Student 3D prints legs for limbless dogs

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As a puppy Sonia was hit by a truck and lost part of her right hind leg.

Ever since she has been learning to walk with just three limbs, but it’s affecting her posture and her owner Karolina Popecka is concerned for her future welfare.

Popecka and her dog are now looking forward to the future because Sonia is to be fitted with her new prosthesis.

She says: “I’m counting on her being able to walk in this prosthesis because I would like her to take some of the weight off her hind leg. I can see she gets tired sometimes. She’s not like regular dogs, she will not jump on the bed or run faster after a duck, right?”

The asymmetry left by her accident is having negative effects on Sonia’s body.

“The prosthesis is needed to help her hips work the right way, because I can already see that the right leg, the one that’s missing, goes down very much and the hip is also shifting right, too.  And this is not healthy for the dog, because when she gets older, her joints can simply fail,” says Popecka.

Sonia is getting her new prosthesis thanks to this veterinary student in in Wroclaw.

Maciej Szczepanski is making individually fitted 3D printed prostheses for dogs in the same predicament as Sonia.

He believes the unequal distribution of weight on three legs of a dog causes the limbless joint to atrophy and people are wrong to believe animals can live normally despite losing a limb.

“Yes, there is this opinion that dogs can cope very well on three legs and they do manage, because, in fact, they have to manage somehow. But, in fact, there are many cases of degeneration if a dog distributes its weight on only three limbs and not on four, as it should be. So degeneration of joints occurs, restructuring of the muscles atrophy of muscles in the unused limb.  So the whole animal suffers,” says Szczepanski.

He believes his devices are better suited for the needs of individual animals and, at up to 3,000 zlotys ($750) they are much cheaper than traditional endoprostheses which are attached surgically.

After making a mould of the dog’s stump, Szczepanski takes a digital scan of it at his university’s digitization centre. 

At home he has a 3D printer he uses to make the leg.

“My prostheses are, first of all, created individually for a specific animal, that’s what makes them so good. Because they respond to the needs of a specific animal. They perfectly fit the stump, they are perfect in terms of size and their height is also adjustable, which is definitely a big advantage,” says Szczepanski.

According to the student: “(3D prostheses) are cheaper than endoprostheses, for example, due to the fact that this printing process is a relatively cheap method, it is also quite widely available and can be made quickly.”

Eventually he hopes to set up a business making the prostheses.

The lockdown during the pandemic gave him the time and opportunity to work out the smallest details of the process.

According to Szczepanski although the 3D printer method is used in other countries, it is still relatively new in Poland where he is based.

Sonia is getting a fitting with her prosthesis today, there’s no knowing how long it will take before she is able to walk normally again, but Popecka is hopeful.

“I think she will be more confident. I want her to have this prosthesis because I want the best for her health. After all, that’s why you have a pet, to keep it happy,” she says.

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