Meet Lucca, our February 2017 Pet of the Month. Lucca came to us in May 2016, when she was only 3 months old. Her family was interested in orthotic device options because she her L front limb was not developing like her R front limb. Her left front paw was smaller than the right front paw and she turned her carpus (wrist) out to the side. Even though she was still small at her 1st visit, she was already extending her L elbow farther than the R elbow to help her reach for the ground with her tiny tiptoes.
So why would an orthotic device be important for Lucca? Well, for pets like Lucca, similar to people, differences in limb length get worse as they grow. In many cases, it is worse for a pet because their limbs are shorter than ours, so small differences can be more significant overall due to the proportions. In particular for Lucca, the stress on all her little L limb joints would likely create arthritis. The stress on her R wrist could cause it to fail over time and also develop arthritis. The shifting to the left over a lifetime would lead to problems in her neck and spine. All of these potential problems down the road make planning for an orthotic device when she is young is so very important. Once the damage is done, it can't be reversed. So, realistically, her orthotic device is wonderful preventative medicine for her future!
Since we met her early in her life, we were able to monitor her growth and watch for any trouble areas that might develop. She had a lot of growing to do before we could cast her for her orthosis - casting is usually done once the majority of long bone growth is completed. It is important to make sure that any significant deviations in limb angle are addressed if they arise because surgery may be needed in those cases. Lucca really had no significant issues as she grew, which was a blessing. Although she did break a weight-bearing toe in her little L front paw and needed to wear a splint for a spell while the fractured toe healed. In reality, her splint time probably helped to prepare her for her orthosis!
The other reason that starting early with animals having congenital problems is important is that we can pre-train some of the rehabilitation exercises that they will need later on. Lucca was an eager student, so her “prehab” visits were a lot of fun. Our goal is to find movements and exercises to target muscle building and behaviors for the puppy which will be needed once the orthotic device is finally built and fitted. At each visit, we learned together. Lucca showed us new skills and we created new homework for her family to practice until the next session 4-6 weeks later. These exercises really helped to make the transition to using the orthosis much easier overall - for everyone, especially Lucca and her family.
So the casting day finally arrived and Lucca did great! Peanut butter made us invisible and we had a lovely cast of her leg to send to OrthoPets, who made her orthotic device. On 12/15/16, Lucca received her custom L carpus-paw orthosis which helps to correct her limb length discrepancy. What did Lucca think of her new boot? She did great and very quickly walked in it like it was no big deal.
That doesn't mean that the work is complete though. She will have to learn to do everything wearing this device, which won't be difficult, but will require some guidance. We will have to monitor for any skin irritation or problems along the way. We have some goals to complete also. Lucca's L shoulder muscles are smaller than her R side, so we will monitor this and structure new exercises to help with making them more equal. She stands with her L shoulder pushed forward and has done this for 10 months, so muscle re-education will take a while to help her posture normalize.
Social media and the news make it all look so easy, but there is a lot of work that goes into teaching pets to use orthotic and prosthetic devices. Lucca loves to work, so she will do great! Stay tuned for updates on this sweet girl!