Q. My 10 yea-old-lab Jeb is having serious arthritis problems with his hips. He is pretty big and weighs 75 pounds. This has started only in the last few months, but it seems to be progressing very rapidly. A friend suggested a hip replacement and I did not know they did these in dogs. I worry that he is too old. Can you educate me about cost, effectiveness complications with his age and any other pertinent information about hip replacements for him?

A. Hip replacement is a surgery that certainly is available for dogs and is done routinely here in Oklahoma City as well as at the Veterinary school in Stillwater. This is a highly technical procedure that is done primarily at specialty veterinary surgery centers. It does, however, have a 96-97 percent success rate.

As in humans, most dogs that need a total hip replacement are older dogs with a lot of arthritic problems or that have hip dysplasia. Younger dogs might need a total hip if they have suffered some kind of trauma such as being hit by a car or having fallen from a great height.

The procedure is more commonly done in medium, large or giant breed dogs weighing over 40 pounds. Unfortunately these are the dogs that are more often born with hip dysplasia. The breeds seen most often are the Mastiffs, Great Danes, Goldens, German Shepherds, Labs and Rottweiler's.

As you can see, your lab is three for three so far, i.e. older, a Lab and a dog with arthritis. Because the pain is almost totally alleviated after the surgery, it is recommended that the surgery be performed as early as possible in the disease progression. The patient usually walks on the hip the day after surgery. Dogs with hip dysplasia can have replacements done as early as 11-12 months depending on the breed and the stage of skeletal development.

During the procedure, the total hip is removed and replaced with a prosthetic implant. These implants are held in place with bone cement similar to human replacements.

There is no worry about dogs wearing the prosthesis out as do humans. There are two reasons for this. One, dogs distribute their weight onto all four legs, not two and most dogs do not outlive the life of the implant, especially when put into an older dog. Total hip replacements have lasted 12-14 years until the dogs died of other causes.

However, as with any surgery there can be complications. Infection, dislocation and implant breakage can occur, but these are very rare indeed. Very rarely an animal can actually be allergic to the implant and this necessitates complete removal of the implant. The animal can still use the leg even if the implant is removed. There may be an abnormal gait, but the leg can still be used.

Prior to having surgery, the pet must be thoroughly screened for any other health problems that might negate the benefit of the replacement such as a preexisting infection, heart, liver or kidney problems, cancer, obesity or recent steroid therapy. Complete physical exams, radiographs and blood profiles will be done prior to the surgery to avoid any complications or joint failure due to other problems.

The time after surgery will need to be carefully supervised. Your guy will be very restricted in activity for the first eight weeks while things heal into place. Radiographs will be done to document proper healing so your pet can begin leash walks, at first very slowly, and gradually increasing in length. By three months out normal activity is possible. By this time it is usually difficult, if not impossible to notice any limp or gait abnormality. The lack of pain is an immediate thing making the procedure a great option for these painful dogs.

The cost for the surgery ranges in price from $2,800 to $3,300, and is essentially a curative procedure well worth considering for Jeb.

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