thorough orthopedic exam 
  • Evaluation of radiographs (X-rays) to document abnormalities or arthritis in the hip joint 
  • Bloodwork and other tests as needed to confirm your dog’s overall health and readiness for surgery. Pets must be in good overall health (no other joint or bone problems, no nerve issues, and no other medical illnesses).  

How Does a Dog’s Age and Size Affect Eligibility for THR?

Dogs must be near or at skeletal maturity (finished growing). In most dogs, nine months of age is the earliest the THR procedure can be done. Dogs generally must be greater than eight pounds for their bodies to accommodate the implant.  

There is no upper age limit for the procedure if your dog is otherwise in good overall health. Healthy older dogs have the same prognosis as young dogs; however, we recommend that pet owners consider additional diagnostic tests for dogs older than seven years of age prior to a THR. In addition to complete bloodwork (CBC and biochemistry profile), abdominal ultrasound, and thoracic radiographs (X-rays) are recommended. Although optional, these important tests can rule out potentially significant diseases that may negatively impact your pet’s outcomes following major surgery.  

Figure 1 Nano femoral stem and cup implants

Figure 1. Nano femoral stem and cup implants. Since the introduction of the micro and nano total hip replacement systems, we can now perform this surgery in dogs and cats as small as ~ 4 kg and there is no upper body size limit.

How Often Do Dogs Need to Have Both of Their Joints Replaced?

Only 20% of dogs that have bilateral hip disease require both joints to be replaced in their lifetime. Since dogs bear most of the body weight on their forelimbs, replacing one hip allows them to better distribute the load off the remaining “bad” hip to the other limbs. We recommend replacing the more clinically affected hip to gauge how the dog responds.  

How Long Does a THR Last?

Our expectation is that the replaced hip will remain stable and functional for the pet’s entire lifespan regardless of what age it is implanted. The need for THR revision surgery due to implant wear is rare in veterinary medicine because of their limited longevity when compared to humans. Additionally, because they are quadrupeds (use four legs for walking), they distribute weight across their hip joints more efficiently than bipeds (animals that walk on two legs).  

What are the Benefits and Success Rates THR?

The goal of THR is to provide a pain-free and mechanically sound hip with most dogs having a significantly improved quality of life. Benefits they may experience include: 

  • Increase in muscle mass 
  • Improved and comfortable hip range of motion 
  • Increased activity levels and endurance 
  • Markedly improved general mobility and energy levels  

More than 90% of dogs experience dramatic improvements in their overall function after THR. While the prognosis is typically excellent following THR, peak recovery (progressive resolution of lameness, muscle development, etc.) is generally not achieved until 4-6 months postoperatively.  

How Do I Prepare My Dog for THR Surgery?

Your pet will undergo general anesthesia for their surgery. They must fast at least 12 hours before surgery. If they are taking oral steroids, they should be stopped one week prior to surgery. Pain medications can be continued up until surgery. Medications for health conditions such as diabetes or low thyroid function should be continued.  

Your pet will be closely monitored during and following anesthesia. After they are awakened from the surgery, they will recover in a kennel with warm bedding in a calm environment. We will continue to closely monitor them while they are with us overnight.  

What Are the Potential Complications Following THR?

As with any surgery, THRs have potential complications, including: 

  • Hip joint dislocation 
  • Incision-related issues 
  • Surgical site infections 
  • Loosening of the implants over time 
  • Sciatic nerve injury 
  • Femur (thigh bone) fracture during and after implantation  
  • Reaction to anesthesia  

Although complications such as these are the exception, they will be thoroughly reviewed during your pet’s consultation. Any questions you may have will also be addressed.  

What Postoperative Care is Needed for THR?

Postoperative care for your dog is critical following a THR. Activity levels must be strictly controlled for the first month after surgery to ensure your dog is healing well. Please keep the following in mind: 

  • Your dog should only be let out on a leash to urinate or defecate. 
  • Your pet should avoid stairs or slippery floors. 
  • No running, jumping, or playing for the first two months after surgery. 
  • When your dog is not under your supervision, they should be confined to a small area, cage, or crate. 
  • Limited leash-based activities are allowed to encourage immediate limb use. 
  • Pelvic X-rays should be taken at six weeks post-operatively, after which a progressive increase in activities back to normal levels is typically recommended. 

Before your dog is discharged from MedVet, we will provide you with written postoperative care instructions and demonstrate any key points with you. Our goal is for your pet to have the best post-recovery possible and improve their quality of life.  

Harry” was a 7-month old 35 kg lab mix who was hit by a car and suffered capital physeal and caudal acetabular fractures

Figure 2. VD pelvic radiograph revealing a fractured left capital physis and caudal acetabulum (white arrow).

The 3 Most Frequently Asked Questions re: Canine Total Hip Replacement

Figure 3. Postoperative VD Pelvic radiograph following cementless left total hip replacement.




By Matthew D. Barnhart, DVM, MS, DACVS |
May 12, 2023