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All About Prosthetics for Tripawds with Dr. Mandi on Tripawd Talk Radio #122

Get answers to all your questions about prosthetics for Tripawds with Dr. Mandi Blackwelder on episode #122 of the Tripawd Talk Radio podcast.

Tripawd Talk Radio Episode #122: Continuing our discussion with Dr Mandi from Healing Arts Animal Care, today we’re taking a deep dive into the world of prosthetics for amputee pets. Is your dog a good candidate prosthetic use? Which prosthetics are the best? Find out with Dr. Mandi on this episode of Tripawd Talk Radio.

Tripawds prosthetics expert interview Dr. Mandi Blackwelder DVM
Learn what you need to know about artificial limbs for pets.

All About Prosthetics for Tripawds with Dr. Mandi Blackwelder

This episode is all about prosthetics for Tripawds. How do you know which dogs are the best candidates for prosthetic use? How much residual limb needs to remain for prosthetics to work? How do dogs adapt to something attached to their body? Dr. Mandi Blackwelder answers all this and more,

Dr Mandi is a canine rehab therapist certified in 2013. She’s been a vet since 1998. And she is currently expanding her practice at Healing Arts Animal Care in Beaverton, Oregon.

Listen to the Tripawd Talk Podcast All About Prosthetic Legs for Dogs and Cats

Subscribe to Tripawd Talk Radio in your podcast player app!

Learn more about Dr. Mandi or make an appointment at https://healingartsanimalcare.com/.

And if you’re thinking you want a prosthetic, you need to have your prosthetic maker involved in the decision about how the surgery should go. You have to have the surgeon and the prosthetic maker talking to each other. Just because the dog uses it doesn’t mean it’s good for body mechanics.

Dr. Mandi Blackwelder, DVM, CCRT, CVA

Watch Our Podcast Discuss Facts About Prosthetics for Tripawds on YouTube

Want ALL the details? Read the transcript of our interview with Dr. Mandi, below.

Catch Part 1 of our interview with Dr. Mandi: Episode #121
All About Rehab for Tripawds with Dr. Mandi

Learn more about Dr. Mandi or make an appointment at https://healingartsanimalcare.com/

Get reimbursed for your Tripawd’s first visit with a certified rehab therapist at https://tripawds.org/rehab/

Read the Transcript: All About Prosthetics for Tripawds with Dr. Mandi on Tripawd Talk Radio #122

TRIPAWDS JIM: [00:00:21] Got questions about prosthetics for tripods? Get answers. In our continuing discussion with Doctor Mandy Blackwelder on this episode of Tripod Talk Radio.

TRIPAWDS JIM: [00:00:51] Hello again from Tripawds. We’re Jim and Renee, and this is Tripod Talk Radio, episode number 122. And yes, we’re talking all about rehab again, continuing our discussion with Doctor Mandy from Healing Arts Animal Care. Today we’re taking a deep dive into the world of prosthetics for amputee pets. Doctor Mandy Blackwelder has been practicing veterinary medicine for more than 25 years. She is a certified canine rehab therapist with plenty of experience helping amputee dogs love life on three legs.

Oftentimes, the first thing people ask about when joining Tripawds is, Where can I get a prosthetic for my dog? What do prosthetics cost?

Unfortunately, this conversation usually happens after the amputation, and as you’ll learn on this episode, the best time to talk about prosthetic use is before surgery. Even better, discuss it with a board certified orthopedic surgeon. But we don’t always have the liberty of time to get the answers we need in the case of traumatic injury, for example. So how do you know what dogs are the best candidates for prosthetic use? How much residual limb needs to remain for prosthetics to work? How do dogs adapt something attached to their body? Doctor Mandy answers all this and more. So let’s hear it. Doctor Mandy, thank you for joining us again. It’s great to continue this discussion.

TRIPAWDS RENE: [00:02:14] Thanks for being here. We’re so excited.

The Basics of Prosthetics for Tripawds

DR. MANDI: [00:02:17] Of course anytime. Always happy to chat about what I do.

