Legg-Calve-Perthes Disease in Dogs

Legg-Calve-Perthes disease in dogs is a condition caused by death of the tissue, called necrosis,Legg-Calve-Perthes Disease in Dogs within the femoral head. The femoral head is the portion of the thigh bone that meets the pelvis to form the hip joint. The necrosis is caused by a lack of blood supply to the femoral head. This causes the femoral head to degenerate and become painful resulting in limping and discomfort. The underlying cause of the avascular necrosis is unknown.  Dogs affected by Legg-Calve-Perthes disease tend to be smaller breeds such as terriers, miniature pincers, and poodles. Because the disease incidence is higher through certain bloodlines, a genetic component or inherited component is suspected and these dogs should not be used for breeding.

Clinical Signs and Diagnosis of Legg-Calve-Perthes Disease in Dogs

The first clinical signs of Legg-Calve-Perthes disease usually occur in younger dogs, typically under a year of age. Males and females are equally affected. Usually they are small breed dogs. The limping can occur on one side (unilateral) or both sides (bilateral). Limping tends to progress and get worse over time. If the condition is mild, a smaller dog can usually compensate for the discomfort and clinical signs can go unnoticed for a longer period of time. If the condition is severe, marked pain and crying are usually noted.

Once hip pain is determined, a radiograph (x-ray) of the affected leg (or legs) can be performed. The diagnosis of Legg-Calve-Perthes disease in dogs can be confirmed with radiographs that show flattening and lucencies of the femoral head, that is, the femoral head may look less round or more transparent than typically. Other conditions to consider in a dog with hip pain are hip dysplasia, polyarthritis, and trauma.

Treatment of Legg-Calve-Perthes Disease in Dogs

Once a diagnosis of Legg-Calve-Perthes disease has been made, there are two options for treatment. If the disease is very mild and the dog is not overly painful, medical management with pain medication can be considered. Options for pain management include anti-inflammatory and narcotic medications as well as supplements such as glucosamine or omega-3 fatty acids. Should the disease be painful or more severe, the best treatment option is surgical. By surgically removing the femoral head, the source of pain has been removed. This surgery is called a Femoral Head Ostectomy (FHO). Recovery is typically fast and prognosis is excellent with smaller breeds with Legg-Calve-Perthes disease.

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Dr Peter Nurre

Peter Nurre, DVM, Diplomate ACVIM (internal medicine) is a board- certified veterinary internal medicine specialist. His professional interests include internal medicine and cardiology.

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