Many people assume that their new cat or dog amputee needs a Tripawd prosthetic. But don’t buy or try to make one yet. First, listen to what the world’s leading expert on pet prosthetics has to say about that topic.
OrthoPets Martin Kaufmann Talks All Things Tripawds & Prosthetics
Martin Kaufmann is a Tripawds community hero! He founded OrthoPets in 2004 with a simple mission to improve mobility for animals. Since then, he and the OrthoPets team of Veterinary Orthotics & Prosthetics (V-OP) providers have advanced veterinary orthotics and prosthetic to a whole new level! For nearly 20 years, OrthoPets has helped over 30,000 animals around the world to help them regain mobility with custom, biomechanically correct orthotics (braces) and prosthetics (artificial limbs).
What You Will Learn About Prosthetics for Tripawds
In this two-part video, podcast, and transcribed episode of Tripawd Talk Radio, you will learn all about the latest news in prosthetics for Tripawds. bipawds, and other animals. Watch the first video interview with Martin and his happy customer Boris, such as:
- There’s Nothing “Wrong” with a Three-Legged Dog
- DIY Tripawds Prosthetics are Not the Answer
- The Tripawd Parent’s Role in Prosthetics
- Is Your Tripawd a Prosthetic Candidate?
- Quality of Life for Tripawds Prosthetics Users
- and more!
Watch the #1 Pet Prosthetics Expert, Martin Kaufmann, Founder of OrthoPets
Learn on the go in a Tripawd Talk podcast
This Tripawd Talk episode about artificial legs for dogs and cats is also available for download too:
Read the Full Tripawds Prosthetics Transcript Below
Transcript: Tripawd Prosthetics for Pets with Orthopets Founder Martin Kauffman
- [0:03:48] Why There’s Nothing “Wrong” with a Three-Legged Dog
- [0:04:50] How OrthoPets is Training Future and Current Veterinarians
- [0:06:52] Tools OrthoPets to Make Pet Prosthetics and Orthotics
- [0:08:44] Why DIY Tripawds Prosthetics are Not the Answer
- [0:10:34] Example of a DIY Pet Prosthetic Gone Wrong
- [0:11:18] The Right Materials Decrease Pressure Sores and Other Pet Prosthetic Problems
- [0:13:04] What is the Tripawd Parent’s Role in Prosthetics?
- [0:13:50] Is Your Cat or Dog a Pet Prosthetic Candidate?
- [0:14:45] How Much Leg Does a Pet Prosthetic Need to Function?
- [0:15:36] When is a Tripawd Better Off Without a Prosthetic?
- [0:17:42] What About Prosthetics for Full Limb Amputation Dogs and Cats?
- [0:19:33] How Human Prosthetics Influence Pet Prosthetics
- [0:20:17] What If Your Tripawd is NOT a Prosthetic Candidate?
- [0:21:48] Why Off-the-Shelf Dog Brace Products Don’t Always Work
- [0:22:52] When and How to Support Tripawd Legs
- [0:25:05] Do Tripawd Prosthetics Users Need Other Leg Support Braces?
- [0:26:09] Can Cats Wear Prosthetics?
- [0:27:20] The Pet Prosthetics Quality of Life Survey
- [0:29:48] How to Find Out More About Pet Prosthetics for Tripawds
[0:01:44] TRIPAWDS: Martin, can you just give us a brief overview of OrthoPets? What makes OrthoPets stand out from others.
[0:02:15] Martin Kaufmann: We are just a collection of people here in the United States in Denver, Colorado and Helsinki, Finland actually. We are a collection of people who have a common mission and that is to bring all of our knowledge and skill in engineering and healthcare from human and veterinary sciences to improve the quality of life for our animal friends and then by extension, the pet parents. And that’s the common mission.
But what really is near and dear to our hearts is how we mix technology with just the practical everyday these things have to be really helpful and functional for our pet parents and our pets to use. So it’s that common purpose that drives us.
And we can talk about all the fun technology and 3D things and all the gadgets and gizmos but really, the essence is the collection of us with that common drive.
[0:03:25] TRIPAWDS: You said something really enlightening to me back then and that was that Tripawds are awesome but they can be more awesome with the use of prosthetic and orthotic devices. And another thing you said was “Save the flipper.” So, those animals that are born with limb differences, why go ahead and amputate it all? Let’s go ahead and use what they have and adapt it and make them better.