TRIPAWDS RENE: [00:02:20] Yeah well you do a lot. And one of the things that you do is work with prosthetics and wheelchairs in your practice, and we want to talk about that today. And we’re going to specifically start with prosthetics, because that’s a hot topic in our community. And we would like your input on that.

TRIPAWDS JIM: [00:02:39] We get a lot of questions about wheelchairs and prosthetics. Unfortunately, after people get the amputation, and we love to tell people, it’s really important to discuss that beforehand to get them to work best. But I’d like to back up just a minute and ask, you know, can you just define prosthetics for pets? What is a prosthetic versus all of the other, braces that we’ve seen out there and or, you know, how does how do prosthetics work best for animals?

A Dog’s Perception and Adaptation to Prosthetics

DR. MANDI: [00:03:07] Yeah. So a prosthetic is anything that replaces a part that’s not there. So you could have a prosthetic finger, you could have a prosthetic leg and pretty much anything in between. So prosthetic is just basically a replacement for, you know, what’s missing? And when I’m talking about the possibility of a prosthetic with a client, the thing that that we don’t get as people is that if we were to have an amputation and we were given a prosthetic, we would go, “Oh! Look at that. It’s a leg!’ Dogs look at that thing. And they go, ‘There’s a thing, and it’s attached to me and it’s chasing me!’ And that is, that’s a real different thing.

The temperament of the dog is so essential. And a lot of times the folks that want a prosthetic for their animal are really active people with really active dogs. And, and some of those dogs, many of those dogs are, in my opinion, better off with three legs because they often aren’t the dogs that, you know, sit and want to have something attached. They’re the dogs that are, ‘Hey, I got three and I’m powerful and I’m going, and why are you slowing me down with this thing?!’

To me, the most important piece is the recognition of the personality of the dog. If this is a fearful dog, that’s a little bit spooky about the vacuum and other things like that. there’s going to be a whole lot of training involved in just, ‘Hey, there’s a thing and it’s going to follow you around, and then you have to learn how to use it.’

How Does a Tripawd Dog Prosthetic Work?

DR. MANDI: [00:04:51] Or if you have a really active dog that doesn’t have a lot of patience or manners, and sometimes people aren’t aware that their dogs don’t have manners. you know, any time we have a prosthetic, it has to be suspended from the dog in some way. It’s not just like you snap it on there like you do with us, because we if we’re talking about a leg, we’re straight up and down.

Gravity holds it on us on dogs. There has to be a whole harness and apparatus that takes some time and effort to put on, and also take some time and effort of adjustment when you’re first learning.There is a massive learning curve when it comes to prosthetics.

Then to answer your other question we were talking about earlier. the, the, the type of amputation is very important as well. Most veterinarians who have been trained in, you know, graduated ten years ago or more were trained to amputate at the hip or amputate at the shoulder and not leave a residual limb. This was based upon the idea that dogs are going to whack that limb somewhere. And there really is no data for that. There really isn’t! It’s just a cleaner, a cleaner look. And, you know, if it’s being amputated for cancer, a lot of times, yes, that’s appropriate because you’re getting the biggest margin.

The Role of the Pet Prosthetic Maker and Surgeon Communication

DR. MANDI: [00:06:24] There needs to be some thought into how that goes. And if you’re thinking you want a prosthetic, you need to have your prosthetic maker involved in the decision about how the surgery should go. You have to have the surgeon and the prosthetic maker talking to each other.

The reason for that is most of our prosthetics require two thirds of the lower limb remaining. So that’s the middle part of the arm or the middle part of the calf. That eliminates a lot of folks, eliminates a lot of amputations. And if you you fall into that category, then you have to have a surgeon that is comfortable doing that type of amputation so that the residual limb, as they call it, is appropriately padded.

If you’re cutting in the middle of a bone, you have to be sure that whatever remaining muscle or tissue that you have is wrapped around that. So the dog has a little bit of a pad on the end of the bone. There’s a lot of kind of surgical pieces to this, which, which again, depending on your surgeon and their openness to the concept, they may be like, ‘Ah, that’s just easier to take it all the way off.’ And there’s other surgeons that are used to prosthetics. They go for it and they’re like, ‘Yeah, let’s figure this out!’

