Bionic Pets? It’s Possible!

A handful of cutting edge veterinary medical teams are pushing the prosthetics envelope and creating artificial legs and paws that are a hi-tech step above the makeshift limbs or carts given to most animals.

And more important, the progress improving the lives of lucky cats and dogs holds big promises for people.

One-year-old Nubbin seems unaware that he’s a bit different from his four-legged pal.

“I honestly don’t know that he knows that he’s only three-legged,” says Nubbin’s owner, Erika Edwards.

The cute canine happens to be a patient at North Carolina State University, where engineers and veterinary surgeons are fine tuning a state-of-the-art approach to prosthetics – custom-designed metal implants that attach directly to an animal’s own bones.

“We’re getting much better and we can develop new types of implants much, much faster than we did in the past,” says Ola Harryson, a biomedical engineer at North Carolina State University.

Here’s how it works: a machine transforms CAT scan images into replicas of an animal’s bones that are used to help design and customize the implant.

During surgery, the implant is inserted into the end of remaining bone. Over time, new bone grows around the metal and creates a strong anchor and a prosthetic foot is attached.

“I think it could work very well in a number of species,” says Dr. Denis Macellin-Little, a veterinary surgeon at North Carolina State University.

And that includes people, but that’s in the future.

Nubbin will be one of the first dogs to get the hi-tech implants in the next few months. The North Carolina team has had requests from pet owners around the world, including China, where a panda is missing a paw.

The group is also in contact with a number of military hospitals that are keeping close tabs on the progress in hopes returning soldiers will one day get the implants.

It is estimated that nearly two million amputees are living in the United States, a number that is expected to jump dramatically in the next ten years in part because of the war in Iraq.

[Source: KARE11 Minneapolis]