Legg-Calve-Perthes Disease

by Anne Jones RN, BSNE

Legg-Calve-Perthes is a disease that affects the development of the head of the femur, the bone that fits into the hip socket and the bone that bears much of the body weight. Needless to say, any disease affecting this joint is painful, both in humans and in dogs. LCP is also seen in humans.

In dogs, you can expect signs of this disease to begin about 4 months of age and almost certainly by a year of age. The owner will observe limping, a failure to bear weight on the affected leg and indications of pain. Examination by the veterinarian is advised any time a dog limps for more than 24 hours. Upon examination, the veterinarian will advise radiographs to differentiate between possible injury, LCP and a commonly seen condition known as hip dysplasia. LCP is seen more often in small breeds and hip dysplasia is seen in large breed dogs but can occur in small dogs.

LCP is caused by poor circulation and inadequate blood supply to the head of the femur. Without the blood needed to support the bone cells, these bone cells begin to die off and eventually the entire area consists of diseased or dead bone. As bone dies, the dog will not use the joint and surrounding muscles will begin to waste away. Exercise is counterproductive and will only result in further damage.

In less affected dogs, the disease may be treated with total rest and anti-inflammatory medications. This means crating the dog 24 hours a day and absolutely minimal activity. During treatment with the non-steroidal drugs, it is advisable to also watch for signs of inflammation of the liver. Many of these canine NSAIDS have caused elevation of the liver enzyme in Bichons. While some dogs with a milder form do seem to recover with treatment, they must be watched closely for indications of pain and further treatment considered.

In more severe cases of LCP, surgery is the only option. The surgical procedure is the removal of the head of the femur (femoral head). The femoral head is the large upper end of the femur which is rounded and fits snugly within the hip socket. While it seems extreme to remove a large portion of this bone, it has been proven to be quite successful and the dogs can live long and healthy lives. After surgery, there will be a long healing process and the period of healing will involve physical therapy to help reform the connection between hip and femur. The end result is a new joint formation that serves the dog quite well.

Legg-Calve-Perthes is an inherited disease, though the exact inheritance is not known at this time. There are some indications that it may have a blood clotting issue but it is definitely created by poor vascular (blood) supply to bone cells. These dogs are not to be used for breeding, of course.