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getting a leg up: orthotics and prosthetics for pets

  • Dr. Kim
  • Posted by Dr. Kim Smyth on
    Staff Veterinarian and Pet Health Writer of Petplan


There are countless heartwarming (and tear jerking) stories of wildlife being helped by the use of prosthetics. I’m thinking of the bottlenose dolphin, Winter, who inspired the movie “Dolphin Tale” when she was fitted with a prosthetic tail. Or more recently, the alligator named Mr. Stubbs, who also received a prosthetic tail.

From prosthetic tails to prosthetic bird beaks and turtle legs, the world of prosthetics offers help to some lucky wildlife. It stands to reason, then, that our four-legged family members might also benefit from the use of orthotics and prosthetics.


What are orthotics?

Orthotics are orthopedic braces used to control and guide joints and limbs and generally assist in movement. They can be used in cases of nerve injury, cruciate ligament rupture, luxating patellas, and tendon injuries. Generally, orthotics are used in cases where for some reason surgery is not an option. Orthotics can also be used to assist in movement in pre-surgical and post-surgical patients.


What are prosthetics? 

Prosthetics are devices that replace a missing body part. Dogs and cats commonly lose limbs due to injury (like frostbite or trauma), illness (such as cancer), or are sometimes born without parts of limbs due to birth defects. Prior to the use of canine and feline prosthetics, owners were left to make difficult decisions regarding amputation and the future of their pet’s quality of life.

The field of canine and feline prosthetics is growing and advancing every day. Where before, limbs that were damaged beyond repair were amputated, today’s modern prosthetics can implant directly into bone, allowing veterinary surgeons to remove only the diseased portion of the limb rather than the entire limb. Whether they implant into bone or strap onto a stump, prosthetics allow our pets to continue the use of all four limbs.

There are already numerous stories of feline and canine companions who have benefitted from the use of prosthetics, including Nakio, a mixed-breed dog who has been called the “bionic dog” ever since he recently became the first canine to receive four prosthetic limbs to replace the ones he lost due to frostbite.

Fear not, cat lovers--there are stories out there for you, too. In fact, Oscar, a cat who lost both back feet in a farming accident, was lucky enough to get two prosthetic limbs from one of the pioneers of veterinary prosthetics, Dr. Noel Fitzpatrick.

As you might guess, veterinary prosthetics are neither cheap, nor are they easy to obtain. Because our animal friends can’t help us by telling us if a prosthetic feels right or is chafing, particular care needs to be taken that the prosthetic fitting is done right.  Specific measurements, fiberglass impressions, and numerous rechecks will be needed to make sure the prosthetic is working correctly. And in the case of bone implants, trips to the veterinary surgeon and hospital stays will need to be factored in, too. Thankfully, Petplan pet insurance can help with the costs of getting your pet and your budget back on their feet. 

As the field of veterinary prosthetics expands and advances, the cost will likely decrease. The decision to amputate a limb is a heart wrenching one to make. In some cases, it is a necessity, and our pets can do very well on three legs. But if part of the limb can be spared, consider the use of a prosthetic – your pet can join the growing number of super bionic cats and dogs!

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Chris AshtonCo-Founder and Co-CEO of Petplan Pet Insurance
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