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How to Make a Prosthetic Leg for a Dog: Process of 3D Printing (Vet-Reviewed)

Written by: Elizabeth Gray

Last Updated on May 14, 2024 by Dogster Team

dog wearing a pink prosthetic leg

How to Make a Prosthetic Leg for a Dog: Process of 3D Printing (Vet-Reviewed)

VET APPROVED

Dr. Chyrle Bonk Photo

REVIEWED & FACT-CHECKED BY

Dr. Chyrle Bonk

DVM (Veterinarian)

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

Learn more »

Although it’s a serious condition, losing a leg may not impact a dog’s life as much as you might think. Most dogs adapt well to living with three legs. However, dogs who seem well-adjusted may eventually suffer physical issues due to their missing limbs.

To prevent those issues, dog owners can purchase prosthetic legs. While dog prosthetics have been around for decades, new technologies, specifically 3D printing, have changed the game in recent years.

In this article, we’ll show you the step-by-step instructions for making a 3D-printed dog prosthetic leg. We’ll also cover some of the factors that determine whether a dog is a good candidate for a prosthetic leg.

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Before You Begin

Although 3D printers are relatively affordable, you shouldn’t try to DIY your own prosthetic. If improperly constructed, a prosthetic leg can do your dog more harm than good, and not all dogs will accept them either. Instead, you’ll need to enlist the help of the experts.

You can talk to your veterinarian to determine if a prosthetic leg is a good option for your dog. If so, they can help you contact one or more companies that produce 3D-printed prosthetics for dogs as it can be a very involved process.

How to Make a Prosthetic Leg for a Dog in 5 Steps

1. Measure

Prosthetic legs must be custom-made for each dog, just like they are for people. The first step in producing a prosthesis is to get accurate measurements of the dog. 3D modeling and physical measurements can be used, depending on where the leg will need to attach.

3d models of dog leg prosthetics
Image Credit: Property of WIRED. All rights reserved to the copyright owners.

2. Study the Dog’s Gait

Size isn’t the only factor that matters when creating a prosthetic leg for a dog. It also needs to have the right biomechanics to match the dog’s normal gait and posture.

Without these specifics, the dog can suffer painful side effects when they try to walk on the replacement leg. For example, the prosthetic leg could throw off the dog’s spinal alignment, leading to back problems.

Experts must map your dog’s gait and possibly perform computer modeling to ensure they print a prosthetic that mimics their remaining legs.


3. Create a Plaster Cast

Whether your dog is receiving a 3D-printed prosthetic leg or a traditional version, the next step is to create a plaster cast of the leg. This provides those building the prosthetic with a working model to test before they make the real thing. They can tweak details like measurements and movement and get an idea of how the dog will adapt to wearing the device.

3d printing of dog leg prosthetics
Image Credit: Property of WIRED. All rights reserved to the copyright owners.

4. Create the Prosthetic

Once the creators are confident in their measurements and biomechanics, the next step is to make the prosthetic. Traditional prosthetics are generally made of molded plastic, while 3D-printed ones are made of various materials. For 3D printing, the dog’s specifications are saved in an electronic file and then printed.


5. Customize the Design

Once the prosthetic is made, the final step is to have the dog try on the leg and make any necessary adjustments. This is where 3D printing has the advantage over traditional prosthetic legs.

If you need to modify a 3D leg, you can just resize and adjust the file before printing a new prosthetic. Making changes to traditional prosthetic legs is much more time-consuming.

dog with prosthetic leg running outdoors
Image Credit: Property of 3D PETS. All rights reserved to the copyright owners.

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Is Your Dog a Good Candidate for a Prosthetic Leg?

While they can be helpful in many cases, not every dog is a good candidate for a prosthetic leg. Several factors must be considered before deciding to proceed with this option, including the dog’s size and age.

Very small or very large dogs are the hardest to make prosthetics for. Older dogs may have other joint problems that could impact their ability to adapt to a prosthetic.

The location of the lost leg and how much of it remains also factor into the decision. Prosthetics usually work best on dogs who still have part of their leg left. Replacing fully amputated legs is still a work in progress, mainly because of issues in how to attach them to the dog’s body.

Small details also matter, such as the health of the skin and soft tissue on the missing leg. Another factor is whether the dog still has a knee or elbow joint. Those that do tend to adapt better to a prosthetic.

The length of time the dog has been missing the limb is also important. Those who’ve been three-legged dogs for a long time may be so adapted to the new reality that they may struggle with a prosthetic.

Finally, you’ll need to consider the dog’s personality. Dogs usually need weeks or months of training and physical therapy to learn how to use their prosthetic leg. Those who are friendly and easy to handle are generally the best candidates.

Dog owners must be prepared to devote a lot of time and money to getting the prosthetic made, teaching the dog how to use it, and making necessary adjustments. They must also be aware of potential complications, such as chafing, skin sores, and spinal misalignment if the prosthetic doesn’t fit correctly.

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Conclusion

Prosthetic legs are an amazing tool that can help improve the mobility and quality of life of dogs with missing limbs. Thanks to 3D printing, the process of making a prosthetic leg is becoming more streamlined and cost-effective, making it accessible to more dog owners.

However, not every dog is a good candidate for a prosthetic leg, and not every owner is prepared for the time commitment. Many dogs adapt just fine to losing a limb, so take the time to determine whether a prosthetic leg is the best choice for your pet before you begin.


Featured Image Credit: Property of WIRED. All rights reserved to the copyright owners.

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