Three months ago, Loca was just a playful little puppy, like any other. That all changed when she was viciously attacked by another dog whose bite caused extensive damage to her skull, fracturing her cheek (zygomatic arch) and jaw bones as well as damaging her temporomandibular joint (TMJ) and causing a small fracture in one of her vertebrae. In addition, the bite resulted in multiple puncture wounds over the surface of her face and damaged the underlying tissue and muscle structure. Luckily for the four-month-old puppy, she was able to receive care at the William R. Pritchard Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital at the University of California, Davis, which is part of the #1 world ranked School of Veterinary Medicine.

Knowing that the surgery would be a difficult one, faculty members Drs. Frank Verstraete and Boaz Arzi along with resident Dr. Colleen Geisbush nevertheless felt her chances for recovery were good. In Loca’s favor was her youth, which meant that the damage to the TMJ area would likely heal as a natural result of the continued bone growth a puppy her age undergoes. The second factor working in her favor was a canine face mask that had been developed in conjunction with students in biomedical engineering. The mask, which was 3D printed to align perfectly with the contours of the pooch’s face, would act as a support structure as the bones healed

The face mask acts much like a regular cast, designed to keep bones in place while they heal. This device was the result of what has been an ongoing collaboration between the the vet school’s Dentistry and Oral Surgery Service (DOSS) and the faculty and students at UC Davis College of Engineering (COE). The vet school has, in the past, worked with the COE to produce models of patients’ skulls as part of preparation for complex surgical interventions. This was, however, the first time they have collaborated to create a mask such as this one, which they named the K9 Exoskeleton.

The surgery itself was an involved process, beginning with what is known as a “salvage surgery” in which the bone fragments are first removed from the patient. While Loca recovered from that initial surgery, the exoskeletal mask was created and was delivered first thing the following morning. She was hospitalized for three days following her surgery and then, for the following month was restricted to soft food, and not allowed to play with toys or chew on bones or anything else that could impinge upon the healing process.

After showing positive recovery signs at the first month check up, the face mask was removed and she began to eat hard kibble as a necessary part of exercising her jaw to prevent it from becoming fused to her skull. Her three month checkup returned very positive results and her recovery is a model for the benefits that the 3D printed face mask provided.

Loca can now get back to the business of being a happy, healthy puppy, unaware of her pioneering role in veterinary medicine.

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[Source/Video: UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine]

 

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