Assessing the Dog’s Lifestyle and Owner’s Ability to Manage a Prosthetic

TRIPAWDS RENE: [00:07:52] We’re starting to see more and more vet surgeons say, no, leave as much as possible. they need it for balance. They need it for cushioning. so you’re saying that really, there’s no hard data to show that taking the full limb is is a good thing, a better choice? but is there hard data to show that leaving a residual limb is a good thing?

DR. MANDI: [00:08:34] Not that I’m aware of now. Certainly, I haven’t done a PubMed search, so I don’t know that for certain. But, just in terms of physics, to me anyway. And I think to most rehab practitioners, it makes more sense that the body was meant to carry four legs. So if we are now quartered, all that extra weight is on the other side versus if we still have something that we can use, then we’re keeping a lot of different muscles and a lot of vertebral vertebrae balanced in a way that it’s not when the entire limb is taken.

It doesn’t mean that taking the entire limb is wrong. Because in many situations it’s not wrong. But to me it’s, it’s a discussion to have as far as what are my options as far as leg removal goes. If you look at it from a kind of a chiropractic standpoint and I’m not a chiropractor, but if you look at in terms of body balance, to me it makes more sense to keep it.

The Practical Use of Remaining Limbs in Daily Activities

The other piece of the puzzle is that these dogs that have even half of the femur, or half of the humerus, left the upper arm or upper leg, those guys, it’s amazing how much they use those little nubbins.

DR. MANDI: [00:10:03] you know, I’ve seen a lot like, for example, if you have, a little bit, you have half of your femur remaining, and it’s well padded. You’re going to sit square because you’ve got all your sitzs bones. Right. and when you go to rock to get up, you still have a psoas muscle, which helps with your core. It helps with your balance. Those dogs still, when they move that those muscles that propel the leg are still working. So all of those sort of lower back muscles are, are still functioning relatively normally, even though they’re not pushing the same equipment that they used to.

And in forelimbs, there’s a lot of dogs that have a below the elbow amputation that they play with. They’ll hold their Kong while they lick with the other paw. They dig with it. I mean, they do all kinds of stuff with their residual limb. That is keeping all the back muscles stronger, all the neck muscles more balanced.

Veterinarian and Owner Conversations on Prosthetics, and The Complexity of Prosthetic Decisions in Traumatic Cases

DR. MANDI: [00:11:08] I think what veterinarians are learning and kind of late in the game, if you ask me, is that, we need to we need to look at each amputation as its own thing and decide what’s most appropriate for that animal’s lifestyle, the owner’s ability to manage.

You know, if this is a dog that does end up with sores and wounds, is are they going to be able to care for it? Or is it better to take the whole limb? You know, finances obviously play into that. Is this somebody that who would love to have a prosthetic and are aware of the challenges and expenses involved? In which case now we have a different discussion about it.

As you guys well know, an amputation is a trauma based experience, right? Dog gets hit by a car or something like that, and, and you know, we have a horrible fracture and there’s a lot of infection and all these things that make it like ‘Oh, we got to decide right now!’ So I feel like we in the veterinary community need to learn to make have a new conversation in these moments of trauma.

Who is the Ideal Candidate for a Dog Prosthetic? Cancer Cases and Prosthetic Considerations

TRIPAWDS JIM: [00:12:23] What kind of dog is the best candidate? And what do you need to know about planning for one, if you do have the liberty of time? Then yeah, but if it’s a cancer, you know, maybe the full amputation is best because you want to get those margins.

DR. MANDI: [00:12:42] Yep, yep. So in a cancer situation I’m not an oncologist, but in a cancer situation, many times a full amputation is appropriate, particularly a bone cancer, because we want to get as big a margin as we can as far away from the lesion as we can. So hopefully we’re not leaving any, any cancer tissues behind. In that case, I mean that that’s an easy one. And you’ve got, days to decide.

