3D printing animal prosthetics and orthotics

12/11/2018 Amanda Maher

Written by Amanda Maher

3D printing has grown to become an integral aid for creation in so many different fields. I can say that I’ve become quite reliant on the Innovation Studio’s 3D printers for our design classes because we can have a physical model printed for a part we just dreamed up moments earlier. A tremendous application of 3D printing outside of what we may be familiar with is the creation of custom prosthetics for animals in need.  

Fair warning, learning of these different cases was a little bit of an emotional roller coaster for me, but ultimately ended joyfully, because the animal’s lives were improved. I’m going to include the videos of the animals enjoying their prosthetics in this post, feel free to hop on the roller coaster with me.

You very well may have already heard the stories of some of these little sweeties whose lives were improved through 3D printed prosthetics. A very famous example is Derby the dog, a husky who was born with deformed front legs. Orthotic technicians were able to scan the geometry of his anatomy and 3D model a custom-made prosthetic. His foster mom helped them to design a circular base to prevent him from inadvertently digging into the ground. He runs around with his owners every day now. Check out his zoomies below!

Another tiny angel named Daffodil (in the video below) is a Chihuahua who was born without her front two legs, and was abandoned in a cardboard box, but rescued and brought to the San Francisco SPCA where she was fitted for a custom cast from OrthoPets—a company that provides kits to pet owners to create casts with vet consultation, and then create 3D models that will be vacuum formed and finished with plastics, foam liners, straps, and pads to make the final orthotic. Sweet little Daffodil was able adapt to her new accommodation, and just wanted to give kisses and love through the entire process.

Other movements have been made to create custom orthotics for animals. Hasan Kizil works out of a space in a mall in Turkey, and creates prosthetics and walkers for disabled animals for free, using whatever materials he can get his hands on and a 3D printer that was donated to him. Animal Ortho Care offers braces and other structural support systems in addition to customizable orthotics that are crafted from molds made by casting kits. Custom animal orthotics have even been made on our very own turf: A project team formed from the Biomedical Engineering Society created a device similar to a brace for a boxer puppy named Butch who needed some additional support after an amputation.

Dogs are certainly not the only animals who were aided by orthotics. There are quite a few buddies that were aided by the custom orthotics. First we have Bagpipes the penguin who was caught in a fishing line and needed to have his bottom leg amputated, but as of 2016 was fitted with a 3D printed foot. A horse named Holly had inflammation between her hoof wall and the bone inside and wasn’t able to walk properly, so a horse shoe was designed specifically for her and a fully functional titanium shoe that is able to bear all the forces required for her to walk was created for her using direct metal laser sintering. Hiss Majesty is a Caiman lizard who lost a limb due to a cancerous tumor, but now has a flexible prosthetic complete with a ball and socket joint to allow for more natural movement.

Hermit crabs are very picky about the materials they choose to create their shells, and a few years ago there was Project Shellter that 3D printed shells for hermit crabs. An artist named Aki Inomata 3D printed shells topped with city skylines that some hermit crabs eventually adopted.

3D printed orthotics have the potential to help wild animals as well. Grecia the toucan was attacked and lost the major part of its beak, and was taken into captivity. Thanks to crowdfunding, Grecia was given a lightweight 3D printed beak, and became a symbol for the Costa Rican fight against animal cruelty. There is hope to observe how the prosthetic lasts in the long term with Grecia to better understand how to modify 3D printed products to suit the needs of wild animals.  

Since we’ve been talking about some very good girls and boys, and a horse name Holly, I would like to introduce you to my own Holly before I sign off. She is a photogenic little queen that the world needs to see. She enjoys long naps and showering my family and me with unconditional love, and I am 100% positive that if you met her you would fall in love with her too.

Holly the dog.
Holly the dog.

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This story was published December 11, 2018.