3D printed animal prosthetics

3D printed prosthetics for animals: Not as common as you think

3d printed prosthetics

3D printed prosthetics and orthotics seem to be very common. Every other month, we see a cute video of an animal that is missing a limb walking again or already jumping around joyfully. It seems 3D printing is enabling many animals an unrestricted life after they suffered severe limitations. All3DP recently featured an article on different animals leading an unworried life again thanks to 3D printed orthotic aids.

Meet Derby the dog

Derby the dog and its 3d printed legs (source: animal orthocare)
Derby the dog and its 3D printed legs (source: animal orthocare)

Derby, the dog that can run again thanks to 3d printed leg prosthetics is one of these heartwarming stories. When Tara Anderson, Director of CJP Product Management at 3D Systems, adopted Derby, she was effectively preventing him from being euthanized. With maimed paws, Derby wasn’t able to partake in any activity. At first Derby got a cart, which enabled him to be mobile, but by design still hindered him. He couldn’t play with other dogs and was very limited in his freedom of action.

Just like a wheelchair for a dog. (source: 3d systems)
Just like a wheelchair for a dog. (source: 3D systems)

So Tara, Derby’s new foster mom, her colleague and Freeform Product Manager, Kevin Atkins, and an ABC Certified Orthotist at Animal Ortho Care, Derrick Campana, teamed up to find a solution to Derby’s handicap. Using 3D scanners and 3D modeling software, the team created one-of-a-kind leg prosthesis for Derby, which he was able to utilize quickly.


Meet Dieter Pfaff, animal orthopedist

We were able to conduct a phone interview with Dieter Pfaff, the owner of Pfaff animal orthopedics. Pfaff is a specialist among specialists. The number of animal orthopedists is surprisingly small. Amongst them, according to Pfaff, are many that are self-taught, untrained vendors with backgrounds in medical stores. Pfaff has practiced as an orthopedist for humans for many years when he decided to specialize in veterinarian orthopedics.

Dieter Pfaff, adept orthopedic technician and animal lover (source: safebrace.de)
Dieter Pfaff, adept orthopedic technician and animal lover (source: safebrace.de)

“My field of work is so narrow, the next providers of veterinarian orthopedics working with a scientific background like I do are based in the United States.”, Pfaff told us. “Often even the veterinarians aren’t aware what modern animal orthopedics can make possible. They are acting in fixed habits. Many amputations would be unnecessary if the condition is treated with orthopedics and pysiotherapy in an earlier stage. But veterinarians are used to operate on their patients. Or worse, put them to sleep when they think they can’t do better for them. I really hope animal orthopedics and the possibilities, what I can do for many animals, will sink in in the mind of practicing veterinarians and animal owners. We can do better, we can enable animals instead of treating them destructively.”

Pfaff explained how he got interested in 3D printed products for his patients as soon as he first heard about 3D printed orthotics and prosthetics:

“A machine that can create almost any plastic object that I create in 3D modeling sounded very promising to me. The possibility to make slight alterations on the design and not having to rebuild it all by hand is very promising.”

The design for Derby´s new legs. (source: 3d systems)
The design for Derby´s new legs. (source: 3d systems)

“But as much as animal orthetics and prosthetics are a new field, 3d printing is. It is not a universal remedy. Many questions remain unresolved for me. Should I have my own 3D printer or use a 3D print service? How do the printing materials wear over time and how are the material properties for the materials in medical use?
I can not let my patients serve as guinea pigs to figure out everything I need to know. At the moment, I am not using 3d printed technology in my workshop”, he declared. And further explains: ” It takes well over 7 years to get where I stand now. After 3.5 years getting my orthopedic technician I had another 3.5 years veterinary othopedic education. You have to be careful: without a medical background, knowledge of anatomy, physiology, pathology, proper scientific analysis of your patients and a lot of experience, you’e not getting anywhere.”

The essence of what Pfaff figured out seems to be that so much pioneering work still has to be done until we can make proper assumptions on 3D printed prosthetics for animals. Maybe we (and the animals) should feel very lucky that we have such an advanced technology at hand. 3D printing speeds up the prototyping process and makes many things possible that weren’t before.

Let us not forget one thing: After all, it’s the result that counts, not the technology used to achieve it.