Why There’s Nothing “Wrong” with a Three-Legged Dog
[0:03:48] Martin Kaufmann: Yeah. There are so many tones to that statement but I would just simply affirm what you said. There’s no fault in a three-legged dog. They can get around and they can do awesome things. But what we do know now from research is that there is even more awesome possibilities when you have some version of three and a half legs and a prosthetic.
[0:04:10] TRIPAWDS: I like that, three and a half legs. It’s so true because since we last talked to you, we have raised a Tripawd from 8 months to 12 years and what we saw over the course of those 12 years was how much being on three legs affected him and we knew that had he had the opportunity to have a prosthetic, it would have made all the difference in his quality of life.
[0:04:36] TRIPAWDS: So Rene is talking about Wyatt who at 8 months old had a lower rear limb injury that could have been – they could have saved that knee. There could have been a lot of residual limb there. However, they took the whole leg.
How OrthoPets is Training Future and Current Veterinarians
[0:04:50] Martin Kaufmann: Yeah. And just to that point and the essence that we have as a company is we manufacture it and absolutely, that’s the core of what we do. But we also educate and we train. And part of the new things that we’ve been doing since we spoke last 9 years ago, developing curriculum wherein the textbooks, wherein the university level where we are talking about limb preservation and for a purpose and why would you even think about doing that.
And one interesting little side piece here about what we are up to now, our mission now is to reduce the bandages that a tourniquet can cause these really bad outcomes like limb amputation. We want to reduce that to zero. We want to reduce the complications associated to cast and bandages that end up with amputation, and that’s a really new core focus for us.
[0:05:51] TRIPAWDS: Well, thank you so much about the education because that’s what we are all about, helping people understand because too many times people come to tripawds after a full amputation and their first question is, can I get a prosthetic for my dog? So let’s get on with that discussion.
How OrthoPets Makes Pet Prosthetics and Orthotics
[0:06:05] TRIPAWDS: Can you tell us about what has changed (in the industry) since we last talked?
[0:06:52] Martin Kaufmann: Yeah. So there are basically two things for us to discuss. One is about how do we shape and make the models that we are going to be using? So that’s now all in the digital space. So we are using scanners to acquire the limb shape.
We are using computer programs that are like a CAD program that we are sculpting the shape of these legs and we are making corrections to the alignment of these legs. But we are doing that with the ability to predict pressure and forces.
So we are already taking away some of the challenges that are inherent in wearing devices that are outside the body because we can predict more of that than we could in the past. And we get to do that faster, so that helps reduce the time where our pets have to be without. And that could be prosthetics or orthotics.
So those digital things, the tools that we have available now make it easier for everybody when they are working through these really complex cases. And then beyond that, now we are moving into the material sciences. How do we equip our veterinarians to have things on site that are so much easier for them in the casting and splinting world. So that we can again focus directly on those problems associated to that topic where you’re getting into a cast.
We would like to see that our currently 18% of our prosthetics are because of cast problems. It’s usually vascular. It’s the tourniquet. So like you said, I don’t like when people have to join your group because of the lost leg. I’d like to see 18% less prosthetics in my group because we don’t have those problems.
Why DIY Tripawds Prosthetics are Not the Answer
[0:08:44] TRIPAWDS: OrthoPets works directly with veterinarians, not directly with the customer. Why is it important to visit your veterinarian or a board-certified surgeon and work with OrthoPets or someone who makes a custom device?
[0:09:18] Martin Kaufmann: Well, I think there are a lot of layers to this but first and foremost, it’s respect for our patient. Someone is entrusting us to care for their patient who knows some of the barriers and problems that you are about to face so you don’t go into it blind.
So out of respect for the outcome where the mission is to improve quality of life, then it makes sense that the team that’s supporting you is bringing their knowledge and expertise so you don’t end up causing a whole new set of problems. And I think that really becomes the foundation.
I love DIY and I do it myself. But the clinical expertise, we’ve been doing this now almost 20 years and we’ve treated over 30,000 animal friends.
[0:10:07] Martin Kaufmann: Of all species, not just dogs. But the point is, we’ve already been there and we’ve done that and we’ve already researched it. So the most important thing would be to say, respect for the outcome so when you come in with a question or a case, you can get a direct answer so everybody’s decision-making process is more clear and more objective.
Example of a DIY Pet Prosthetic Gone Wrong
[0:10:34] Martin Kaufmann: Let’s use a really simple one. We are talking Tripawds but missing both front legs, great terrible example here that just tugs on a heartstring, making little wheelchairs for small dogs without front legs.
I have seen these things online where there are two little wheels out in front and we’ve been contacted because dogs have been using these things. A tip forward and they break their neck! And now, we are making neck braces or paraplegic style devices.
