If your dog, cat or other animal companion has to lose a leg, you’ve probably considered an animal prosthetic device.
After all, everyone wants their animal to have a great quality of life, and if humans can have a better one with an artificial limb, then it makes sense that animals can too, right?
Since our founding in 2006, Tripawds members have consistently asked questions about prosthetic devices. Most of us have wondered:
- What are some of the pros and cons of prosthetics for pets?
- Is my pet a prosthetic candidate?
- How do you train an animal to use a prosthetic?
- What do prosthetics cost?
A few Tripawds members have tried prosthetic limbs and their experiences are as varied as each individual Tripawd’s journey. Our Discussion Forums regularly have questions about prosthetics, which is why we were thrilled when we had the opportunity to meet Martin Kaufmann, ABC CPED, owner and co-founder of OrthoPets, the only certified Veterinary Orthotics and Prosthetics (V-OP) Veterinary Clinic in the entire world that just works on animals.
Kaufmann and his wife, Amy (pictured here) started OrthoPets in 2007 and have been worldwide leaders in animal prosthetics ever since.
Get the Facts About Prosthetics for Animals
We recently met with Kaufmann at Colorado State University’s Veterinary Teaching Hospital for an educational discussion to get the facts about prosthetics for animals.
We learned about about how prosthetics are designed, when and how they can benefit three-legged animals. We’re happy to share this enlightening conversation with you in the following two part series.
In this first video interview, Kaufmann discusses:
- Who’s a good candidate for a dog or cat prosthetic
- Which dogs and cats with limb deformities can use prosthetics
- How quickly pets adapt after getting a prosthetic
- What kind of commitment is required to train a pet with a prosthetic
Tripawds Can Be Awesome
As a certified prosthetic designer, Kaufmann agrees that Tripawds can get along well without a prosthetic. “I think a three-legged dog absolutely can do fine,” he reassures us. But he adds:
“I don’t settle for fine though. I think fine is good, but I think great is awesome.”
With proper evaluation by a unified team consisting of a veterinarian, a rehabilitation therapist, a prosthetician and a pet parent who’s willing to make a long-term commitment to rehabilitation therapy, a device from OrthoPets can improve a Tripawd’s quality of life by taking stress off the remaining limbs and decreasing the chances of long-term injuries caused by the modified stance and gait that all Tripawds develop over time.
Evaluating the Potential for Injury
Rehabilitation therapists have told us before: all Tripawds have a greater potential for developing chronic aches, pains and injuries than their four-legged counterparts. However some breeds are at greater risk than others, which Kaufmann reiterated to us.
“Breeds really play a large part in what could go on” he says. The extent of a potential or actual injury depends on the natural stance of that breed. For example, a German Shepherd dog has a completely different stance than a Bulldog – with or without a missing leg.
Once a leg is removed, each breed has a different way of compensating for that missing limb. Some compensate more than others but no matter what kind of dog is affected, over time a Tripawd will experience more pronounced physical issues.
When it comes to comparing the potential for injury between front and rear leg Tripawds, Kaufmann says that front-leg Tripawds are generally at a greater risk of orthopedic issues. That’s because dogs naturally bear 60 percent of their weight on their two front limbs: when they lose a front limb, the remaining one is left to perform the majority of the work.
On front-leg Tripawds, this work is performed by the carpus (the dog’s “wrist”). As a front-leg Tripawd ages, bearing the extra weight can lead to carpus joint problems.
“The carpus in the canine is such a mobile joint, and it has so much potential for injury,” he explains. “The soft connective tissues – the ligaments, the joint capsules, those types of structures – are built to do a job with a certain load in a certain orientation. You start placing legs in an inappropriate alignment, add more force, and . . . now we’re going to experience long term trauma.”
“It’s hard to be objective about what that really means but there’s a price to pay,” says Kaufmann. Although no verifiable data currently shows which breeds will pay what specific price for being a Tripawd, “we know that there is an effect,” he explains.
As for rear-legged Tripawds, they have it a little easier because less load-bearing occurs on the remaining rear limb. Still, they too will likely encounter their own unique challenges, such as putting extra stress on an already-compromised cruciate ligament. And while OrthoPets devices can help rear-limb amputees in many situations, Kaufmann explains that
“We really put a higher value on being awesome when missing a front leg, because that’s more challenging and far more complicated.”
In our second video interview with OrthoPets, you’ll learn more about prosthetic limbs for dogs and other animals such as:
- How orthotic braces can help front and rear Tripawds
- Which breeds are most affected by the loss of a limb
- When a brace is most beneficial
- Determining which brace is best for your Tripawd
- How to mitigate the effects of life as a dog or cat amputee
Please give a big three paws up to Martin Kaufmann and the good people of OrthoPets for helping to improve quality of life for all dogs, cats and other amputee animals.
If you think your Tripawd might benefit from an OrthoPets prosthetic, visit the OrthoPets website for details.