My Poodle Diary

Our Toy Poodle’s Shocking Diagnosis: Avascular Necrosis of the Femoral Head

We never imagined that our toy poodle Oliver would be undergoing hip surgery while being a 10-month old puppy. Especially since he’s been such a healthy and active dog from the day we took him home. It all started with a noticeable limping and next thing we know we are being told he has a genetic condition called Avascular Necrosis of the Femoral Head and needs surgery right away.

In this post, I’d like to share our experience with Avascular Necrosis of the Femoral Head, the surgery, post-operation care, and the lessons learned.

As I write this, two weeks post-operation, Oliver is back to comfortably walking on his two legs again.

How it all started

One afternoon after a fun swimming session at a local dog swimming pool, we noticed that Oliver started limping. We immediately thought “he must have strained a muscle”. Not leaving anything to chance though, we booked an appointment with the vet the next morning.

The vet performed a lameness test but wasn’t able to identify exactly what was causing the discomfort. Oliver was then prescribed anti-inflammatory medicine and sent back home.

Several days went by and the limping continued. While doing some research online, I remember reading that if the limping lasted more than 2 weeks, it could be something more serious. With that in mind, we were at the vet’s again the following week.

Here’s where I think we got lucky. Since it was a Sunday, we were attended by a different vet who immediately determined we should take an X-ray. That made all the difference. The X-ray made it clear that there was an issue with the hip, although we would need to see a specialist in order to get an accurate diagnosis.

A few days later, we met with the specialist vet who right away was able to identify his condition as Avascular Necrosis of the Femoral Head.

What is Avascular Necrosis of the Femoral Head?

Avascular necrosis of the femoral head (aka Legg-Calve-Perthes or Perthes Disease) happens when the head of the femur (the ball part of the hip joint) loses its blood supply and the bony tissue dies.

The condition is hereditary and found in small breeds (like toy poodles). Signs and symptoms often appear during the puppy phase (it can be seen as early as 9-10 months of age, like in Oliver’s case).

What are the common signs of Avascular Necrosis?

  • Lameness / limping
  • Reduced range of motion of the hip joint
  • Decreased muscle mass
  • Low motivation to exercise or play

In the case of our toy poodle, the obvious sign was primarily his limping but looking back, there were some subtle behaviors that may have been a manifestation of his condition. For example, Oliver never attempted to jump on the sofa like his puppy friends. And sometimes he jumped up the stairs like a bunny (we read that “bunny hopping” is also a sign of hip problems).

FHO (Femular Head Ostectomy) Surgery

The surgery that is often performed to address Avascular Necrosis of the Femoral Head is called FHO (femoral head ostectomy), where the head and neck of the femur are completely removed. Though the leg muscles will initially hold the femur in place, as scar tissue develops, a “false joint” grows over time alleviating the pain and discomfort.

The surgery is usually completed within hours although rehabilitation can take months.

Our Puppy’s Post-FHO Surgery Recovery

Here’s a log of our post-op care and observations as Oliver recovered from the FHO. I hope you find it somewhat helpful! Having gone through the whole experience, I can say the recovery is quite fast and not as traumatic as I expected.

Week 1

  • Ability to take a few steps (free activity around the house is allowed)
  • Normal appetite 
  • Constipation
  • Swelling (day 3 – 4)
  • A bit of crying at night and at random times during the day (lots of caressing and cuddles were in order)

Week 2

  • Further mobility during short walks to the bathroom (outside)
  • Normal appetite
  • Normal bowel movements
  • Better mood overall (got used to the e-collar)

Week 3

  • Removed the stitches (yay!). By now fur had already grown enough to hide the scar.
  • A little bit of anxiety going outside and meeting other dogs
  • Full mobility and started to lie down on both sides
  • Appetite, sleep, and bowel movements – all back to normal!

Tips for Smooth Recovery

  • An E-collar should be used at all times for the first two weeks to prevent licking or chewing at the incision (super IMPORTANT!)
  • Continue to feed a nutritionally complete diet.
  • There is no need to clean the incision as that may disrupt healing.
  • Crate restriction is detrimental and should be avoided.

Lessons learned after our puppy’s shocking diagnosis with Avascular Necrosis of the Femoral Head

  • At the very first sign of lameness/limping, visit the vet right away.
  • Request an X-ray if not offered to you.
  • If a problem is identified, consider seeing a specialist or a different vet for a second opinion (remember that not all vets are equipped to diagnose such special conditions).
  • Reduce physical activity and interaction with other dogs, which may aggravate the symptoms. 
  • Give your fur baby lots of love and cuddles – it means a lot to them!

If you have any questions about this condition or FHO surgery, please leave a comment down below. Thanks for reading!

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