While some people criticize the efforts put into these prosthetics, particularly in species that are not under threat of extinction, it is important to realize that these developments could help save a critical breeding member of an endangered species one day. Additionally, many of these techniques are brand new and by testing them on animals, researchers are developing useful insights to see if they may one day work on humans. If you end up losing a body part and get a bionic replacement twenty years from now, you might just have a cat or dog to thank for your top-of-the-line prosthetic.
Oscar the Cat
Oscar lost his two rear legs in an accident with a combine harvester. After losing so much blood, his owners were told to expect the worst, but even after he survived the ordeal, their vet warned that cats rarely live happy lives with only two legs. Fortunately, he referred Oscars owners, Kate Allen and Mike Nolan to a veterinary surgeon who specializes in state-of-the-art animal medicine.
After looking at Oscar’s situation, Dr. Noel Fitzpatrick agreed to take on the new patient, surgically fitting him with implants that can eventually be attached to prosthetic paws. The surgery makes Oscar a notable kitty as he is the first cat to ever have prosthetic paws.
While the process was a success, Oscar’s paws haven’t yet been perfected for outdoor use. He has been made to be a house cat for the rest of his life, but really…that’s not all that bad now is it, especially when you consider how he was injured in the first place.
Storm the Dog
The first animal to receive such treatment though was Storm, a Belgian Sheperd, who lost his paw after it became infected with a tumor. The same vet that would later provide Oscar with his bionic paws, Noel Fitzpatrick, was the first to offer this service to any animal and Storm was the perfect candidate. Fitzpatrick says that he hopes his developments can eventually be used to help soldiers returning from Iraq and victims of the July 7th bombings in London.
Naki’o the Dog
Naki’o became the first dog in the world to be fitted with a full set of bionic paws from Orthopets, a leader in the pet prosthetics industry. Far from just helping him walk easier, the paws are so well attached that he can now run and swim just as he did before the accident. Naki’o lost his paws due to severe frostbite after his previous owners abandoned him to fend for himself throughout the freezing winter in Nebraska. Despite the fact that the poor pup had to crawl on his stomach to move, he still found a loving adoptive family who worked tirelessly to raise the money to get Naki’o the prosthetics he desperately needed. Their efforts paid off as Naki’o is now thrilled to have his bionic paws and is eager to run, jump and fetch with his new family.
Boonie the Goat
Boonie was a happy little goat, until he got tangled in a rope and broke his leg trying to escape back in 2008. Unfortunately, the break was so bad that his leg had to be amputated. Fortunately, Boonie’s owner cared enough about her little goat to get in touch with Orthopets, the same company that would later help Naki’o. He now happily frolics and forages with his own specially-designed leg.
Coal the Dog
Coal was eight years old in 2008, when his left paw had to be amputated due to cancer. Vets warned that he might have to be put down because his other legs were too weak to carry him. But his loving owner, Reg Walker, refused to accept this fate and instead shelled out more than $15,000 to get Coal his own bionic leg that was completely compatible with Coal’s tissue. The titanium alloy used is specially designed to mimic the dog’s skin so the natural skin and bone will seal with the metal implant without being rejected by the body. Veterinarians involved with the process are hopeful this new technique can be adapted to help bombing victims recover from their traumatic injuries much more quickly and easily.
Fuji the Dolphin
Fuji was a popular inhabitant at the Okinawa aquarium where she lived…that is, until an unknown disease started eating away at her tail fin. To save her life, veterinarians had to amputate almost all of her tail. Unfortunately, for a dolphin, that is practically a death sentence in itself as it leaves them unable to swim, jump or dive in the water.
Fortunately, the Bridgestone tire company heard about poor Fuji and stepped in with a team of researchers dedicated to helping the little dolphin get back to her old hijinks. They tried design after design, carefully perfecting a prosthetic tail that Fuji would feel comfortable with that would also be strong enough to support her swimming. Eventually, they got it right and now Fuji is back in the limelight where she is most happy, swimming and jumping with a new lease on life.
Winter the Dolphin
Image via crimfants [Flickr]
While Fuji was the first dolphin to receive a prosthetic tail, Winter is certainly the most famous. In fact, after Winter received her prosthetic, a documentary was soon made about her, titled Winter, the Dolphin That Could, and not long after that, Warner Bros made a fictionalized version of the story starring Morgan Freeman, Dolphin Tale.
Just in case you haven’t seen either of the movies though, it all started when the three-month-old dolphin got tangled up in a crab trap line and ended up losing her tail and two vertebrae in the process. Like Fuji, she was left unable to swim. Fortunately, Hanger Orthopedic Group stepped forward to help provide her with a prosthetic. Eventually Winter learned to swim again and become a star attraction at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium.
Yu Chan the Sea Turtle
Images via Kawamura Gishi
Of course, dolphins aren’t the only critters that rely on their fins to swim. When Yu Chan was discovered without two front flippers, presumably due to a shark attack, the Sea Turtle Association of Japan stepped in to help her out with two prosthetic flippers. Many designs were tested, with the Association hoping to eventually develop fins that could be bionically attached to the animal, as the prosthetics will have to be very sturdy and attached quite tightly if they are to be expected to last throughout the rest of Yu Chan’s life, which could go on another 50 years.
Not only is the rescue a big deal for Yu Chan, but also for sea turtle enthusiasts throughout the world, as only one other sea turtle was ever fitted with a false flipper, but the attempt failed after her stump proved too small to hold the prosthetic.
Beauty the Eagle
Beauty lost her top beak due to a reckless poacher. She had difficulty preening her feathers, drinking and eating had become practically impossible for her until she was taken to a recovery center in Anchorage.
It took a full three years for researchers to develop a working artificial beak that would help her grasp food. Even so, the beak pictured isn’t even a permanent solution. This first model was created to help engineers develop more precise measurements for her second prosthetic. While the final beak will fit better and be designed with tougher materials, there are no plans to release Beauty back into the wild, as the team fears she has spent far too much time relying on humans to survive on her own again.
Motala the Elephant
Motala made headlines in 1999 when the Thai elephant lost her foot after stepping on a landmine. While vets were able to save most of her leg, it still was left shorter than the others. It took researchers six years to develop a prosthetic that would work for the pachyderm. She then had to use a temporary prosthetic made with wood shaving for another eight months until she became strong enough to be fitted with the permanent one made with fiberglass and silicone. That’s because poor Motala became so used to not using that leg that she had to become reaccustomed to walking with it.
Of course, there are plenty more animal prosthetic stories out there. In fact, while this article focuses on the newest and most high-tech versions, I’m sure many of you know an animal that has been fitted with a prosthetic of one kind or another. If you have any of your own stories, feel free to share them in the comments.