In a trauma situation, I think it truthfully it kind of falls on the veterinarian, the veterinarian staff to be able to, to have a conversation about, you know, let’s say we have two dogs, one got hit by a car. It has no nerve innervation left in the leg at all. But this dog is not suffering from bad infection or something like that. You’ve got a little time to have that conversation, right? Versus another dog that got hit by a car and the leg is super mangled and they dragged themselves home through the mud, and the dog is potentially septic at this point. And you may need to amputate just to eliminate infection.

There’s so many factors, and when you add the the personal trauma to the whole thing, as far as, you know, the owner being in the midst of, ‘Oh my God, oh my God!’

The Veterinarian’s Role in Prosthetic Decision Making

DR. MANDI: [00:14:18] It really it falls on the veterinarian to be the one to say, ‘Okay, here’s our priorities, here’s our challenges. Gere’s what we could do and here’s what it costs and here’s your involvement.’

I think that’s where we’re quite challenged. Many of our traumatic amputations are not being done by veterinary board surgeons because they’re at an emergency clinic. Conversations have to be fast. There’s a lot to be done. I would love to see emergency clinics have one person that’s dedicated to having that, you know, tripod conversation. Like, wouldn’t that be great?

I really feel like we as veterinarians need to do a better job of discussing it, but also, there’s not enough people who have any experience at all with prosthetics to be able to kind of talk about the ins and outs, you know? So what happens is I see the dog, you know, six months later and now we have an amputation. I feel like there’s a there’s a gap in the veterinary piece of this that needs to be filled.

The Future of Prosthetics in Veterinary Medicine

DR. MANDI: [00:15:47] Unfortunately, there’s not enough of us out there like me who love public speaking and get out there and be like, ‘Hey, let me tell you something.’ I feel like better education about prosthetics, I think, to a lot of veterinarians have, you know, even if you’re open-minded and up for that, a lot of veterinarians have had an animal that was done a prosthetic by somebody who doesn’t do a lot of them. And it was an unmitigated disaster. Their one experience was a bad one. because it’s hard.

Prosthetics are hard to do! I mean, even me who’s done you know, I’ve been doing exclusively rehab for ten years. I’ve done five. It’s kind of tricky. It’s usually owner driven. The owner is trying to convince the surgeon to do it a certain way. It’s very sticky. so I’m hoping that things like this, you know, will be able to land in the hands of surgeons and emergency veterinarians to be able to go ‘Oh, maybe I should learn a little more about that.’

TRIPAWDS RENE: [00:17:07] We we need to be out there letting our vets know how we feel about this so that it just stays on, on top of mind. So in those panic situations with other clients, when the clients are freaking out, they remember ‘I heard about this, this community that was talking about prosthetics.’

It’s interesting that you say you haven’t done a lot of prosthetics.

They’re not that common because that’s really a different impression we get out there on social media. what the tripods community tends to see are lots and lots of pictures of dogs having a great time with a prosthetic.

But the reality is, like you said, they’re not all that common. One thing that we see is we see wound healing issues with a lot of people and whether or not they wanted to have a prosthetic. if a lot of the residual limb is still there, we’ve had members go through amputation corrections in the past where they just had to go back and take the whole leg because that leg was getting banged up. So much. So, like you said, it really pays to have a surgeon with the experience do the amputation if you decide to leave more of the limb.

DR. MANDI: [00:18:44] It is I mean, it’s a little bit of a crapshoot. regardless of how fantastic your surgeon is. And that’s again where conversation needs to be had ahead of time in that. Is this the dog that’s going to learn how to use their limb to hold their Kong? Or is this the dog that’s not going to figure it out and drag it behind them?

When I do a prosthetic with clients, I literally say ‘Expect this to be a pain in the ass.’

I literally say that! And, be really thrilled when it’s not. Because you know, we all have that picture in our head of the dog running across the field in their prosthetic. But the work that it takes to get there until that dog has that light bulb moment of, ‘Oh! This works like my old leg!’ Because they don’t have sensation through it.

