But that all could change starting with a special pup named Derby, the first animal to be successfully fitted with 3D printed prosthetics. A few months ago, Tara Anderson, an employee at South Carolina based 3D printing company 3DS, started fostering the Husky mix born with two deformed front legs. She initially fitted Derby with a dog cart, but after it limited his mobility she enlisted a few of her colleagues to help make Derby prosthetic legs with their 3D technology. They were all on board, but none of them knew anything about designing prosthetics.
So Tara reached out to Derrick Campana, founder of Animal Ortho Care in Virginia, one of the first companies to make orthotics and prosthetics specifically for animals. Derrick had been wanting to incorporate 3D printing into his business because not all of the materials and tools that work for making human prosthetics are 100 percent compatible with animals. For example, the technology used to scan a person's leg is not so accurate when scanning a furry leg.
So while Derrick still had to mold a custom fiberglass cast, 3D printing brought speed and flexibility to the project. "The beauty of 3D printing is that if the design needs to be adjusted, we don't have to wait for time-consuming and expensive traditional manufacturing processes, we can simply print out a new set," said 3DS vice president Buddy Byrum. The new technology allowed them to create complete prosthetics printed in a single, custom-fit build.
Derby did have to learn how to use the prosthetics, with the help of his veterinarian and physical therapist, but now the energetic pup runs two to three miles a day with his adoptive parents.
Derrick plans to continue collaborating with 3DS to further advance the field of animal prosthetics and hopes to one day be able to directly scan canine legs to make the process even more efficient.
It takes a lot of work to successfully fit a dog with prosthetics, but seeing Derby's happy face certainly makes it all worth it.