A Ph.D. graduate student at Louisiana State University is looking at the possibility of prosthetic legs for horses. Niki Marie Hansen is exploring implanting prosthetic legs directly to the leg bones of horses. Hansen has gone back to school with the desire of committing her life to making prosthetic legs for animals.
When she was a young girl, she had a horse which only had three legs. The horse was unable to support itself enough because of the missing leg and the animal died. It has been her dream to give some horses a longer and more mobile life. She is in hopes of there coming a day when a implanted prosthetic leg on a horse can be just as nice as those made for humans.
It is next to impossible to fix a horse's leg after a break. In a human leg, it means about eight weeks in a plaster cast, a few weeks physical therapy and then the patient is back to normal. However, the bones of a horse tend to shatter. Any kind of healing is usually not successful and can be very expensive. If the leg is fixed, the horse may wake up from the anesthetic and, still again, rebreak the bone due to thrashing his body around as he wakes up. In many cases, the horse would have to have their body weight supported for a long period of time in a sling.
There are a lot of tendons in the lower leg with little muscle and a limited blood supply. Healing time and infections are serious considerations and this is why the majority of horses that break their legs are put down.
Although prosthetic legs for horses present quite a challenge they have already been able to design ones for cats, turtles, goats and dogs. The unique problem is the size of the horse and the need for them to support their weight. Laminitis will set in if all four limbs don't support this weight. These fake legs would have to be usable nearly from the very moment surgery is over.
Hansen will first be researching how long these implants will last and their strength. You can find out more about this research here.
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