Many toy breed dogs live the good life – they get to wear cute sweaters, ride in their owner’s purses, and get fawned on by everyone they meet. But they are not without their problems, too. One condition, called Legg-Calve-Perthes disease, occurs more frequently in small and toy breed dogs than in their larger cousins.

What is Legg-Calve-Perthes disease?

Legg-Calve-Perthes disease – also known as aseptic necrosis of the femoral head – causes lameness in dogs’ hip joints due to spontaneous degeneration of the femoral head and neck (otherwise known as the “ball” of the “ball and socket” hip joint). A lack of blood supply to the bones leads to the collapse of the hip joint and eventually to degenerative joint disease (arthritis). The exact cause of the dwindling blood supply is not generally known.

Toy breeds are more prone to developing Legg-Calve-Perthes, but so are small dogs and terrier breeds weighing less than 20 lbs. Clinical signs can start showing up anytime between three months and 13 months of age, but most commonly the diagnosis is made in young dogs between the ages of five and eight months old.

Signs and symptoms 

Symptoms generally start as hip pain, especially when touched. You may notice limping that progressively becomes worse and the thigh muscles of the affected leg may start to appear shrunken when compared to the normal leg. Usually, Legg-Calve-Perthes disease occurs in only one hip, but every once in a while, both hips can be affected.

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Diagnosis and treatment

Diagnosis is easily made by your pet’s veterinarian. A simple X-ray is all that is needed to confirm the disease. From there, your veterinarian will suggest a treatment plan that is best for your pet. In most cases, the best choice for treatment is surgery. The diseased femoral head and neck are simply removed in a procedure called a femoral head and neck osteotomy (FHO). After surgery, most dogs live a normal, pain-free life, although rehabilitative therapy is often necessary to ensure full recovery and can be covered by a comprehensive dog insurance plan.

If surgery is not an option, your veterinarian will work with you to develop a treatment plan that adequately addresses your pet’s pain. It is imperative that dogs with this condition are kept slim and trim, because obesity will only exacerbate the pain.

If you suspect your young dog is having hip pain, ask your vet to take a closer look.

May 23, 2012

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