11 minute read

Louie’s bilateral hip dysplasia

This is Louie, a very sweet yellow Labrador who is now 17 months old.

At eight months it became apparent to his loving family that he was in pain. X-rays at their local vet showed that Louie had bi-lateral hip dysplasia.

At eight months it became apparent to his loving family that he was in pain. X-rays at their local vet showed that Louie had bi-lateral hip dysplasia. With our Radiograph Reporting Service, we reviewed the x-rays and an initial treatment plan was devised to try and avoid surgery.

This included physiotherapy, hydrotherapy and restricted walking, but after five months his hips and level of pain had not improved so they were referred to see Professor Noel Fitzpatrick.

In Jacky’s words

How we survived the dog having his hips replaced!

We were told to expect Louie to be taken in on the same day as our appointment with Noel. There is a lot of information about the operation itself, but very little information for an owner about what to expect afterwards. I hope our experience will help!

Preparing for surgery

We have two dogs – our other is another younger yellow Labrador called Finn. Louie and Finn spend most of their time together and sleep together. This in itself posed us with the problem of separating them for when Louie went to have his operation.

Louie and Finn

We were told we would need a big crate for Louie and that it would become his home for six+ weeks after surgery. For the first two, Louis was only allowed out for short toilet breaks. As neither dog had been crated before, we put the crate up a couple of weeks before Louie’s surgery so the dogs got used to it. Finn loved it, but Louie wasn’t quite so sure. After a few days, I closed the end door, leaving the side door open so they didn’t feel trapped. We didn’t get to the point where Louie was locked in the crate before his surgery, however, we weren’t too worried as we figured he was going to be locked in a kennel for a couple of days and hoped it would be a continuation of that.

We have wooden floors and tiles at home – another problem as one of the biggest risks to Louie after surgery is slipping. So, we covered the floors with rugs, bits of carpets and non-slip mats (we bought the non-slip mats in varying sizes on the internet).

We may be over soppy with the way we treat our dogs but we didn’t want Louie to feel isolated whilst he was crated. He is used to being with us, wherever in the house we are (apart from at night when he and Finn sleep in the kitchen). We moved our bed downstairs and set the crate up in our living room and made our “bedroom” in the dining room, which is attached to the living room so Louie was no more than six feet from us at night. I work from home and moved my desk to the living room too.

Day of surgery

We met Noel, and on examining Louie, he said both hips were dreadful! We left it to Noel to decide which hip needed doing first once he had reviewed the images. We thought it was going to be the left, but asked Noel to do what he thought best.

Louie and his family during an examination with Noel ©Chris Donovan

Everyone at Fitzpatrick’s is lovely. It doesn’t matter who you meet. I don’t think I have ever been to a place, human or animal, where the overwhelming feeling is that everyone cares. It is quite extraordinary.

Eyal and Jacky with Louie and Finn in consultation with Noel ©Chris Donovan

Waiting for the call to say the surgery is over is horrible but a great relief to know all is well.

I spoke to the night staff to see how Louie was doing and received a phone call that morning from Erica to give me an update.  So far so good. We were told to collect Louie the following morning – 36 hours since surgery. That feels very quick and a huge responsibility. However, as they said, he doesn’t need to be there, he needs to be at home recovering in his own surroundings.

Going home

Be prepared for a shock when you see the amount of hair missing! We knew it was going to happen, but it’s still a shock! It is necessary and does grow back quickly – not to a full coat but enough that he doesn’t look bald. He didn’t like the rain on his back when we were outside – I guess it was cold on his bare skin.

Louie after Surgery

The cone was probably the worst bit to deal with. It’s big – it has to be to prevent the dog licking the wound (add tongue length to the end of their nose and you’ll see why). Every time Louie moved in his crate he bashed the side or top of it. We allowed him time without it on during the day when we were sitting with him but only as we were watching him like a hawk. It worried us that one lick could introduce an infection and that would be disastrous. It simply is not worth the risk. Do not be tempted to remove it and leave the dog unsupervised. Louie went into the crate with the door shut behind him – no problem.  In fact, he seemed to quite like it.

Louie was given a painkiller called Recuvyra which is fentanyl based and absorbed through the skin much like Advocate. It lasts for 72 hours during which time we were told not to touch Louie without gloves as it could be transmitted to us. The first night home with Louie was difficult. He whined all night and was really restless and of course, the cone constantly bashed the crate.

The first few times out of the crate going to the garden was difficult. Louie was discharged with a soft harness, and a sling to go under his back legs to ensure he doesn’t slip. We tried one of us holding the harness and one holding the sling but I found it easier for just one person to do both. In the early days, we also found it easier to use a long towel rather than the sling as it didn’t bunch up under his hips so much which seemed to hurt him. We have a split level garden so have to carry Louie up and down the steps.  Good job I go to the gym as he’s 26+ kgs of deadlift.

