Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Are Prosthetics for Dogs a Good Idea?

By Ruthie Bently

Most of us have heard about or seen dogs with physical impairments. Some happen through accidents, some through a birth defect, and some happen as the dog ages. Some dogs do perfectly fine after the loss of a limb, while others need assistance of some kind. My first dog Nimber had an accident and lost his right front foot, but after he healed he never had a problem getting around. Some dogs even do well after losing two legs. But what about dogs that might need some help?

Did you know there are now companies that make prosthetics for dogs? I remember seeing carts in the 1970s that were made for pets who had lost the use of their back legs, and now there are companies that make prosthetics for dogs who have had other injuries. Several of them began making prosthetics for people and because of the owner’s love of animals either amended their business to include prosthetics for animals or changed their focus and began making prosthetics for animals exclusively.

A dog that may need a prosthesis is first evaluated to determine what kind of device is best. The dog is appraised using information about any deformity they may have, and the aspects specific to the injury if they received one. Their physical activities and living environment are also taken into consideration. After the evaluation, a cast is made of the part of the body the prosthesis will be used for. The time it takes to manufacture a prosthetic device is typically about five to ten business days. The time can vary depending on which joints of the dog’s body need to be considered, as well as the type of prosthetic and the chosen material it will be manufactured from. As each dog is different, so is the device made for them.

Prosthetics are not intended to be worn 24/7; the dog will need a break from time to time. Because of the materials they’re made from, a prosthetic device will not change its shape or break down over time. To ensure a good fit, the dog needs to use the prosthesis for several weeks. Owners need to watch the prominent bone involved and the dog’s hair and skin for any signs of wear, which will help to determine how well the prosthesis is fitting the dog. By watching the dog use the prosthetic device on a daily basis during regular activities, owners can also determine if it is the proper device for their dog. Adjustments and repairs may need to be made from time to time to make sure the prosthesis keeps doing what it was constructed to do in the proper manner.

Do you think your dog needs a prosthetic device? Have you considered the pros and cons of such a decision? While researching this article I read about a dog that, after being fitted with a device, was miserable when they were forced to wear it. The dog’s owner, while trying to do what they felt was best for the dog (in my opinion) may have made the wrong decision. The dog in question ran away when the device was brought out and once the device was on would chew on it to try and remove it.

There are several things to consider when looking into a prosthetic device for a dog (or a pet of any kind). First and foremost is whether or not the pet would benefit from it both physically and emotionally, and is it in their best interest, or is it to assuage feelings of guilt you may have? Will it add fulfillment and quality to their daily life? The cost of the device and subsequent fittings should also be considered, and whether or not you can afford it.

When Nimber lost his foot I suppose I could have gotten him some kind of prosthesis but never honestly considered it. He didn’t have any physical or emotional issues after his accident; he got on with living and enjoyed his life even with his handicap. I did, however, gain valuable insight from Nimber’s accident. I had many handicapped clients who owned pets and while I always treated them with respect and consideration when helping them find things for their pets, I realized there was something lacking in myself. They dealt with their handicaps in the best way they could, just as Nimber did with his, and I gained even more respect for their handicaps because I lived with a handicapped dog.

Read more articles by Ruthie Bently


  1. The insights you shared were things that I never considered but are very real and important when making a decision. I never considered that my dog might not like the prosthetic. It would be horrible to spend that much money only to have your pet hate it. Thanks

  2. I never knew that there were companies manufacturing prosthetic for dogs. My dog had a fracture of the hip and could not use one of her hind legs. Your insights have really been an eye opener for me. Thanks

  3. my jack russel was born with three legs - 2 back and 1 right front. He is one year old now and for the first 8 weeks of his life (excluding the first 2 weeks) I carried him in a baby sling with the leg holes sewn up. I had talked to the vet about prosthetics and the decision was made to see how he goes as he grew. He is faster than my four legged dogs, always out in front isand compensates when digging by using his head for balance and when playing chasy actually rolls as the big dogs are about to pounce and the larger dogs end up jumped over him and by the time they get back to him he is up and running again. Decision made - NO PROSTHETIC FOR 'HARRY' THE JR

  4. My dog has a missing back leg. I got her from the pound-found as a stray, so I don't know what happened but the vet thinks it was a traumatic loss. I have had her almost 5 years and they guesstimated her to be about 3yrs old when I got her. Up until now, she has gotten along well-able to walk and run and keep up with other dogs, but lately she appears to be in pain and is uable to jump on the couch and tires quickly when we go for walks. She doesn't qualify for a prosthesis because she doesn't have enough "stump" to attach one to and they said it would spin or move too much. I am considering getting her a wheelchair. The one thing that I believe handicap pet owners need to think about when considering a prosthetic is if it could help maintain correct alignment in the rest of the body so that the pet doesn't develop injury or arthritis from overuse of their working limbs which I think is what has happened to my beloved Sophie.


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