Having any major surgery us a big deal and very scary, sometimes more for us than for our dogs. When Sienna had her femoral head ostectomy (FHO) surgery I joined a couple of Facebook groups related to the surgery and also did as much research as I could beforehand. Most of the websites I found were filled with technical jargon and descriptions of what happened DURING the surgery. That was what we were trusting the vet to know! I wanted to know how to prepare and what to expect after the surgery. In the 2+ years that I’ve been a member of these groups, there are a number of questions that come up repeatedly. This FAQ will contain none of the technical frequently asked questions, but will try to address some of the more day to day questions.
Remember that this does not replace medical advice and if you are concerned about anything you should consult your vet and follow their instructions. This advice is based on the experiences of others whose dogs have also been through the surgery.
Have a question? Feel free to ask in the comments below.
My dog has a large lump near the incision. Is this normal? Will it go away on its own?
Chances are good that this is a seroma, a fluid filled sac. They are usually reabsorbed into the body within a few weeks. If it is not re-absorbed it may need to be drained. It seems fairly common in dogs who have had FHO surgery. If you are concerned, if it seems to be bothering your dog, or if it doesn’t disappear, contact your vet. You may even be able to send a photo to your vet and get advice that way.
My dog isn’t using the surgery leg. Is this normal?
Every dog heals at their own pace. They may, like Sienna, walk out of surgery using the leg. Or it may take several weeks. Keeping up with the physical therapy can help, including weight shifting exercises and slow, controlled walks. Slower walking helps to encourage your dog to put their leg down and start using it.
Is it necessary to use a water treadmill or go to swim therapy?
Every dog is different. We chose to go to swim therapy because it was another way we could support Sienna’s recovery. She was not good about going for walks because she had PTSD and was afraid to lose sight of the house. Other dogs have healed exceptionally well with only at home physical therapy.
My dog isn’t going to the washroom after surgery…
The medications your dog is on after surgery can make them feel weird and also impact their toileting. They may not pee as frequently and it may be a couple of days before your dog poops. Give them opportunities to do both regularly, and make sure you’re supporting them with a belly band or towel. If it gets to the point that you are concerned or your dog is in discomfort, contact your vet.
What do I need to prepare for the surgery?
I’ve written a separate article on the tools we used. We followed the Top Dog medical recovery guide and made sure to familiarize ourselves and practice the exercises before the surgery to get Sienna used to it. Set up an area for your dog, ideally large enough to stretch and move around but not so large that they can run. If you’re keeping them in a crate or pen after surgery, make sure to train them on it first and get them used to it. You do not want the new environment to be another stressor post-surgery.
Limit their access to furniture. Most dogs shouldn’t be climbing up or jumping down after surgery. We used a large dog pen with play mats underneath to protect her from slipping. We put an old blanket or sheet over that so that we could change it out regularly and keep the area (and therefore her incision!) super clean. We had a large, low bed, food and water and some toys. Lastly, because her pen was in the corner and we’re in an old drafty house, we hung blankets over the sides to keep some warmth in. You could use a crate, or a spare room, or section off part of a room with baby gates. This will be a temporary space so there is no need to invest money!
You also might want to make sure you have anything you will need post-surgery on hand including ice and heat packs, or so extra tempting food in case your pup isn’t eating, or some extra tempting treats.
Do we need to go to physical therapy?
Not necessarily. We didn’t. We did at home therapy, and added swim therapy a few weeks in. As long as you’re dedicated to the therapy and follow your vet’s instructions, there’s no reason your dog can’t make a full recovery without seeing a physical therapist.
My vet only gave me X days of pain medicine. Do I need more?
Again, every dog is different. Sienna’s vet gave her a good supply of pain medicine, and we chose to slowly taper off her Medicam by slowly lowering her dosage until the bottle was gone because she was a dog who hid her pain from us and we couldn’t be sure of how she was feeling. You know your dog best. If at any point you feel that your dog is in pain be your dog’s advocate and ask your vet for a refill on the pain meds.
My dog’s hair hasn’t grown back! When will it finally grow in?
I’m sounding like a broken record, but every dog is different. Some people’s dogs seem to have good growth the next month, some may never fully grow back. Sienna took a good 6 months. We thought it might never grow back. I had actually gone to a tack shop and bought some oil for horses that is supposed to be massaged in and promote hair growth. While I was there, I purchased a curry comb style brush, as Sienna was starting to shed a lot in late spring. We started using the curry comb brush and her hair started to grow almost immediately. We didn’t even need to use the hair growth oil I had purchased. I’m told that the massaging from the curry comb likely stimulated the follicles and prompted her hair to start growing.
Have a question you’d like answered? Feel free to ask in the comments below and I will do my best to address!