More vets turn to prosthetics to help legless pets

June 17th, 2014

Just like humans, pets can also suffer from missing limbs due to infection, accidents or deformity. With advancing technology and pet owners embracing their pets as family, more and more are turning to artificial limbs to help their beloved pets lead pain-free, mobile and active lives. Prosthetics, orthotics and wheelchairs are just a few of the mechanisms that veterinarians utilize to help improve these animals’ lives.

Veterinarians are utilizing technology that was originally developed for returning wounded soldiers from war to develop the same aids for animals. Costs range from $150 to $2000 or more, according to Mr. Martin Kaufmann, co-owner of Veterinary Orthotics and Prosthetics (OrthoPets) in Denver.  For some pet owners, the high cost and time commitment required to use these are immaterial, as they believe their pets deserve the same quality of life as any family member.

According to Dr. Bonnie Beaver, a professor at Texas A&M University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, and executive director of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists, the percentage of pet owners using artificial limbs will never be huge due to the cost, time and maintenance involved, but rising demand does exist because some pet owners just “want to.”

There are lots of success stories of disabled dogs outfitted with artificial limbs that are truly inspiring. Take for example Amanda Giese and Mr. Gary Walters, co-founders of Panda Paws Rescue for special needs and hospice dogs in Vancouver, Washington. In the past year or so they have found homes for thousands of dogs, and out of those ten were two-legged, and nine used wheelchairs.  One of their pups, Duncan, is a mixed-breed puppy, whose limbs were frostbitten and then outfitted with prosthetics and is carried around, to ease the pressure on his two front legs.  With his new legs, Duncan is a more social and happier dog.  Duncan’s story went viral, resulting in huge donations and a Facebook following for the Panda Paws Rescue.

Other disabled dogs serve as role models for kids, as is the case of a Labrador-golden retriever named Pirelli whose back paw never developed. He was outfitted with a prosthetic limb, which allowed him to run around and use his paw to eat. He has visited 80 schools, teaching kids that there’s nothing wrong with physically looking different.

The increase in the number of rescues and prosthetics in dogs with two missing limbs could be due to more animals being born with the condition, or simply that more are being turned over to animal shelters. Whatever the reason, more disabled dogs and cats are able to lead better quality lives due to the increased use of artificial mechanisms.

For more information please view “My Bionic Pet” which originally aired 04/09/2014 on the PBS show Nature.