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Dachshund with Cancer Gets 3D-Printed Dog Skull

The procedure is thought to be the first of its kind in North America
By Karen B. London PhD, October 2018, Updated June 2021
Patches before the operation to replace part of her skull with a titanium implant. (Canadian Press)

(University of Guelph)

(University of Guelph)

(University of Guelph)

A 9-year old Dachshund became the beneficiary of a miracle in modern veterinary medicine when she received a custom made titanium skull courtesy of 3D printing technology. Patches had a bump on her head for years, prompting her guardians to call her their little unicorn. When that lump began to grow aggressively, it went from a charming feature to a life-threatening medical condition. In order to take out the cancer, about 70 percent of her skull had to be removed.

During a single surgery, veterinary surgeons removed the cancerous portions of her skull and fitted her with the custom skull. In order for that to work, a lot of prep work was done by a large team of surgeons, software engineers and an industrial engineer. The first step was doing a CT scan of Patches’ head and of the tumor. Using various software programs to work with the image, they digitally removed the tumor and the parts of the skull that were not healthy. Finally, they mapped out the positioning of a 3D-printed skull and its exact shape, and sent that design to an advanced 3D printing company that creates medical-grade products. It took two weeks to make the skull.

The primary veterinary surgeon also had to create and follow an extremely precise guide for the cutting during surgery. The margin for error was small because discrepancies as small as two millimeters would have meant failure. It took four hours to perform the surgery, which was a success.

Not only did this entire procedure allow Patches to survive against the odds, it also is a success that engineers and medical professionals can build on. It is now more likely that in the future, other experts will perform similar procedures on additional dogs and perhaps on people as well.

Photos courtesy of University of Guelph

Karen B. London, Ph.D. is a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist and Certified Professional Dog Trainer who specializes in working with dogs with serious behavioral issues, including aggression. Karen writes the animal column for the Arizona Daily Sun and is an Adjunct Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Northern Arizona University. She is the author of six books about canine training and behavior, including her most recent, Treat Everyone Like a Dog: How a Dog Trainer’s World View Can Improve Your Life