So it’s these kinds of things where you don’t know the problems that you’re setting up the patient for, just because you don’t have the expertise and the training and the education to know that you’re causing a significant problem.
The Right Materials Decrease Pressure Sores and Other Pet Prosthetic Problems
[0:11:18] TRIPAWDS: Pets can’t tell us when their prosthetic is rubbing in the wrong place or when it hurts. Has it always been just kind of a waiting game to see where a pressure sore developed?
[0:11:55] Martin Kaufmann: Well, like our friend here who is on our discussion today, the materials that we use on the inside are very similar to the materials we use for our human diabetic patients. So I agree, humans can vocalize and they can tell us when a problem is occurring because they feel it. But our diabetic friends can’t. They can’t feel because of their peripheral neuropathy, their nerve loss. So we use specialized materials that create a discoloration that tell you, look here, there may be a problem. Now, I can look there and look at my own leg to see if there is a problem developing.
[0:12:36] Martin Kaufmann: So what we are really saying is we want to empower pet parents and veterinarians to be able to use their simple assessment of “there’s something discolored here on my foam padding.” And look to that area on the leg to see if there actually is a complication. No different than your long second toe in your sandals and you look down at your flip flop and you wonder, am I getting a blister right there, because I can see the pressure?
What is the Tripawd Parent’s Role in Prosthetics?
[0:13:04] TRIPAWDS: The pet parent has to be able to decipher where the issues might be developing?
[0:13:21] Martin Kaufmann: Yeah, because being a pet parent and being – what I love about prosthetics and orthotics is that we are empowering pet parents to be the first line of healthcare. They are the ones who are putting this on. It’s not like the surgeon, one surgery and I’ll see you in 8 weeks. Just like our friends here today. Someone is applying the prosthetic every single day. They are the first line. They are 90% – they are 95% of the outcome.
Is Your Cat or Dog a Pet Prosthetic Candidate?
[0:13:50] TRIPAWDS: Has the ideal Tripawds prosthetic candidate changed now that the materials are new and more advanced?
[0:14:03] Martin Kaufmann: Right. So this is still back to – well, as I like to joke in my office, it’s thermal dynamics and it’s lever arms. So I don’t have a lot of shifting and gravitational forces here on this planet. I know Elon Musk is going to Mars so maybe it’s going to be different there.
What I’m getting at is there is this ratio that we work with. How much limb is present? That’s a length of lever arm that can control something underneath it. So if we look at this length in the segments of the anatomical retained limb compared to how much length is underneath. And that’s the prosthetic.
How Much Remaining Leg Does a Pet Prosthetic Need to Function?
[0:14:45] Martin Kaufmann: And near and dear to our hearts and for this discussion, the shorter these legs are electively amputated and that’s what we are talking about, rather than osteosarcoma and the whole leg does need to come off.
But when we have an elective approach, when we can decide how much of the functional leg is being removed, those have not changed. These lengths of mid forearm and then mid – well, call it the shin. If you’re familiar with that when you kick the back of a trailer hitch, you know with your shin, but that mid tibia, mid radius, so that 40-50% retaining of that limb’s segment still is about the top end where you can have a functional prosthetic.
When is a Tripawd Better Off Without a Prosthetic?
[0:15:36] Martin Kaufmann: Let’s go back to technology and what we see as industry leaders. We see a lot of pictures online of these like front leg amputees and there’s a body vest and there’s this big peg bolted to with a little rounded bottom. It looks really good on a picture but if you ever see a patient attempting to lay down daily life and then get back up, we end up seeing that it actually made life harder and it took away the freedom of that patient. So we are into these problems here of what are we trying to accomplish and can we?
[0:16:15] TRIPAWDS: This brings up the importance of consulting about prosthetics. If you have the luxury of doing so before surgery, and getting as much residual limb as possible.
[0:16:36] Martin Kaufmann: Yeah. We’ve got our educational components that Dr. Felix Duerr and I, he is an orthopaedic surgeon. If you are familiar with Dr. Duerr, he and I have created content for surgeons on technique and considerations. But as you’ve just said, the contraindication, when not to talk about it, the way I’d like to phrase it is, I prefer not to put a handcuff an imprison one of our patients because of a prosthesis that is not functional. I would not want to do that to myself or to any pet that I have the honor and to give the respect to get motion too.
[0:17:14] TRIPAWDS: And so, what you’re saying is like for a full limb amputee, that dog’s, legs gone up to the scapula, so you’re saying that they are better off without one if that’s the only thing that’s out right now.