The difference between a human and a dog is that that dog doesn’t know that that’s supposed to be a leg. And when that light bulb goes off, they do very well. But some dogs, that light bulb never goes off. Going back a little bit to the, the candidate thing, it’s very much about the owner.

DR. MANDI: [00:20:09] In my practice I have had people that I have met with or I’ve heard the other half of the conversation in my reception staff and I said, ‘Nope, not this person!’ I won’t do a prosthetic for this person, because they’re all about that vision in the field and they’re not listening to what we see .. wounds, we see sores. We have to send it back 2 or 3 times, sometimes to to remold things.

Because if you have an amputation and a traumatic situation or even non-traumatic situation where you have a residual limb post-operatively, there is swelling. And so even if we cast at the amputation so that we get that prosthetic ASAP. We may have it may be too big in two weeks. And then we have to re-mold it, reshape it, and then the dog starts, starts using it. And now they build muscle. So now it has to go back because it’s too small. All of those types of things.

And then you add to that, that when we set up, when we do our casting for prosthetic, we get the, the prosthetic on. This is not an articulated joint. Even when that light bulb goes off, they’re still like, ‘Oh, hey, I got to swing this a certain way.’ Which means they might walk a little more on the inside of it. They might walk a little more on the outside of it. They might walk a little more to the front, to the back, whatever. Which means they are now putting more pressure on the device in that area. And so they might have a sore.

Is the Owner Ready to Commit?

I think clients a lot of times if they’re not appropriately schooled, they go into they go into it with the set it and forget it. Well, I made a cast. So it fits him well. It fits him today. We don’t know how he’s going to walk on it. We don’t know what’s going to happen as far as sizing. And so they need to be ready for it to be literally like a year long experience to get to where we want it to be.

It is a long process. Now, that said, there are those docs that are just like, ‘Oh, thanks!’ And they want to go, right. but that is certainly the minority of the cases. Even the super smart Border Collie could be the dog that is like, ‘Oh, right on, I totally get this!’ Or it could be the dog that is like, no matter what you do, ‘I’m getting this thing off because I’m so smart,’ right?

I don’t think it’s so much has to do with breed as it has to do with temperament of the dog. I’m willing to go for it with any dog as long as the owner is prepared. Right.

TRIPAWDS RENE: [00:23:04] You know what I’m thinking? I’m thinking that there needs to be an owner assessment tool for veterinarians. Does anything like that exist when it comes to prosthetics? Is there a quiz we can take?

DR. MANDI: [00:23:19] Maybe we should brainstorm a little bit on email. because that would be a great thing to have. Like, ‘Is your dog a good candidate?’ We could talk about pricing because, you know, they’re not cheap. Certainly.

The Financial Aspect of Prosthetics: Understanding the Costs

TRIPAWDS RENE: [00:23:38] Tell me what not cheap means.

DR. MANDI: [00:23:40] It depends depends on companies. Most of the time a prosthetic device, the device itself is usually $1500 to $2500, somewhere in there. But where the price can really go up from there is rehab, you know, like fixing the issues. And many people think that if there’s issues, that something was done wrong. But it’s that the dog is changing. Or that the dog is bearing weight differently. And then we have to train this dog to use it. Owners need guidance for that. Even the most dedicated owner needs guidance for that.

TRIPAWDS RENE: [00:24:35] What;s ballpark figure in your neck of the woods, what would something like that run?

DR. MANDI: [00:24:49] So in Portland, Oregon, let’s say you get, you know, rehabilitation for let’s say four months. You know, you’re looking at probably around $2,000 worth of rehabilitation. And the unfortunate piece of the puzzle is if your dog’s light bulb isn’t going off and that’s all down the drain.

And so that, I think is the hardest part. I mean, not a whole lot of people have $4,000 sitting around to be like, ‘Well, we’ll see what happens.’ Especially if you’ve just spent probably more than two grand on an amputation. That’s the hardest part.

If we have this conversation in ten years, we’re going to be like, ‘Oh yeah, here’s how it works. I’s going to be so different because people like your people are creating the demand. And where there’s demand, somebody’s going to fill it up.

