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Pet prosthetics: How two tech companies are transforming the lives of disabled animals

Pet prosthetics
(Image credit: Walking Pets)

Ten years ago, a puppy born lame would often be put down, while the same fate awaited dogs, cats and other animals with broken or fractured limbs. Today, pet prosthetics have saved the lives of millions of animals, giving them a new lease of life and restoring their mobility. And it’s not just dogs and cats which have benefited from some artificial assistance – the two companies we’re profiling have designed prosthetics for goats, hedgehogs, turkeys, cows, ducks and horses. According to prosthetics experts, it’s the recent developments relating to key design features which have allowed them to be used on such a wide range of creatures. “Innovations in both materials and design have helped prosthetics evolve dramatically in recent years,” says Dr W Frye, Assistant Clinical Professor (Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation) at Cornell University Hospital for Animals. “There are now more ways in which they meet the needs of our pets - from waterproof and buoyant prosthetics (designed for situations where a pet might lose a device while swimming) to newer fabrication methods such as 3D printing, for a better fit and faster fabrication.”

(Image credit: Walkin' Pets)

Two companies which have perfected the art of pet prosthetics design

Walkin’ Pets

New Hampshire-based Walkin' Pets was founded by Mark Robinson, a dog lover whose Keeshond was put to sleep after developing mild epilepsy. When a (human) friend who was diagnosed with the same condition was prescribed medication which allowed her to live a normal life, Mark was struck with a realisation: all too often, euthanasia is seen as the only option for dogs diagnosed with conditions which are treated with medication, therapy or mobility aids when the victim is a two-legged one, not a four-legged one.

His lightbulb moment occurred at a time when wheelchairs were occasionally used to help dogs with mobility issues, but were heavy, cumbersome contraptions which came with a high price tag and a big risk factor. Their designs were based on 13 measurements which needed to be taken by the pet’s owner, and if these weren’t accurate, the finished wheelchair would need to be sent back for additional, costly adjustments. Everything changed in 2005, when Mark joined forces with a team of engineers and pet rehabilitation experts to create the first adjustable wheelchair – an invention which has helped improve the lives of over one million pets. And Walkin’ Pets’ wide range of mobility aids, which includes back and hip supports, lifting harnesses and the first adjustable pet splint, aren’t just designed for dogs – cats, goats, pigs, ducks, racoons and cows have all been fitted for mobility aids, too. Walkin’ Pets’ employee Jennifer Pratt adds that there’s recently been a huge shift when it comes to the perception of animals with mobility issues. “It used to be very hard to find homes for paralysed animals, but people are actively searching for special needs animals,” says Jennifer. “Wheelchair dogs are even showing up on children's cartoon shows as regular characters!”

(Image credit: Walkin' Pets)

Petsthetics

Florida-based Petsthetics was founded by Peter DiPaolo, a doctor who specialised in prosthetics designed for children and adults with neuromuscular disabilities. In 2015 he designed and built a prosthetic leg for Rosie, a Great Dane puppy who had been brought to America after losing a limb in a bomb blast in Bosnia. The prosthetic limb was a success, and DiPaolo made the decision to dedicate his life to pet prosthetics instead. “Dogs have a humerus and a femur like humans do - it’s just that their bodies are a different size and shape,” points out the Fort Myers-based doctor. 

DiPaolo doesn’t just specialise in prosthetics, either – his company also designs custom-made braces for dogs for whom surgery isn’t an option, whether it’s due to age (elderly dogs are more likely to suffer complications under general anaesthetic) or the cost of the procedure. DiPaolo’s wide range of braces allows them to be used for everything from post-surgery rehabilitation to the protection of joints which have been weakened in some way. Petsthetics is also one of the few animal prosthetics companies to specialise in farm animals, and their most popular products include custom wheelchairs for goats and horses.

Pet Tech Week on PetsRadar
Pet Tech Week is brought to you by PetsRadar.com. Throughout this week we'll be showcasing the new tech that will make your pets happier and healthier. Whether you want a smart cat flap, a canine camera or the best vacuum cleaner for pet hair, we've got you covered.