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The use of orthoses and prostheses for injured animals are becoming increasingly common. Orthoses (braces) are any medical device attached to the body to support, align, position, immobilize, prevent or correct deformity, assist weak muscles or improve function. Prostheses are medical devices used to compensate for a missing or amputated leg segment. It is no longer necessary to amputate an entire leg when only the lower part is injured. A partial amputation (elective level sub-total amputation) is possible in many cases. Animals can do well on three legs but it is functional adaptation, which is not necessarily the highest quality of life. Getting around with the use of only three legs can attribute to limited mobility, limb breakdown and chronic neck or back pain are consequences of limb amputation.

Veterinarians now better understand that physical fitness in animals, like humans, is important. Optimal movement and mobility can significantly impact physical and mental health. Canine rehabilitation is now in the forefront of modern veterinary medicine with the advent of the American College of Veterinary Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation. The idea now that using mechanical appliances to improve mobility and functionality of impaired patients is no longer the authority of human medicine alone.  “We have found great success in implementing the same adaptive technologies used in the field of human orthotics and prosthetics to care for our animal patients,” according to experts.

The field of Veterinary Orthotics and Prosthestics (V-OP) has grown immensely over the past few years due to increased exposure in the media and the awareness amongst veterinarians and pet owners. There are over a dozen facilities (labs) around the world that currently fabricate, fit and distribute veterinary orthotic and prosthetic devices for farm animals and pets. Fit and function are critical to meeting the goal of getting the animal back on all 4’s.

V-OP is evolving into a new specialty. Veterinarians have a history of creating assistive devices from things they have on hand such as plywood, PVC, thermoplastics and more. The variety and sophistication of the devices have grown due to the understanding of the intricacies of quadruped mobility and biomechanics.

The uses for orthotic braces include: advanced age, when surgery is not an option for one reason or another, biltateral injuries, additional support after surgery or protection of a repair. A tear of the CCL (Cranial Cruciate Ligament) is the leading orthopedic injury in dogs. It is the canine equivalent of the ACL (Anterior Cruciate Ligament) in humans. The benefits of these braces for the pet are allowing the injured limb to relax, they reduce fatigue in the injured limb, provide some mechanical protection against impact, and they slow things down to allow muscles time to react and control. Custom-made orthopedic braces (orthosis) can be used to treat orthotic injuries such as stifle injuries with great success. But you must remember that appropriate rehabilitation therapy and medical management is also recommended.

Prostheses (artificial limbs) are used for congenital limb deformity and elective amputation. There are new treatment options available where there were none before. These options can improve quality of life, functional independence, and prevent premature decisions to euthanize. Having this option allows the pet to remain active and an active lifestyle curtails obesity and associated comorbities.

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Image Credit: dogsinmotion.com.au

There is a common misconception that orthoses are static, causing muscle atrophy, diminished joint range of motion and dependency on the device. This is not true. The devices actually promote muscle development, normalize range of motion and assist in balance and coordination. All of this is done by stabilizing an unstable limb segment. As mention previously, therapy for assistive device-specific rehabilitation is required. The patient will more likely return to the highest level of functioning faster with professional guided assistance.

How do you know if your pet is a good candidate for veterinary orthotics and prosthetics? A team approach is necessary, from the diagnosis to device orientation. The team is made up of the pet owner, family veterinarian, certified rehabilitation therapist and V-OP specialist skilled in custom design, fabrication and fitting of the devices for quadrupeds. A thorough V-OP evaluation is needed to provide a specific device prescription (at least 5 separate exams). Some patients for these devices include birds, horses, dogs, and dolphins that need repairs and replacement of limb function. Check out this website to see some of the interesting and amazing ways these animals are being helped.

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Image Credit: digitalworldz.co.uk

When pursing such treatments for you pets, choose a V-OP provider because they endure that each design is biomedically correct to achieve the results and outcomes that the referring veterinarian has prescribed in a safe and biomedically correct solution. The V-OP provider prescribes, designs, manufactures and dispenses custom orthosis or prosthesis. There must also be a licensed Doctor of Veterinary Medicine on staff to prescribe a custom orthosis or prosthesis. No other professional has credentials to prescribe custom orthosis, prosthesis or similar medical devices. Animals are biomedically different than humans so this is very important.

Examples of these devices include:

  • Hind Limb Prostheses
  • Fore Limb Prostheses
  • Hobble Vests
  • Stifle Knee
  • Tarsus (Hock) and Paw
  • Toe Up
  • Carpus (Wrist) and Paw
  • Elbow
  • Adaptive Devices

The materials used in these devices are of the same variety that is used in the human field of orthoses and prostheses. How do most pets react to these devices? Experts say that most animals adapt well to these devices. Very rarely do they chew the devices. If they do try to chew the device, it usually means that a modification or adjustment to improve the fit or function of the device is required. You may also wonder why have a custom device made when devices are available “off the shelf”? Well, just as is the case with anything you buy “off the shelf”, it is one size fits all. And sometimes that “all” may not be a good fit for you. With these devices, they may fit different from one pet to another. A custom device allows the manufacturer to create a perfect fit for each patient individually and can therefore address their injury more appropriately.

How much do these V-OP devices cost? The price is dependent upon the size of the patient, the exact diagnosis, the exact injury and therapeutic goals. If you think your pet may be a good candidate for one of these devices or for more information on this topic, contact your veterinarian or go to this link.