We were terrified we were either going to hurt Louie by lifting him or that he would slip but once we got used to the routine, it wasn’t so bad. We could never relax, but it was OK.

We took Louie back to have his stitches out two weeks after surgery. We weren’t expecting him to go as crazy as he did when we got to the waiting room. I kept him away from the seating area but he was still really bouncy and thoroughly overexcited. I had my arms under his back end so he couldn’t hurt himself – not an easy wait!

Stitches out, no problem. Need to keep the dreaded cone on for another couple of days until the scar/stitch wounds are dry and less angry looking.


We had a physiotherapy appointment straight after the removal of the stitches and were told what to do for Louie for the next four weeks, which we followed to the letter. At home, that involved increased amounts of street walking each day. We didn’t walk Louie and Finn together for fear of them playing too roughly.

He felt better and wanted to move around much quicker than he was allowed to. He would try to drag us to the kitchen or outside and it took a lot of strength to keep him walking, no faster. Louie is using his new hip much more now. There was some rotation of the leg to begin with, but exercise is sorting that – it’s so nice to see him obviously out of pain on that side. He puts more weight through the left leg now than the right.

Surgery: round two

In an ideal world, we thought we would leave his right hip until December when the insurance policy was renewed. It’s a very good policy but the kitty isn’t quite big enough to cover two hip replacements in the same year. We thought it would be good to have a break and give Louie the summer to build his muscles and enjoy some freedom before being crated again.

Louie and Eyal ©Chris Donovan

Best laid plans and all that.

Good news, Louie’s new hip is great. Bad news, his right hip is awful, which we already knew. Noel told me that for Louie it was best to have his right hip done ASAP. It would mean us paying for some of the treatment ourselves and hoping desperately that nothing else went wrong this year as all our insurance would have been swallowed up, however, what is best for Louie is paramount, so, a week later Louie went back to have his right hip replaced.

It is absolutely the right thing to do – it gets Louie out of pain, he can build both leg muscles together, he’s used to being in the crate and Finn is used to him being there. The house is set up, the weather is better and it’s lighter in the mornings and evenings. It’s me who is shattered and I don’t think I’ll ever be able to stand up straight again! Hey ho!

It’s no easier leaving him the second time, even though we’d just been through it seven weeks earlier. This time, however, Louie’s recovery from the anaesthetic was amazing. The nurses told me he went out in the night for a pee and poo and was standing at his door waiting for his breakfast the next morning. We brought him home later that day – less than 24 hours after his op.

So, differences this time around? Well, his lack of hair still looks shocking, probably a little worse as the area around the tail is completely bald now and not an attractive sight! He was given a Fentanyl patch rather than Recuvyra, which meant his side was shaved too and a dressing stapled to his side.

It looks barbaric, but we were assured it isn’t uncomfortable for Louie. As before, it lasts a few days however there was no whining overnight with the patch. We were told to leave it in place until the stitches were removed, but its location meant that the harness pulled on the staples, so after discussion with Fitzpatrick Referrals, I took Louie to our vet to have the staples and patch removed. The drug was no longer active and it was no big deal to have removed. The cone is smaller than the last one. He still bashes the crate but it’s not quite so bad and this time we’ve left the collar on almost 24/7. We take it off to go to the garden and at meal times or to give him a cuddle, but that’s all.

Louie doesn’t seem to realise he’s had another op and he wants to run before he can walk so we have to be even more vigilant than before. He’s like a steam train! It is easier in as much as we’re all in the routine. When we went back for the stitches to come out, I left Louie in the car to minimise the time he could go nutty in the waiting room. The scar is great, so no cone was needed. A peaceful night. He is putting more weight on the left leg and there is a slight rotation of his right leg but we have to keep reminding ourselves it’s only two weeks since the right hip was replaced. He is definitely more restless in the crate now and wants out. We have to be inventive and find ways to keep him entertained.

Making a home for himself in his confinement!

In summary…

Yes, it is hard work but so worth it. Getting the house ready took some forethought and who cares if it doesn’t look as neat and tidy as normal. We haven’t been out for weeks as one of us is always here with Louie – so what – it will pass. The first two weeks are definitely the hardest and it is a huge responsibility to make sure we do the best for Louie now Noel and his team have given him the best chance of a pain-free future.

Dr James Guthrie in surgery

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Fitzpatrick Referrals is dedicated to the prevention and treatment of orthopaedic and neurological diseases in small animals.