Prosthetics are commonly seen in people, but uncommon in pets. Now, veterinary surgeons, engineers and prosthetic specialists are teaming up to look at new ways of giving our pets the support they need!
Three legged dogs and cats are not an unusual sight in veterinary clinics. Whether the loss of the limb is due to severe trauma, cancer or even a hereditary defect, many pets live out their lives on three legs. But, on-going research in the field of prosthetics may allow these pets to function like their four-legged friends and just might benefit humans as well!
Dogs and cats appear to move almost normally with three legs and amputation is often done in severely traumatic injuries or with certain cancers. But, new insights into how our pets manage pain and disabilities may soon change pet owner perceptions.
Dr. Kim Danoff, a veterinarian certified in canine rehabilitation says that “a three legged gait can take a toll on other limbs and the spine due to abnormal posture.” Young pets could experience even bigger problems. “Living longer with 3 limbs makes these animals more prone to disc problems and possibly severe cases of arthritis”, Danoff adds. Additionally, pets with concurrent problems, such as hip dysplasia and cancer, could do worse after amputation.
But, help appears to be on the way. Martin Kaufmann of Orthopets (www.orthopets.com) is working with veterinary surgeons to utilize titanium implants in the pet’s leg bone as an attachment for prostheses.
Most prosthetic devices are known as “socket prosthetics”, that is, the stump of the limb is placed inside the prosthetic and everything is held up with straps and other attachments. Owners often find these cumbersome and pets are likely to chew on the apparatus. For human amputees, small variations in their body weight can change the balance and fit of the device.
New technology, known as an integrated prosthetics, may open up more possibilities for how prosthetics are used in humans. By using the implants, Kaufman says that these devices appear “to allow the patient a greater sensation of the ground.”
Kaufman also says that one day the use of integrated prosthetics will allow amputees to change their prosthetic foot as easy as someone can change their shoes. These functional prosthetics will allow amputees, or pet owners, to change their device as weather or environment demand.
Many animals benefit from the work at Orthopets. In his workshop in Colorado, Kaufman has developed orthotic braces and prosthetic devices for llamas, orangutans, and even sheep.
One of his famous cases involves Kandu, a small terrier mix born without front legs. Occasionally, this rare birth defect shows up in dogs and many have been euthanized because of this handicap. Although Kandu was very capable of moving himself with just his back legs, his owners worried about damage to his chest. Kaufman used his expertise to design a rolling ball to ease Kandu’s movements, a padded vest to stop rug burn, and a ski to use during the snowy Colorado winters!
Although all of this is great news, there are still some obstacles to overcome. A big concern with the new integrated prosthetics is how the skin of the pet will mesh with the titanium of the implant. Additionally, providing the needed education to pet owners and veterinarians will likely take time. Both integrated and socket prosthetics require that enough limb is left after amputation to control the device. Finally, many pet owners may be concerned with how much a prosthetic might cost in relation to simply removing the leg.
Kaufmann says that his prosthetics will generally start at $600 for the device and can run as high as $1800. The higher priced equipment is known as a “dynamic foot” and is similar to the devices worn by the Olympic hopeful, Oscar Pistorius, a double amputee who is known as the “Blade Man”.
These prices are for the prosthetics only and don’t include surgeries, implants, rehabilitation and therapy, or any follow up visits with the veterinarian.
The good news, though, is that options are available for pets whenever serious disease or trauma threatens one or more of their four legs. If you are faced with an unfortunate circumstance where you and your veterinarian need to contemplate removing a pet’s leg, ask how the surgery will affect your pet and whether prosthetics is an option. To see some heartwarming stories how prosthetics are helping pets.
Debra Garrison, DVM