Legg-Calves Perthes disease in dogs

When Legg-Calves Perthes, a debilitating hard-to-treat condition struck my dog, I thought I’d lose him. But thanks to holistic treatment, Digger is now happy and healthy.

It was only a slight limp, a muscle strain I thought. But Digger soon began carrying his back right leg and crying out in pain with the smallest of movements. When his hip began to shrivel as if someone had let the air out, I feared the worst. After all, the little guy was only nine months old.

What was happening?

The diagnosis was Legg-Calves Perthes disease, a condition where the blood supply to one hip or the other, or rarely both, is compromised. Digger’s right hip muscles had begun to waste away, and the radiographs showed his hip had already lost 50% of its bone density due to insufficient circulation and nutrition to the femoral head (the “ball” part of the ball and socket joint.)

This debilitating degenerative disease is seen primarily in small dogs. Digger is a rambunctious mix of terrier, Chihuahua and dachshund, so he’s just about got the “small dog” market cornered. No one knows exactly what causes the condition, but genetics and the deliberate breeding of dogs to be ever smaller are viewed as possible culprits.

Conventional treatments difficult

I was horrified by the diagnosis, but even more so by the traditional treatments. The first course of action is extreme confinement. The afflicted dog is caged for up to six months with no exercise, no play…no life. Alternatively, the leg is immobilized in an Ehmer sling that traps it up against the body, effectively creating a three-legged dog for an extended period of time. Even with the sling, movement restriction is recommended.

If confinement is unsuccessful, or the disease is too advanced at the time of diagnosis, the customary solution is surgery. The femoral head and neck are cut off, and scar tissue is allowed to replace the bone as a substitute hip joint. While the surgery may initially alleviate the pain, subsequent arthritis is a concern. Since Legg-Calves Perthes predominantly strikes dogs that are between seven months and one year old, that leaves many years to face an increased probability of arthritis.

Holistic options offer more

I knew my active boy wouldn’t understand confinement, and caging him would be excruciating for us both. So veterinarian Dr. Thomas Van Cise developed an individualized holistic protocol for Digger. What followed was a course of treatment designed to do what many believe could never be done – reverse the degeneration and get the blood flowing again. I embraced Dr. Van Cise’s experience and extensive arsenal of holistic therapies, as well as his philosophy of treating the individual rather than the disease to help the body utilize its innate ability to return to normal.

The day after Digger’s radiographs on September 3, 2008, he began supplementation with colostrum, dismutase and the homeopathic remedy Calcarea Phos. The natural raw food diet he has enjoyed since his rescue at six weeks old also played a vital supporting role in his fight against the disease.

Two weeks after supplementation began, Digger received his first laser treatment. Five more laser sessions followed before aquapuncture treatments replaced them. During this time, Digger was never confined. At home, I gave him stimulating deep massages, used wet heat on his back and hip, and engaged him in long periods of calm positive energy.

I worried when after each round of treatments, he would experience a setback and begin holding his leg or crying out. This would last a few days before he would once again soar ahead. It was one step back and three steps forward with each treatment, until one day he was simply an ordinary fourlegged dog again. Radiographs taken on February 3, 2009 were nothing short of amazing. In spite of the initial severity of the disease, the bone density had returned to normal. Digger’s hip had renewed itself.

Once again, Digger runs and leaps and relishes life. His right hip muscle remains a trace thinner than the left, and he occasionally rests the leg when standing for long periods, but there is no evidence of pain, no crying out, no carrying the limb. He’s now a loving, playful dog with a real future.

Thanks to a holistic approach, we triumphed over Legg-Calves Perthes. Every day, a happy, healthy Digger runs like greased lightning prove it.

Cutting edge treatments

More alternative treatments for Legg-Calves Perthes are on the horizon, says veterinarian Dr. Mark Newkirk. “In Pulsed Electro Magnetic Field Therapy, pulse waves stimulate blood vessel growth, align proper cellular healing, and decrease swelling and pain,” he explains.

“Another new therapy that should work is stem cell therapy. Stem cells are harvested from the fat of the animal. The fat samples are sent to a company in California that separates and concentrates the stem cells. The stem cells are sent back and injected into the animal’s joint.” Stem cell replacement for dogs currently addresses arthritis, but as Dr. Newkirk says, “In theory, it should work beautifully here.”


Tricia Spencer is a freelance writer and author of the award-winning book Tips, the Server’s Guide to Bringing Home the Bacon. She has received multiple short story fiction awards, writes on a variety of dog topics and is committed to animal well being. A lifelong passion for the rescue and natural rearing of animals has often led to a very full house for her and her husband.