Pebbles' Bilateral Hip Replacement Journey

1 May 2017

Pebbles was an active four-year-old German Shepard with a passion for chasing seagulls on the beach. Even though the seagulls would fly away before she caught them, her enthusiasm for her game never wavered. Over a period, Pebbles started to show less enthusiasm for her chase, often choosing to sit and watch instead. One day after a visit to the beach, her owners noticed her limping. Thinking it was because she had pulled something, they kept her quiet at home for a few days in the hope that it would clear up.

After several days with no improvement, they took her to their local vet where she was prescribed anti-inflammatories. Pebbles showed no noticeable improvement on the medication, so she returned to the vet who referred her to us for further examination.

Once here, we did some x-rays to determine what was happening. Her x-rays showed Pebbles had hip dysplasia in both hips, with her left being the worst. Once we talked with her owners, they said it explained a lot of her recent behaviour. She did not like going outside as much anymore, nor would she follow them in the garden. Instead, she returned to the house and slept. With uncontrolled pain restricting her quality of life, her owners knew she could not continue as she was.

Fig.1 Initial radiographs/x-rays of Pebbles’ hips showing arthritis in both joints.

To treat Pebbles, we had the options of prescribing anti-inflammatory medication for the rest of her life, which was not very successful at reducing her pain, commiting to long-term lifestyle adjustment or physiotherapy programme, or a hip surgery. Her family decided that a left hip replacement would be the best treatment for Pebbles, even though they were anxious about the risks and complications of hip replacement surgery.

The surgery went fine and to help her recover, Pebbles was confined to a cage for the next 12 weeks. After a final check, Pebbles could resume her normal daily activities. Her owners noticed an almost instant change in their dog. She went from being a reclusive and depressed “older” girl to an enthusiastic adult puppy who once again enjoyed chasing her beloved seagulls.

A few months later, her owners noticed she was slowing down again. Pebbles showed signs of being depressed and was this time limping on her right leg. They returned here and we took further x-rays of Pebbles. This time they showed her right hip needed a replacement, so her owners decided to have this done one year after her left hip was replaced. Once again, surgery was successful. Unfortunately, when Pebbles returned to have her sutures removed, she fractured her femur on her right leg while walking outside in the carpark. Miraculously, the fracture did not involve the prosthetic hip. We repaired the fracture with a plate and Pebbles recovered as predicted.

Fig.2 & 3 Radiograph/x-ray showing both hip replacements, but also the break in the right femur.

Hip replacement surgery does have a 20-30% risk of complications. Some of these complications are severe, such as a fractured femur which happened to Pebble. However most of the complications can be fixed and result in a normal active life for the animal afterwards.

Pebbles’ life has changed dramatically since her surgeries. Instead of being left to a life of poorly managed pain and a young dog who would rather sleep than do anything else, they have a dog which shows obvious enjoyment of life. Pebbles runs, plays and chases seagulls as much as she ever did, in a life free from pain and regular medications.

Dr Alastair Coomer
Dr Alastair Coomer

Position Director & Registered Specialist Small Animal Surgery

Email alastair.coomer@vsnz.co.nz

Alastair graduated from Massey University with a Bachelor of Veterinary Science in 2003, and worked in mixed animal practice in Ashburton for 18...