[0:17:28] Martin Kaufmann: Correct, yeah. And then we look to the other legs and how do we support in a supports brace model, how do we support the abnormal forces that now are being directed to a leg that was never built to handle it?
What About Prosthetics for Full Limb Amputation Dogs and Cats?
[0:17:42] TRIPAWDS: So is there no hope or is there any sort of studies or plans or thoughts or designs and development for the full limb amputee whether front or rear? There’s talk of putting a wheel on the rear leg and I presume they have to have some kind of shock absorber. These things are really more braces if you’re standing still but in motion, so is there anything potential in the pipeline?
[0:18:06] Martin Kaufmann: Absolutely. Now, this is actually a fun fact. Over 6 years ago, so Colorado State University Biomedical and Engineering and Electrical Engineering Departments collectively, we all started an initiative and it started with the paralyzed back leg patient. We were developing sensors in motorized axel frame skeletons that walk the dog because of what the dog is thinking and doing. So we are developing an algorithm right now of what back legs and front legs are doing in space based on what the dog wants to do.
[0:18:44] Martin Kaufmann: What that means for us in this Tripawd community is that we are developing a body of evidence that says, can we make a smart prosthetic that attaches to the body that has all of these joints that now move through – we could call it robotics mechanized prosthetics where the whole leg is moving just because of what we are thinking and what the rest of the body is doing. So it’s on the horizon and we don’t have a timeframe on it but we are 6 years in and we are making good progress.
How Human Prosthetics Influence Pet Prosthetics
[0:19:33] TRIPAWDS: I a lot of this technology coming over from the human side?
[0:19:38] Martin Kaufmann: It’s both. What’s interesting for us is because of the honesty and the drive of our animal patients and their willingness to just go for it every single day and not ever stop. We are also seeing that we can get a lot of research done in a meaningful way from our animal friends to bring it back to our human friends. And it’s not to say that us, humans, don’t have the drive and motivation. I’m not saying that. But if you’ve ever seen a pet doing the thing they do every single day, maybe we have a higher bar to hold ourselves to.
What If Your Tripawd is NOT a Prosthetic Candidate?
[0:20:17] TRIPAWDS: What can be done early on in an animal’s life when a prosthetic isn’t an option?
[0:20:56] Martin Kaufmann: Yeah. So the focus that we have is preserving normal motion. And what we are really saying there is with sports bracing for the tarsus, carpus, and stifle is to have a support system that’s used for a higher levels of activity that has hinging and motion but it’s really there to absorb the abnormal forces that are presented to these single remaining limbs that are always positioned in areas and alignments that they were never designed to be in. So, let the device handles the consequences of that and allow the normal forces to persist. So you’re like a barrier. You’re like guardrails on a road. We are there so the abnormal doesn’t happen and then those catastrophes don’t occur. The normal can persist.
Why Off-the-Shelf Store Bought Dog Brace Products Don’t Always Work
[0:21:48] TRIPAWDS: Why is it important to not just go buy a medium brace for my medium-sized dog?
[0:22:07] Martin Kaufmann: Because there was a very specific presentation that your pet, your individual pet did. As we know, Tripawds, they will position their front legs in all kinds of different alignments based on their preference and their breed. So the medium doesn’t handle your pet’s problem in a way that means anything for you in the long term.
[0:22:29] TRIPAWDS: Every dog is different. All Tripawds are different. And this is why we encourage listeners to go see a certified practitioner who can do a proper evaluation and the Tripawds Rehab Fund will pay for that first visit. So you can learn more at Tripawds.org.
When and How to Support Tripawd Legs
[0:22:52] TRIPAWDS: For these orthotics, is this something that can be done early on in an animal’s life or should we wait until we see a problem?
[0:23:07] Martin Kaufmann: Yeah. So like good running shoes, you don’t wait until you have your plantar fasciitis or your Morton’s neuroma. So we are thinking about support braces so it’s not done all the time. But when we are going to go run and play ball, it’s absolutely on. We want to not accumulate the problems until it has the tipping point. We prefer that there was no accumulation at all.
[0:23:33] TRIPAWDS: We get a lot of members coming to us because their dog has blown out a cruciate. Can these devices prevent that kind of thing from happening?
[0:24:01] Martin Kaufmann: Right. So prevention versus stabilization as it has occurred, and what I’m really teasing out here, the veterinary community is coming up some pretty good research that’s questioning if the cruciate injury specifically has some kind of a disease component to it where it’s just a progressive thing that is occurring where it’s a little bit less like the football player incurring the injury because they got hit by the linebacker, where it becomes this other disease factor where it’s on the horizon and it’s just a question of when.
