Amy Kaufmann, President of OrthoPets / Used With PermissionThis week, I read an article by Timon Singh in Inhabitat about Naki'o, a dog from Nebraska who lost his limbs, part of his tail, a bit of his nose and ear to frostbite as a puppy.
After extensive surgery, rehabilitation, and prosthetic fittings, he is now dubbed the world's first "bionic" dog.
As you can imagine, the journey to make Naki'o comfortable enough to play on four artificial limbs could not have been easy.
I contacted OrthoPets and Amy Kaufmann, the president of OrthoPets, provided me with numerous photos of Naki'o to use for this article.
I was in total awe of Naki'o playing and jumping on four prosthetic limbs.
In the early '90s, I learned how to make prostheses of all kinds (for humans). To have someone walk with confidence on a prosthetic leg was a huge accomplishment (for the patient and the technician).
To see a dog jump in the air with four prosthetic limbs: miraculous.
You see, an artificial limb sends no sensory information to the brain. When I learned about myoelectric hands, the challenge was simply grip. The user would have no way to sense whether a glass would slip from their artificial hand or be crushed when he or she picked it up.
Lindsey Mladinich via Amy Kaufmann, President of OrthoPets / Used With PermissionWalking on artificial legs is a bit like using stilts, but more difficult (since you have no use of your arms or hands to hold the stilts steady either).
To see a dog playing so actively is nothing short of a miracle. The journey is long for technicians to perfect just one limb. There is a great deal of trial-and-error involved that prosthetic technicians don't discuss or that the public never hears about.
For animals, the challenge is even greater. Motola, one of many elephants Soraida Salwala saved (who inspired the award-winning documentary The Eyes of Thailand) endured a 10-year rehabilitation before she could be fitted with an artificial leg.
The challenge with a dog or cat (or any animal) is enormous. The residual limb on a human has more flesh and surface area which helps to redistribute body weight and keep bony, tender parts from injury. Plus, patients can talk to you. They tell what hurts and where.
Of course, improved socket design and cushioning has helped immensely since I was in school. Yet residual limbs and their surrounding tissue are not meant to bear weight (the way our feet are), so there is a constant need to address lichenification (a thickening of the skin), infections, continued bone growth (requiring surgery), pressure sores and blisters.
Similarly, the pads on the paws of a dog (or cat) are specially designed for weight-bearing. Without real paw pads, residual limb skin is thinner and more prone to breakdown. Plus, there is fur to contend with (which can provide a challenging surface which is vulnerable to infections).
Lindsey Mladinich via Amy Kaufmann, President of OrthoPets / Used With PermissionThe term "bionic" isn't quite accurate, since prostheses are not a one-time, one-fit solution. A pet (or a person) making full use of a weight-bearing prosthesis is an ongoing balance of care and readjustment.
To me, creating a prosthetic involves as much math and engineering as it does art. Every person, every animal has a different gait. For some exceptional technicians, like Martin Kaufmann, founder and owner of OrthoPets, there must be a high level of skill and intuition involved when crafting these artificial limbs.
Not everyone in the field of prosthetics can accomplish such a task. When I was in school, I would not have thought this was possible.
With animals, there is less flesh to absorb the impact and less area to attach a limb to. In short, it's a formidable task to even keep an artificial limb on a pet. Ever try to put a sock on a cat's or dog's foot? They shake it off immediately, if not sooner.
My jaw dropped when I watched this 24-second long video of Naki'o playing (shown next):
World's First Prosthetic-Pawed Dog
By Christie Tomlinson
To Accomplish This Must Have Taken
An Incredible Team of People and a Special Dog
Lindsey Mladinich via Amy Kaufmann, President of OrthoPets / Used With PermissionStephen L. Brauns wrote an in-depth article (found on the OrthoPets website) about Naki'o. From it, I learned that Naki'o's owner, Christie Pace, a veterinarian assistant, adopted him from a rescue shelter. She is responsible for raising the funds to pay for his left hind leg prosthesis.
But it was OrthoPets that was so kind to donate Naki'o's other three legs!
The first plan was to address Naki'o's left hind leg, the most seriously affected limb. Owner Martin Kaufmann explained, "Naki’o’s legs were very uneven and his non-surgical amputation had left very sharp ends in his residual limbs."
OrthoPets medical director and partner, Patrice M. Mich, DVM, MS Diplomate American College of Veterinary Anesthesiologists, was consulted. They all concluded that Nakio needed four limbs, not just one.
At first they tried a prosthetic limb without any surgery on Naki’o’s leg bone structure - but this did not provide an ideal or lasting solution. So, Dr. Anne Pierce (who has since opened her own practice Village Center Veterinary Care) performed revisional surgery on both his left hind and right front legs at High Plains Veterinary Hospital in Colorado Springs.
This surgery results in a cone-shaped end that keeps the bony ends slightly off the prosthetic socket; a "relief" area where weight-bearing or contact would be minimal. The cone-shape also helps distribute pressure more comfortably along the residual limbs.
Amy Kaufmann, President of OrthoPets / Used With PermissionWith Naki'o, each limb presented different challenges. To see a dog ambulate so naturally on all four artificial legs is an incredible accomplishment. This probably took months and months of work and rehabilitation.
Naki'o must have endured a great deal of pain along the way. I'm sure his owner Christie Pace kept up with his medications, rehabilitation, and treatment plan. This dog had complete trust in those who cared for him which speaks volumes about the people behind this monumental success. It also says a lot about this special dog, who obviously never gave up. Dr. Patrice M. Mich (known as Dr. Patsy) confirmed this when she stated:
"Never in 21 years have I seen a case like this. Having met his family, I knew if anyone could do it, they could."
OrthoPets was founded by Amy and Martin Kaufmann in 2003 and has created hundreds of orthotic and prosthetic devices for dogs and other animals, but there has never been a dog with four prosthetic limbs. Until now.
Lindsey Mladinich via Amy Kaufmann, President of OrthoPets and Christie Pace / Used With PermissionNaki’o is the Hawaiian word for "puddles." As Christie Pace explains on her website devoted to helping dogs and cats with disabilities:
"As a very young puppy he was left in an abandoned home in the harsh Nebraska winter. Not only was he malnourished and had mange but he was frozen into a puddle. He had severe frost bite that took all his toes, part of his tail and nose."
This special woman founded Nakio's Underdog Rescue (on Facebook: Nakio's Underdog Rescue), a non-profit organization dedicated to rescuing dogs and cats with disabilities, to find loving homes for them, and to provide resources and education to help adopters better understand and provide for their pets’ disabilities.
And wouldn't you know it, Naki'o has his own Facebook page: Naki'o the Bionic Dog. He's a public figure.
Martin Kaufmann, BSBA, Prosthetic/Orthotic Technologist, C-Ped, Owner & Founder has his work published in the North American Rehabilitation Guide. He lectures at universities and consults with hundreds of veterinarians. He and his team have advanced the field of veterinary prosthetics (and orthotics) in an unimaginable way.
Bravo to everyone involved in Naki'o's care and successful rehabilitation with four prosthetic limbs!
Visit OrthoPets and Veterinary Orthotics & Prosthetics for more information about this fine company and leader in the industry. OrthoPets also provides orthoses (braces and splints) that help animals with various injuries, chronic conditions, and diseases as well.
To give you some idea of the arduous journey it requires of both the human team and the animal, take a peek at Tucker's Prosthetic Journey (with just one artificial limb) shown next.