Many animal lovers are surprised to learn that pet prosthetics are very much a thing!

While animal prosthetics have been around for years, it hasn’t been until comparatively recently—as with human prosthetics—that the technology has become very good. This is largely thanks in part due to advancements in custom fabrication techniques.

Custom prosthetic fittings for dogs, cats, and many other animals are now possible with excellent results for mobility, comfort, and general quality of life for our furry friends (and feathered friends too, as prosthetics have even been developed for birds!).

If you’re interested in learning more about pet prosthetics, stick around. In this article, we’ll discuss the following:

  • Why pet prosthetics can vastly improve a pet’s overall quality of life
  • What kind of animals can get prosthetics & what kinds of prosthetics are available
  • How to determine if your pet is a potential prosthetic candidate
  • What kinds of behaviors a pet may potentially be able to engage in after receiving their prosthetic device
  • Whether or not an animal will require rehabilitation or training to successfully adapt to their prosthetic
  • Potential issues with pet prosthetics
  • How to learn more about pet prosthetics and get started

Let’s begin:

Why Prosthetics Can Improve a Pet’s Quality of Life

Most of us have seen a three legged dog before, and we always tend to be surprised at how well they can manage to get around. However, we can see that—particularly depending on the breed of the dog and their general physical condition—that their mobility isn’t optimal. If an animal loses multiple limbs, they face an even greater challenge and, usually, complete immobility because of the way four legged animals balance themselves.

Whether an animal has lost one or more limbs, a pet prosthetic can increase their mobility, independence, comfort, and overall quality of life. A prosthetic can even improve or help maintain the general health of an animal, since they’ll be less likely to become sedentary. Exercise and play will again be possible.

Pet prosthetics can improve the pet owner’s life as well in some ways. Aside from the satisfaction one gains from helping their “little buddy” meet and overcome a major life challenge, activities with one’s pet become easier. Walks in the park, playing fetch, and even bathroom time can all potentially return to a relative sense of normalcy.

What Kind of Animals Can Get a Prosthetic, and What Kind of Pet Prosthetics Are Available?

The most common kinds of animals that receive prosthetics are typically dogs, cats, goats, and horses. However, there are many different kinds of animals that may be eligible for a prosthetic. Believe it or not, dolphins, birds, turtles, kangaroos, tigers, penguins, giraffes, and even alligators have received prosthetics.

The point here is that no matter what kind of pet you have, the best thing you can do is ask. Considering the varied and exotic list of animals which have been able to successfully receive prosthetics, there’s a very good chance that it will be possible for yours too.

While the most common type of prosthetic is for a missing limb, it can be encouraging to know that all kinds of other prosthetics have been made. For example, prosthetic beaks have been made for birds so that they can engage in normal behaviors like eating and grooming. Tails, particularly for animals who use them for balance or mobility (as in the incredible case of alligators) have even been made.

The wonderful thing about modern prosthetics is that customization is becoming more and more common for both animal and human patients; this means that there are many scenarios where a prosthetic can be used where before it would have been very difficult.

Determining Pet Candidacy for an Animal Prosthetic

Animals can and do lose limbs during adulthood, but one of the most common reasons for amputation is neonatal trauma—that is to say, injury during the infancy of the animal. Of course, pets may need a prosthetic for any number of different reasons. Sometimes an entire limb is lost during the removal of a tumor, for example.

Whether or not a pet is a potential candidate for a prosthetic will come down to a conversation shared between you, your veterinarian, and the prosthetic fabricator (that’s us). A consultation with a qualified veterinarian is generally the first starting point for those interested in getting their pets a prosthetic.

During the consultation with your veterinarian (which may take several sessions), you’ll find out if it’s possible at all for your pet to have a prosthetic. If so, you’ll find out what type they’ll need, and what you can expect during the process and, crucially, after—whether the pet will need rehabilitation, training, and so on. Once everything has been established, you and your veterinarian will work together with a prosthetic manufacturer, which is our role in this process.

As we said previously, the best starting point in the pet prosthesis process is to simply ask your veterinarian for a consultation on the matter. If your veterinarian isn’t familiar with prosthetics, although most are these days, they will certainly be able to refer you to someone who is. If you don’t have a veterinarian for your pet yet (we have encountered situations where, for example, the pet is an adoption/rescue and new to the family), then feel free to give us a call and we can likely point you in the right direction.

After Getting a Prosthetic, What Behaviors Can a Pet Engage in Again?

All animal prosthetic cases are different.

Even for the same type of animal—say a dog of the same breed—the results may vary. However, generally speaking, animals who are selected as eligible candidates by veterinarians and prosthetic fabricators have very good chances of regaining a great deal of their quality of life.

Take for example the case of Naki’o, a dog who lost all four paws due to frostbite as a puppy. Naki’o was rescued and eventually healed, but he couldn’t walk or play, instead crawling on his belly to get around.

Eventually, Naki’o received four custom made prosthetics for each of his legs, which enabled him to walk, run, and play extremely well. At the time, people referred to him as the “bionic dog.” His owner was even quoted as having reported that “Naki’o can now not only chase after a ball with other dogs, but he can beat them to the catch!”

At the time, Naki’o was the only dog with four prosthetics, one for each limb. Now, consider that this story took place nearly a decade ago; since then, animal prosthetics have become even more advanced and comfortable.

The key takeaway is that in many cases, despite the seeming odds, many animals regain a wonderful sense of freedom and mobility thanks to modern pet prosthetics.

Do Pets Require Rehabilitation or Training to Use a Prosthetic?

Since the animals themselves, not to mention the types of injury that may lead to requiring a prosthetic are all so varied, the answer to this question is maybe. It really depends on the animal and the type of prosthetic.

For example, some dogs are “naturals” when it comes to their prosthetics, and seem to take to the idea rather quickly. Others may need time to adjust. Depending on how long it has been since the limb requiring prosthesis was amputated, a certain degree of rehabilitation may be necessary in order to rebuild the muscles on and near the remaining limb.

Rehabilitation recommendations will be discussed between the pet owner and the veterinarian. Where appropriate, the prosthetic fabricator may comment too, of course. Getting a pet a great prosthetic to regain mobility is a joint effort for all involved parties.

Are There Any Potential Issues That Can Occur With Pet Prosthetics?

As with any prosthetic, issues sometimes do occur. For example, in the case of adolescent pets, they grow! Typically, prosthetics are provided for fully-grown animals, but in the event a prosthetic is provided for an adolescent animal, it should be expected that the prosthetic will eventually need to be refitted, lengthened, or remade entirely.

Usually, pets need to go through an adjustment phase to get used to their prosthetic. The pet owner should be aware that owning and caring for a pet with missing limbs can require a not insubstantial time investment up front; however, do keep in mind that as pets and owners become accustomed to the prosthetic, day-to-day life typically becomes easier and perhaps not much different than before the limbs became missing.

How to Learn More About Pet Prosthetics and Begin the Process at Celerity Prosthetics

If you’d like to learn more about pet prosthetics, please feel warmly encouraged to contact us at (405) 605-3030 or refer your veterinarian to us. We can’t wait to help your animal companion get back on their feet!