In the past, animals with certain debilitating orthopedic and neurologic conditions were given a poor prognosis for recovery and improved mobility. Orthotics and prosthetics now provide hope for many of these animals.
Orthotics is the science of splinting and brace making, and is primarily being used to provide limb stability, and for immobilization after surgery. Orthoses are being used for animals with limb deformities, carpal hyperextension, ligament injuries, and nerve damage (radial nerve paralysis, sciatic nerve damage, brachial plexus injuries). For example, amputation is no longer required for animals with radial nerve paralysis (a common condition in animals that are hit by cars). In this instance, a leg brace prevents dragging of the paw, prevents muscle contracture of the wrist, and provides the support needed for bearing weight on the limb. Use of a brace also allows time for the damaged nerve to heal without traumatizing the paw from dragging it.
Prosthetics is the science of making a device used to replace a missing part of the body. Prostheses are being used for animals with congenital or acquired limb deformities or animals requiring limb amputation due to trauma or bone cancer. Use of a prosthesis can return an animal to near normal function.
Orthoses and prostheses are made out of various materials including neoprene and various forms of plastic, depending upon the condition being treated and the activities of the animal (walking, swimming, etc.). Plastic devices can even be made to match the animal’s haircoat.
High quality orthoses and prostheses are made by licensed orthotists and prosthetists. It is best to find one that has experience working with animals and is willing to work in close contact with your veterinarian. Some veterinary practices focusing on animal rehab (or animal physical therapy), have working relationships with orthotists/prosthetists and can evaluate your pet, determine if he/she is a candidate for one of the devices, and make the necessary arrangements to have one made.
For more information, contact Dr. Kim Danoff at The Veterinary Holistic and Rehabilitation Center at 703-938-2563.