So when we are using stifle braces for our Tripawd friends, we think of it as prophylactic. We would really hope that it doesn’t occur but we also know that we might not be able to prevent the biological process inside from occurring. But if it does, we are still there to stabilize.
Do Tripawd Prosthetics Users Need Other Leg Support Braces?
[0:25:05] TRIPAWDS: For a dog like Boris who has a rear limb prosthetic, would the other leg need a stifle brace?
[0:25:17] Martin Kaufmann: So that’s a fantastic question. In Boris’s case here, just as a side comment, as we’ve been watching Boris, Boris is doing the things that Boris does and any other dog would do, going to and fro, getting traits, just kind of normal things.
Now, for Boris, because we have four legs back and we see a great gait pattern, we wouldn’t have this concern about right stifle problems because we’ve got normal gait. So now Boris gets to do Boris. Boris gets to be normal again. And we would really downplay some of these consequences unlike if Boris had a full back leg amp. We are having a very different conversation.
[0:25:59] TRIPAWDS: So you reduced or eliminate the compensatory issues on those remaining limbs by getting that normal gait back with a custom orthotic or prosthetic device.
[0:26:08] Martin Kaufmann: Exactly.
Can Cats Wear Prosthetics?
[0:26:09] TRIPAWDS: I just have to ask for the cat parents out there, is there any hope for cats in prosthetics?
[0:27:01] Martin Kaufmann: Absolutely. And then for our friends who have sheep, goats, llamas, alpacas, horses, take your pick, but yes to the cat friends. We approach them very differently as they need different solutions. But yes, cats enjoy their four legs just like the rest of us.
The Pet Prosthetics Quality of Life Survey Results
[0:27:20] TRIPAWDS: I haven’t had a chance to talk to you about that study that you did with CSU on the quality of life. Can you tell us a little bit more about that?
[0:28:04] Martin Kaufmann: You bet. So we had really two outcomes that we wanted to demonstrate. One is just the impact that prosthetics make on the quality of life. And that’s from the pet parent. As clinicians, we can look at our datasets and our force plates and we can offer you objective statements but we wanted to hear from our pet parents. And so, almost inclusive of all participants, there was a positive impact to the quality of life of the pet and the pet parents.
[0:28:33] Martin Kaufmann: The outliers to that and the second thing that we wanted to really demonstrate is these lengths of amputation, how much leg is left, to really help answer these questions. We did a report several of our cases where the limbs were just not what we would prefer to have. And we knew that they were going to have some problems and they did. So we were able to really offer some certainty so when that initial consult happens, we can say with increased confidence, “Your case is going to go great or this is going to be a dangerous case and very difficult. Perhaps, it’s not the best choice for you.”
[0:29:11] TRIPAWDS: And so that will help veterinarians and ortho surgeons give better information to their clients who are thinking about it, right?
[0:29:19] Martin Kaufmann: Yeah, especially when you have – you come into the ER and you have to make really big choice really quick under pressure to have a little beacon of light to say, “This is going to be a great case,” or, “Wait a second.” And having that level of certainty due to research, that makes a difference for us, pet parents, when we are forced into these choices.
How to Find Out More About Pet Prosthetics for Tripawds
[0:29:48] TRIPAWDS: What is the process for those people who have the luxury of time to investigate prosthetics before amputation or perhaps shortly after?
[0:30:07] Martin Kaufmann: Yeah. So you can make any contact, email or phone to our nurses here. Our staff is all vet techs who are certified, who work in the field. So we can answer the big questions that pet parents really want to know about. But also, we can communicate to their veterinarians to answer the questions that they need to know about. So it can start with us. They can go right to their vet, ask them to contact us so we can get the conversation started. Just whatever is easiest.
[0:30:37] TRIPAWDS: And I believe that’s Orthopets.com and @orthopets everywhere online?
[0:30:41] Martin Kaufmann: You got it.
[0:30:42] TRIPAWDS: Awesome. Thank you so much.
[0:30:45] TRIPAWDS: So stay tuned because we are going to be talking with Tara and Boris about prosthetics for pets. Thank you, Martin, so much for what you’re doing. Please stay on the line and we will have you chime in with our conversation with Tara. For more information about prosthetics and other orthotic devices for pets, visit Orthopets.com.
Stay tuned for Tripawd Talk Radio Episode #113 to meet Boris and find out how his custom rear limb prosthetic is helping him live life on three legs. And learn more at Tripawds.com/tags/prosthetics.
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