Legg-Calvé-Perthes disease

What is ... ?: 

This is a disease of the hip joint in young (4 to 12 months), small-breed dogs. The hip is a ball and socket joint: the ball (the top part of the thigh bone or head of the femur) fits into a socket formed by the pelvic bone. With this disease, there is degeneration or death  (necrosis) of the growth (ossification) centre in the head of the femur. This causes severe pain and lameness.

What does ... mean to your dog & you?: 

A young dog affected with this disease will gradually develop pain and lameness in 1 hind leg, which slowly worsens over 3 or 4 weeks. The pain will become quite severe, and there is usually muscle shrinkage (atrophy) in the affected leg. This disease is treated quite successfully with surgery, so that your dog can live a normal pain-free life. If treated very early, surgery is sometimes not necessary.

How is ... diagnosed?: 

Your veterinarian will suspect this disease if your young toy or small-breed dog shows signs of pain and lameness in the hip joint. Usually only one hip is affected, but occasionally both are involved.  Depending on how far the disease has progressed, there may be muscle wasting (atrophy) in the affected limb. Radiographs will show whether your dog has the characteristic features of this disease, and also if there are other bony degenerative changes to the hip. Diagnosis is confirmed with a bone biopsy.

How is ... treated?: 

If diagnosed early (before much bony change to the head of the femur), the disease can sometimes be treated by pain relievers and by putting the hind leg in a sling for a period so that it doesn't bear weight. More often though, once pain and lameness are severe, the only treatment is to surgically remove the damaged (necrotic) head of the femur. This procedure effectively eliminates the source of the pain, and your dog should have a good quality of life thereafter.

Breeding advice: 

Affected dogs and their parents (considered carriers) should not be bred. Siblings are suspect carriers. A registry is maintained by the Institute for Genetic Disease Control in Animals (www.vetmed.ucdavis.edu/gdc/gdc.html) for Legg-Calvé-Perthes disease in terriers and miniature and toy poodles. Using the registry, breeders can select dogs for breeding with no family history of this disease.


Ackerman L. 1999. The Genetic Connection: A Guide to Health Problems in Purebred Dogs, pp.120-121. AAHA Press,Lakewood, Colorado.

Bennett D, May C. 1995. Joint diseases of dogs and cats. In EJ Ettinger and EC Feldman(eds). Textbook of Veterinary Internal Medicine, pp. 2032-2077.WB Saunders Co., Toronto

Schrader SC . 1995. Differential diagnosis of nontraumatic causes of lameness in young growing dogs. In JD Bonagura and RW Kirk(eds.) Kirk's Current Veterinary Therapy XII Small Animal Practice. p. 1171-1180. WB Saunders Co., Toronto.

What breeds are affected by ... ?