The Possibility of Full-Limb Prosthetics for Dogs

Going back to your original question. One is there are prosthetics for a full amputation. And I have never done one. but I the chiropractor that works out of my office. He has a young mastiff patient with one, and she does amazing with it. The challenge with a full limb amputation and a prosthetic is that there is no muscle to propel that leg.

DR. MANDI: [00:26:26] The dog is having to lean and swing with their body to advance the limb. and then lean into it with their body and move the other legs and then stand and swing again. It is teaching the dog to do something completely foreign. That is harder in their head than three legs, right?

So if they get it again, their light bulb goes off and they’re like, ‘Oh, this is what my mom wants me to do!’ Then super! Because that’s easier on the rest of the body in terms of balance and things like that.

But we also have to consider we’re still not using a leg. We’re still, you know, throwing our our vertebra to the side in order to place weight upon it. So we have to consider those pieces too. That dog may need chiropractic in the future. That dog may develop spinal arthritis in the future. if the dog’s using it, it very well may save a lot of arthritis in the other limbs, but we just don’t have enough of them out there.

And certainly no studies or data to know, like, you know, mechanically, what’s the most appropriate thing.

Weighing the Pros and Cons of Artificial Legs for Dogs

TRIPAWDS RENE: [00:27:44] That was just going to be my next question, because where do the benefits and the negatives, intersect? When is it a better idea to just say forget it for a device like that? I’ve seen rear leg amputees with prosthetics who do amazingly well over time, and we haven’t had the ability to see that with front leg amputees yet with devices. We’d really like to see some studies on that because they’re, so visible now.

DR. MANDI: [00:28:32] Right. And we just we just don’t we don’t have those answers for sure. Hind limb amputees are always easier, whether we’re talking about how you walk as a three legged dog or how you, you know, or holding up a prosthetic because you’ve got more angularity to it.

Angularity as far as like in a back leg, you’ve got the foot, and then it goes up to the point of the hock, and then it goes up to the stifle, and then it goes up to the hip. You’ve got a lot more places where the body has a ankle that can hang on to the device. okay.

Versus the front legs straight. And so if we’re doing a prosthetic in the front, they have to have a harness. There has to be something that goes over the dog to hold it on, versus hind limb. We can, you know, if it’s a low amputation, there can be straps that hook up to the thigh.

The front end of the dog is always more dense than the hind end. Right. And particularly if you’re talking deep chested dogs, Dobermans, mastiffs, you know, the big guys, they’re all heavy in the front. The back has a whole lot more options than the front. So if you walk a watch a rear limb amputee go sometimes if they’re going really fast and you’re not me who does this all the time, you might look at them and be like, ‘That dog only has three legs!’ Versus a forelimb amputation is like ‘Boing! Boing! Boing!’ I mean, it’s very obvious.

Forelimbs are always harder for everything. They’re harder to find lamenesses. They’re harder for amputations. Their forelimbs are just hard.

The Complexity of Choosing Prosthetics: Considerations Before Deciding

TRIPAWDS JIM: [00:30:24] So we talked about how your use of a prosthetic can be a very costly investment in time and effort and rehab. And you’re also talk about how, the owners often don’t realize that the more natural the device fits on the animal, the more likely it is to actually work for the dog.

So what kind of harm can be done if the people are doing it because they see it on social media and say, ‘Oh, my dog needs a prosthetic’ versus evaluating and going into rehab?

TRIPAWDS RENE: [00:30:55] For example, they have their local high school engineering crew design something with their 3D printer.

DR. MANDI: [00:31:01] I think and this is true of wheelchairs as well, is just because the dog uses it doesn’t mean it’s good for body mechanics. So think about like for example, if if it is not. Equal in terms of angularity and height to the other side. sure, we might have less, we might have better weight bearing and maybe a little better balance, but we still have all the weight on the other side. It’s like wearing a high heel shoe on one side. You would be wonkish.

