For animals with missing limbs, the future used to be pretty bleak, particularly for strays and shelter animals. It’s heartbreaking to think about, but many shelters don’t have the resources to care for an animal with special needs who is unlikely to be adopted. However, thanks to 3D printing and other new technology, these cats and dogs have as much reason to hope as do human amputees. Recently, we wrote about Tumbles, a puppy who was born without front legs but, thanks to some caring humans and a 3D printer, now has a wheelchair to help him zoom around.
Vincent the cat was in a similar predicament when he was brought to the Story County Animal Shelter in Nevada, Iowa. The tiny kitten had been found at a local campground and was brought to the shelter with severely deformed hind legs; in fact, his legs were missing below the tibias, or shinbones. A shelter worker named Cindy Jones took pity on him and brought him home in hopes that something could be done to help him. Jones’ daughter, Emily, a veterinary student at Iowa State University, thought that one of her professors might be able to help, so she put her mother in touch with Dr. Mary Sarah Bergh, who teaches orthopedic surgery in the school’s Department of Veterinary Clinical Sciences.
Dr. Bergh was unable to determine exactly what had happened to Vincent’s hind legs, but she wanted to help, so she worked with veterinary prosthetic company BioMedtrix to create customized prosthetic implants. BioMedtrix used 3D models to create Vincent’s new legs–which they donated, saving the cat’s family thousands. Unlike most prosthetics, which are attached externally, Vincent’s titanium-alloy legs, which look like the bottoms of crutches, were inserted directly into his femur bones in a surgery that took place in February 2014. This design allows for his leg bones to grow directly onto the implants to support his weight. Because the implants go through his skin, there is a risk for infection, but Jones dutifully sprays his legs with antibiotics twice a day to minimize the risk.
So far, Vincent, who is now 3 years old, is doing great. On a recent visit to the Lloyd Veterinary Medical Center at ISU, he strode across the waiting room more confidently than most cats at the vet. He can easily walk, run, and pivot, but he can’t yet jump, although that should happen soon, according to Dr. Bergh. Forthcoming treatments will lengthen his legs, so while they’re rather stubby right now, they’ll soon be the same length as his front legs.
Dr. Bergh estimates that there are less than 25 animals in the world who have undergone a procedure like Vincent’s, but the success of his surgery gives her a lot of hope for other animals like him.
“I think this does open the door for us to be able to help other animals that have similar problems,” she said. “And even what we’ve learned just through Vincent’s one case, we’ve actually refined the technique and the implants, so the next cases we do moving forward will be even more successful.”
For animals to have the best chance, caring humans are sometimes their only hope. Thanks to high-tech solutions like prosthetics, many animals are receiving shots at better lives. In Vincent’s case, his titanium legs, created via 3D modeling, have been helping him around–other animals favor 3D printed prosthetics, 3D printed wheelchairs or carts, or other similarly high-tech answers to help their mobility. This story touched our hearts here, as we’re regularly on the lookout for stories where technology assists our furry friends.
You can watch Vincent and his new legs below:[Photos: Christopher Gannon/Iowa State University]