Legg-Perthes Disease in Dogs

Fluffy dog

Also known as avascular necrosis of the femoral head or Legg-Calve-Perthes disease, this condition affects all types of dogs, but it does have certain breed predilections.

In today’s article, we’re looking at everything you should know about this disease – from its symptoms, the pets it tends to affect more frequently, and whether or not it can be treated.

Why Do Dogs Develop Legg-perthes Disease?

This painful condition causes the necrosis of the femoral head, but it does not have a septic cause. That means that dogs don’t have to sustain trauma or catch some type of bone/muscular infection in order for the disease to develop.

Small dog breeds are more predisposed to getting it as they have a genetic predisposition. This disease tends to be unilateral, meaning that it shows up in only one part of the hip, not both. Cases where both sides are affected are not frequent.

Even though there are many breeds predisposed to this genetic condition, it often tends to affect terriers and other small dogs, such as Chihuahua, Dachshund, Pekingese, Pug, or West Highland White Terrier.

Given that this condition is idiopathic and is transmitted from the parents to the offspring, the pets that are diagnosed with it should not be used for breeding.

Symptoms of Legg-Perthes Disease in Dogs

First of all, Legg-Perthes tends to affect younger dogs than it does older ones. Some of the first clinical signs appear around the age of 5 to 6 months.

Initially, the animal will only show a reluctance to move that side of the body. Stiffness and limping might be seen in the affected leg, and gradually, because the dog doesn’t use both legs in the same way, the muscles on one might shrink.

Unfortunately, Legg-Perthes can be quite painful, so every time the dog is made to walk or run, they will experience aches in that specific region. It is not uncommon for the pet to change their behavior and become more reluctant to exercise or not wish to interact with other people and other animals (if they suspect that getting in contact with them might inadvertently cause additional pain).

Some dogs might become lethargic, reclusive, or overly anxious. A symptom that should undoubtedly alert pet owners is that their dogs exhibit intense fear or withdrawal whenever they have to be taken out for walks.

Because of the pain, some animals can become quite aggressive. It is important to note that whenever they are left by themselves, these dogs will not exhibit aggression, and after being treated for Legg-Perthes, they will typically become themselves again.


When you take your pooch to the vet clinic, the veterinarian will perform a number of tests to try and determine whether your pet has Legg-Perthes or some other disease. These can be regular blood tests like a complete blood count or biochemistry.

If any type of osteomuscular condition is suspected, the vet will recommend an X-ray or some other type of imaging diagnostic method. X-rays are a relatively straightforward test, though, and they can often reveal the damage that the joint has suffered.

Treatment of Legg-Perthes Disease in Dogs

Surgery is pretty much the only way of correcting this health issue. Given that this disease affects young dogs, their recovery will be fast, and they will also be able to synthesize fibrous tissue instead of the bone portion per se.

While the operation might sound extremely challenging, it is a procedure that is commonly performed these days in most animal hospitals. The reason the affected part of the femur and femoral neck are simply removed, and the procedure does not affect the leg’s functionality is that none of the tendons or muscles are affected by the surgery.

Most small and even medium-sized dog breeds’ bodies are perfectly capable of synthesizing a ‘false’ joint in a rather timely fashion.

Larger breeds are more difficult to manage because of the weight their legs have to offer support to. For them, hip replacement surgery might be a better choice.

Following the surgery, most dogs require physical therapy in order for them to regain their normal ability to walk. Physical therapy also has a beneficial effect on the pain level, which means that most dogs begin to walk pain-free in a few weeks after the operation.

Although the so-called ‘false’ joint that a pet’s body creates is not as flexible as the original one, it still allows your dog to engage in all sorts of exercise and generally live a happy and healthy life.


Small and toy dog breeds are capable of recovering quite fast. A few months after the surgery, it’s difficult to even suspect that they might have had an issue in their hips.

Large dog breeds have a harder time recovering since a hip replacement is not an easy operation, so it will take more time for them to begin to walk normally again. They will also have to go through longer physiotherapy sessions, sometimes over the course of several months.

Getting early treatment for Legg-Perthes disease is paramount as some dogs can suffer from a lot of pain otherwise, not to mention that they can also develop arthritis.



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