Innovation and Caution in Pet Prosthetic Development

Having practiced in a small town very far from any type of specialty center, I don’t discourage it, per se. as long as you’re sort of checking in with a trusted veterinarian. and, because I think that’s where these fantastic ideas come from, right? I mean, that’s where having that that tripod community that’s pushing and saying, ‘Hey, there’s a lot of us out here, folks, let’s figure this out!’ I think that’s where, you know, genius comes from.

There’s a new product. It’s not a prosthetic yet, but they’re doing, braces out of Germany. It’s called Wimba. And, instead of casting, they you do a 3D model.

DR. MANDI: [00:32:38] It’s really cool. They the dog stands in the middle of this mat, and there’s a camera on your phone that is talking to a, an attachment at the top of the sock that you put on the dog. The camera drives around in a circle around the leg and makes a 3D model, with its software. They then make the device, from that.

Their padding system is actually, kind of like a honeycomb. I don’t know what the material is, but it’s air-ish instead of solid material. I haven’t used it yet. I’m actually working with them to do a brace for a bunny. But, but their idea is amazing because weight is a big factor.

So that’s one thing we haven’t even talked about yet is little bitty dogs. Yeah. whether we’re talking about an orthosis, a brace, or we’re talking about a prosthetic, if it’s heavy and you weigh 11 pounds, that’s life limiting, right? And those dogs on three are like, ‘Hey, I’m good!’ But I think it’s that thinking outside of the box, and those high school kids that are inventing things, ‘How are we going to strap this on the dog? Well, what if we this. . .’

How to Work with Your Veterinarian for a Prosthetic

DR. MANDI: [00:34:12] I get very frustrated with fly by night companies that don’t know anything, right? But at the same time, you know, that that sort of general you know, just spitballing, I think, you know, is where we get some of our ideas. There isn’t a veterinarian like this in every community, who’s going to noodle it through, right? Somebody who’s going to say, ‘Okay, so you’re thinking about doing this, you know, let me let me think about that.’

Yhe other piece of the puzzle is owners are always going to get way further if they say, ‘I will pay you for your time.’ And that’s not remotely to imply that veterinarians are money grubbing pigs, as we are often accused of. But just that, that something like that, you know, all the communication and the learning and all that, that the veterinarian who hasn’t done one of these has to do is several hours.

And so if they’re excited about it, you know, say, ‘Hey, you know, let me pay you for your time, and your expertise,’ you’re going to get a better outcome that way.

DR. MANDI: [00:35:24] Honestly, most veterinarians will be like, ‘No, no, let me look it up. I’ll let you know.’ But at the same time, you know, it just shows to the professional that you’re working with, that you recognize that their expertise is worth something.

What is often available in communities is an orthotist somebody who does braces for humans. And that, frankly, is where all these ideas have come from. OrthoPets was started by a human orthotist. and they they have a real different way of looking at it than veterinarians do, because they’re looking at the vectors, at the physics of what’s the ground reaction force when the weight is placed here.

When that first was explained to me by OrthoPets, I was like, ‘Do you know, it took me a tutor to get through physics?! Like, honestly, please don’t do this.’ But it’s very, very true that that those are the most successful. Orthotics and prosthetics are ones where the physics are appropriately balanced.

What to Look for in a Prosthetic Maker

TRIPAWDS JIM: [00:36:40] So what types of prosthetics are out there on the market today, and which ones are best for what type of situations?

DR. MANDI: [00:36:59] I’m probably not the best expert on that because we’re a premier partner with OrthoPets and I do almost everything through them. But I will tell you the red flags that I know of.

  • You want a company that has an orthotist that they’re working with. It’s going to be a human orthotist there isn’t such thing as a veterinary orthotist. Or, choose someone that came from a company that had a human do the appropriate training.
  • You want the casting done by a veterinarian. The products where they send you the casting materials freak me out. And the reason is I was a veterinarian in a poor demographic where we didn’t get to do orthopedic surgeries all of that often, so I casted a lot. And I was a veterinarian for probably three years before I was comfortable with casting.

