Mar 8, 2016 | By Benedict

Ziggy, a three-legged border collie, is up and walking again after University of Queensland lecturers used 3D printing to repair his damaged front leg. CT scans of Ziggy’s leg were used to create 3D printed models, which UQ staff used to assess bone torsion.

It has long been said that dogs are man’s best friend, but has 3D printing now become the dog’s best friend? After all, the burgeoning technology is being used more and more frequently—and in several different ways—to help disabled mutts back onto their paws, which is allowing the entire Canis familiaris species to breathe a little easier whenever accidents and deformities come around. In recent times, we have seen a 3D printed leg given to a Mexican whippet and a 3D printed wheelchair given to a chihuahua. Now, veterinary staff and students at the University of Queensland’s Veterinary Medical Centre have used 3D printing to create a vital surgical model for another canine-in-need.

The beneficiary of the 3D printed model is Ziggy, a three-legged border collie adopted in 2014 by UQ PhD students Rebecca Colvin and Glenn Althor. Abandoned whilst still a small puppy, the courageous pooch learnt to walk around using only three legs after his front right leg required amputation following a difficult break. Soon, however, the dog started to have trouble with his remaining front leg.

“He was a happy little puppy and didn’t mind at all that he only had three legs,” Colvin told UQ News. “However, a few months later we started to notice that he wasn’t walking well. He was limping, and seemed to be in pain. Our local vet referred us to the referral surgical service at the UQ VETS Small Animal Hospital in Gatton, where it was explained that Ziggy had an angular limb deformity as a result of damage to the growth plates in his front leg.”

It transpired that all Ziggy’s enthusiastic hopping on that single front leg had bent and twisted it, causing the dog to experience pain upon walking and running. To give the adorable mutt a chance at a normal life, his owners knew that the leg had to be fixed. In 2014, Ziggy underwent surgery to have part of a bone in his leg removed, which surgeons believed would stop the deformity from worsening.

The surgery was semi-successful, but as soon as Ziggy’s splint was removed, problems again started to occur. Within a few months, the border collie started to develop arthritis in his carpus, with some of his carpal ligament becoming stretched. Further surgery would be needed to keep Ziggy on his paws, with Senior lecturer in small animal surgery at the School of Veterinary Science Dr Jayne McGhie enlisted to perform the operation. To minimize damage to the leg in question prior to surgery, a two-wheeled cart was made for Ziggy, enabling him to roll around and maintain his overall health.

A number of veterinary and 3D printing experts from UQ VETS Small Animal Hospital, UQ's School of Veterinary Science, and the Queensland College of Arts at Griffith University were called upon to help with the surgery, which require a 3D printed model of Ziggy’s leg to help surgeons fully prepare for the task. “They helped with 3D modeling so our students were exposed to the latest surgical planning techniques,” McGhie explained. “CT scan images of Ziggy’s leg were used to create computerized and printed three-dimensional models of his limb. These models were then used to calculate where the bone had to be cut and how it had to be manipulated to straighten the limb so Ziggy could walk normally.”

McGhie and Dr Lance Wilson performed the surgery just before Christmas 2015, cutting and realigning the abnormally-shaped bone with the aid of the 3D printed models. The surgery was a success. For the eight weeks immediately after the surgery, Ziggy was returned to his wheeled cart, giving the bone ample time to repair itself. An external fixator frame is still attached to the front leg, but Ziggy is now walking without the help of the cart.

“He has just become stronger and stronger every day,” Colvin said. “His recovery has astounded us, as has the improvement to the shape of his leg. Jayne [McGhie] and the vet hospital have looked after Ziggy and us so well. We are so thankful to both the UQ VETS Small Animal Hospital and the RSPCA for all their support and care.”

All images: UQ

If Ziggy’s story and face seem familiar to you, it could be because he popped up on our radar in June last year, when a different 3D printed bone replica was made for his owners by local 3D printing startup owner Don McGuinness. It is unclear whether that 3D printed bone model proved insufficient for surgical requirements, or whether it did in fact play some role in the dog’s recovery, but no mention has been made of McGuinness’s involvement since the new story broke earlier today.

And so, another day being had by another dog, thanks to the expertise of veterinary staff and the reliability of 3D printing technology. Ziggy’s case demonstrates how 3D printing can be used not only to create plastic prostheses for pets, but to assist surgeons looking to fix those little dog limbs. We hope to see Ziggy hopping around for many years to come.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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