Horse’s successful hip replacement thought to be a world first

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Duncan is thought to be the first equine in the world to have undergone a successful hip replacement operation.
Duncan is thought to be the first equine in the world to have undergone a successful hip replacement operation. © University of Liverpool

A miniature horse named Duncan has undergone what is believed to be the world’s first successful total hip replacement in an equine.

Duncan was first admitted to the Philip Leverhulme Equine Hospital at the University of Liverpool in July this year for investigation of severe hind limb lameness. A CT scan confirmed fears that Duncan had dislocated the left hip joint and damaged it irreparably.

Equine surgical specialist Dave Stack said treatment options for such a problem were very limited, especially with extensive damage to the head of the femur. “I discussed Duncan’s predicament with two small animal surgical specialists, Professor Rob Pettitt and Andy Tomlinson, who agreed that performing a total hip replacement offered Duncan the best chance for recovery.”

The procedure had been attempted in small ponies before, but all known previous operations had failed. The surgery on the 85kg gelding required careful preparation and the combined knowledge of specialists in both small animal and equine surgery, as well as colleagues from the anaesthesia and internal medicine departments.

Working together, the teams from Liverpool’s Small Animal Teaching Hospital and the Philip Leverhulme Equine Hospital at Leahurst were able to replace Duncan’s left hip using state-of-the-art implants designed for use in large dogs.

Duncan at his most recent check-up with the veterinary team at the Philip Leverhulme Equine Hospital, from left, Andy Tomlinson, Dave Stack, Professor Rob Pettitt and Matt Cullen.
Duncan at his most recent check-up with the veterinary team at the Philip Leverhulme Equine Hospital, from left, Andy Tomlinson, Dave Stack, Professor Rob Pettitt and Matt Cullen. © University of Liverpool

Equine surgical resident Matthew Cullen said although always complex, hip replacements were relatively common in dogs. “The experience of the small animal surgeons was absolutely vital as Duncan presented a highly unique challenge. Despite that, he has made an excellent recovery and was able to walk and trot almost normally at his last check-up.”

Duncan spent more than three weeks in hospital at Leahurst and required round-the-clock supervision in the first few days after surgery. As he grew stronger, physiotherapy formed a large part of his postoperative care and the team worked closely with Chartered Veterinary Physiotherapists Katie Meredith and Suzanne Cottriall to help Duncan get back on his feet.

“It seems glib to describe this as a team effort because all of the cases we see are, but this case genuinely reflects the hard work of lots of people from many different departments,” Cullen said.

“All staff at the equine hospital were involved in Duncan’s care at some stage of his treatment and it was a fantastic experience to work with the surgeons and nursing team from the Small Animal Teaching Hospital.”

Professor Rob Pettitt said: “The opportunity to provide Duncan with a normal life using a procedure that we perform regularly in dogs but that has never been successful longer term in equids was a unique experience. Our role as surgeons was just a small part of the huge teamwork that has resulted in this successful outcome.”

Dave Stack thanked all who contributed to the success of Duncan’s recovery, “not least Rob Michael of Thompson House Equine Clinic, Duncan’s vet at home, whose care of him has been invaluable”.

“I am thrilled that Duncan will live a comfortable life and delighted that Duncan’s owners have the opportunity to continue to spoil him for many years to come.”

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