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OrthoPets Center for Veterinary Orthotics
and Prosthetics, Denver, Colorado, USA
Orthotics are made to fit the specific dog, so for that reason they are pretty expensive. There are three layers in an orthotic, and the first one goes next to the skin. It is usually made of foam, so that it won't irritate the skin. The next layer is a hard plastic that is molded to keep the leg in the right position. And then on the outside, there are straps with Velcro to fasten them. Some dogs need to wear their orthotics all the time, and others just wear them when they are exercising.
The goal in using an orthotic is to get the dog's gait to be as normal as possible. Also, orthotics can be used if a dog is too old or has a medical condition that keeps her from having surgery. You can watch a video of orthotics being made at the OrthoPets site. Another company that makes all kinds of helpful products for dogs is K-9 Orthotics.
A second kind of device that helps a dog walk is a prosthetic. A prosthetic is an artificial leg or paw that replaces one that is missing. A dog who has his entire leg amputated, with only a stump left, cannot wear a prosthetic, because there has to be something to attach the prosthetic to. Also, whatever part of the leg the prosthetic is fastened to has to be strong enough for the dog to be able to move his artificial leg after it is attached.
Usually, a prothesis is made of steel or plastic, and it may have a joint in it. Sometimes it can be attached with surgery to the dog's leg bone. This way, the dog's own muscles and tendons will help produce a more natural gait. Another way of attaching the prosthetic is to have a sleeve at the top that fits over the dog's natural leg.
Naki'o's owner raised the money for him to get one prosthetic hind leg, and then the company that made that one donated the other three. So now Naki'o can run around more or less like a regular dog. You can read more about him and watch a short video here.
The third kind of device that helps dogs get around is called an assistance device or doggy wheelchair. These can also be custom-made for whatever problem the dog has. Some dogs are unable to use their hind legs because of paralysis or arthritis. So a two-wheeled cart might work well for them. There are also four-wheeled carts for dogs that are quadriplegics or that are healing up from some kind of surgery.