I actually just had an owner in last week that he had done it, he’d done the cast himself and all that, and was like, ‘This is crap! This isn’t going to work!’ That’s when he called me because he was like, ‘I don’t know what I’m doing.’ And this man was an engineer.

Casting, it’s the material. It’s how you pull it. How tight should it be? How loose should it be? How, do I get it to stick up further? You know, all of those kinds of things. And the goal of these casts is for topography. Like where exactly does your ankle bone sit? Where how long are your toes?

All of those kinds of things that if they’re inaccurate, you’re not getting the most functional device.

What’s more is that you’re you’re potentially creating sores and pain for your animal. I haven’t had any experience with prosthetics that were done that way. But but I’ve had a couple of orthotics that have come to me that way. The hinging was not in the right place, so I felt like it was doing more harm than good. And of course the owner did it themselves, so they’re all excited about it. And then they think I don’t know what I’m talking about. So those kind of freak me out.

You know, I want somebody who’s had their hands in a lot of these.

At least somebody who’s got, you know, a little a few underneath them. At very minimum, somebody that’s like, ‘Ooh, let’s figure this out!’ I’m rubbing my hands together in excitement, they’re like ‘Oh, we’re going to figure this out!’ And they really want to dive into it with you, because you need someone to help you brainstorm who has the concept of the physics and the concept of the anatomy and all of that. So that if hubby wants to build one super. But let’s be sure that he’s got some consultants.

TRIPAWDS RENE: [00:40:49] Thank you. Absolutely. You know, it kind of blows my mind that these casting kits are given to everyday pet parents with no experience at all. Why do you think there is no medical oversight of things like this when there is for humans? I mean, where where’s the governing board that says you cannot sell these direct to the public because you may harm the animal? I that that blows my mind.

DR. MANDI: [00:41:13] Well, I think it’s the because we are in the infancy of this realm of medicine for animals. So, you know, unfortunately, all legislation is driven by somebody suing somebody, right? That’s where legislation comes from. And so we probably won’t have that until there’s some sort of disaster, unfortunately.

Veterinarians as a whole are not, political people. We gripe about things, but we don’t necessarily holler to our board. We are in the infancy of this. And so these devices are not FDA-approved. There is no governing body for this.

The Future of Pet Prosthetics is Exciting!

TRIPAWDS RENE: [00:42:15] It’s been really exciting since we started tripods in 2006 to see where things are headed. And thanks to veterinarians like yourself, we’re in for better days for pets with three legs.

TRIPAWDS RENE: [00:42:32] This was supposed to be a show about prosthetics and wheelchairs, but your conversation about prosthetics was so fascinating. I didn’t want to stop. So can we have you back for a show? Just on wheelchairs?

DR. MANDI: [00:42:48] Send me another zoom link. We’ll get it. We’ll get it.

TRIPAWDS RENE: [00:42:50] All. Okay. Doctor Blackwell. Oh, my gosh, this was such an amazing show. And we really look forward to having you back to have that other conversation about wheelchairs. Thank you so, so, so much for being here. This was really enlightening.

DR. MANDI: [00:43:05] Absolutely. Anytime.

Closing: Thank You, Dr. Mandi!

TRIPAWDS JIM: [00:43:07] Doctor Mandi, thank you for your time and the work you’re doing at Healing Arts Animal Care in Beaverton, Oregon. I really hope any listeners considering prosthetics are hearing this before their dog surgery, but I know that’s not realistic. So hopefully you’ll heed the words of Doctor Mandy and do your homework before investing in a prosthetic for your three legged dog.

And the best way to do that is to consult with a certified canine rehab therapist. Don’t forget, the Tripods Foundation can pay for your first consultation to determine if a prosthetic is in your pup’s future, and provide plenty of exercise and treatment options. If not, learn more at tripods.org/rehab.

TRIPAWDS JIM: [00:44:00] Thank you for tuning in. Subscribe to Tripod Talk Radio for more pet amputation tips from experts, and claim your free gift just for listeners at downloads Tripod.com slash podcast.

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