3D printing has paved the way for many revolutionary medical advancements over the past decade. But did you know that this same technology is helping animals to live their best lives?
As you’re probably aware, the world of 3D printing and additive manufacturing is ever changing and the benefits that we as a global society are gaining from such technology are mounting by the day. In the medical arena specifically, we have seen advancements such as the creation of hyper realistic medical models for surgeons to practice on, bio printing, rapid COVID-19 PPE and test creation, fully functioning 3D printed organs and sophisticated 3D printed prosthetics. These advancements have saved countless lives, not to mention the improved quality of life secured for those who need custom prosthetics or life saving surgery.
However, an area within the additive manufacturing realm that is often sidelined is how 3D printing is affecting animals in a positive way.
Prosthetics for humans have been vastly improved by 3D printing capabilities, making them more personalized, comfortable and durable. It should come as no surprise then that such forward-looking improvements have made their way to benefiting our earthly companions. Animals who have lost body parts/limbs due to injury or chronic conditions are starting to gain access to better medical care involving 3D printed prosthetics and therefore personalized artificial limbs, braces, straps and padding, allowing them to live better and longer lives.
Sophisticated software provides solutions to animals in need
Advances in software have yielded more comfortable and ergonomic animal prosthetics over time and if you’re active on social media you’ve probably seen a video or two explaining the background story to a few of the inspiring bionic animals out there. From a parakeet with prosthetic wings and a cat with titanium legs, to an eagle with a prosthetic beak and tortoise on wheels – there are some incredible stories out there, all with 3D printing at the center. Thanks to the vast capabilities that 3D printing offers, animal prosthetics can be lightweight, affordable and personalized. Pretty amazing, right?
One example of this working in practice is with New Jersey product development studio DiveDesign who ship countless prosthetics to their client Bionic Pets each month. Bionic Pets is one of the leading international custom prosthetics and orthotics builders for animals.
DiveDesign founder and designer Adam Hecht told 3dprint.com “One of the popular dog prosthetic offerings is a full limb prosthesis for dogs who have had an entire front limb removed. These prosthetics are important because they take the strain off the dog’s good front leg. Without the prosthetic, dogs are at a much greater risk for joint deterioration and injury.”
DiveDesign collaborates with 3D digital design firm LANDAU Design+Technology to streamline the entire process to a simple 4-step solution. This starts with a 3D scan of the limb mold. Data is then uploaded to certain software before a unique algorithm is utilized to generate a prosthetic from the scan with appropriate mounting points, suitable pattern type, correct thickness and the right amount of flexibility.
Not all 3D printed prosthetics are created equal
While 3D printing enables animal prosthetics to be lightweight, more affordable, and increasingly customizable, it’s important to remember that not all pet prosthetics are created equal. Indeed, some animal medical specialists and veterinarians fear that as such attachments become easier to make and as 3D printing becomes more accessible to us all, that some animals could suffer the consequences of bad craftsmanship.
Theresa Wendland, who specializes in animal sports medicine and rehabilitation at the Colorado Veterinary Specialist Group says that 3D printed prosthetics involve complex processes that take time and technical expertise to master.
It’s absolutely crucial that 3D printed animal prosthetics are correctly tailored, factoring in size, age, height, weight, stance and gait. An animal’s movements therefore need to be studied over a period of time and prosthetic equipment may need to be tweaked over and over until the fit is perfect. While this process can take weeks, and sometimes months, it is worth ensuring everything has been done to achieve maximum comfort, peak durability and the highest level of functionality.
Wendland added that she’s had several people reach out to her who want to DIY 3D print prosthetics for their pets at home. However, the kind of materials people are able to utilize in their home 3D printer most likely will not meet the standard necessary to ensure safe and appropriate design.
She told Wired: “What makes me a little nervous about 3D printing is that people start to get this idea that anybody can make a prosthetic. I just see potential for harm with something like that. I love that people are excited about it and that they want to help, but there’s a lot that has gone into the training and the people who are actually doing this for a living and making this happen in a functional way.”
Animal specialists are getting behind the technology
As time passes ,we are seeing more veterinary clinics offer 3D printing solutions and a greater number of 3D printing companies collaborating with them.
However, 3D printed prosthetics are not solely for helping animals if they are unfortunate enough to lose or require removal of a limb – it can also be used in a preventative capacity too.
For example, 3D Printing Rhino horns has been initiated by the Pembient company in an attempt to deter the poaching of this rare and endangered species. The technology can also be used to achieve longer animal lifespan as shown in the case of Winter, a Bottlenose Dolphin who was rescued in Florida after becoming caught in a crab trap, which resulted in the loss of her tail. This tragic (and all too common) accident meant she was forced to swim unnaturally, with her tail moving side to side instead of up and down. Winter was fitted with a life-saving prosthetic tail that enabled her to swim normally.
Let’s wrap it up
3D printing has made major strides in the medical field in the past decade, so we’re sure it’s uplifting to see such ingenuity shine through in the animal kingdom. Animal lovers out there will be pleased to know that many species could benefit even more from 3D printing as the field continues to expand and grow. Indeed, it’s comforting to know that if an animal requires the use of prosthesis, the technology is out there thanks to additive manufacturing.
The veterinary world could be transformed entirely since the number of euthanized animals might diminish and increasing access to such technology could reduce the cost of 3D prosthetics as they become more mainstream.
Do you have an uplifting story to share about an animal that has benefited from 3D printing? Let us know below!