Science is advancing at a phenomenal rate and some of our newer technology such as 3D printing, is of great benefit to our pets. This involves creating a physical object from a digital design or image. A computer is used to design a solid object; then, the object can be printed using a number of materials, including plastic and metal. 3D printing has been used for a number of years for engineering purposes, but there are many ways it can be applied to veterinary medicine.
In 2009, Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine worked with their College of Engineering to print the bones of a dog based on CT scans of its legs. The dog needed intricate surgery and the veterinarians used the printed bones to plan the operation and customize the metal plates and pins that would be used in the procedure. This is thought to be one of the first uses of 3D technology in the treatment of animals.
Fast forward fifteen years and 3D printing is still improving the care of pets. The University of Pennsylvania is using 3D-printed models of bones and skulls to prepare better for intricate surgery. For example, a patient with a skull deformity had a model of their skull printed so that their veterinarians could actually hold the model and better understand the condition.
These 3D-printed models are not just useful to veterinarians involved in the treatment of these patients; they're also an excellent tool to explain to worried pet parents about what's going to happen to their much-loved pet, and it can help to improve the training of student vets.
Other examples of how 3D printing has been used in veterinary medicine:
- Yogo the Malamute was born with an abnormally shortened front leg. A printed prosthetic extension for that leg allows her to run, jump, and play. She'll need the prosthetic replaced as she grows, but now she can enjoy a normal puppyhood.
- In 2005, a Bald Eagle was shot in the face by hunters. She survived but her upper beak was destroyed. A mold was made of the beak and then scanned into a computer. The 3D image was then printed and the resulting nylon-polymer beak was attached to the remaining beak with titanium mounts. She could then eat and drink on her own again.
- TurboRoo, the two-legged Chihuahua, was born with no front legs. He has a customized 3D-printed mobility cart that is light and durable. He can now move forwards and backwards, and stop and start as he wishes.
- Australia's national science body, CSIRO, has used 3D-printing technology to manufacture custom titanium horseshoes to rehabilitate lame horses.
- Derby the dog has two printed prosthetics to support his deformed front legs. Before he was fitted with his new limbs, he couldn't walk or even sit up properly. The curved prosthetics have tread on the sole and his name printed on them! He now runs several miles regularly with his pet parent.
It's exciting to see where 3D printing will go in the future and what applications it will have. Already, this technology is making life easier for a number of species and the veterinarians who care for them.
Photo by youtube.com/channel/UCsx-A5uSO_gYgi5A4RXFCag