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Bionic Legs For Horses?
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Bionic Legs For Horses?

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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  1. tzigane
    That would be awesome!!
    1. Eve Sherrill York
      Eve Sherrill York
      Wouldn't it? It's going to be difficult.
  2. Archippus
    Vote #3! This is an awesome alternative considering many horses are put down due to injuries!
    1. Eve Sherrill York
      Eve Sherrill York
      Yes, it is. Thanks
  3. nascarangel
    would be great
    1. Eve Sherrill York
      Eve Sherrill York
      It sure would be. Thank you for the vote.
  4. Ann Johnston
    I have been reading lately about all types of advancement they have made with animals. This is really interesting.
    1. Eve Sherrill York
      Eve Sherrill York
      Yes, it is.
  5. Chestnut Mare
    Chestnut Mare
    Voted. What a great idea!
    1. Eve Sherrill York
      Eve Sherrill York
      Thank you, Chestnut!
  6. Sarah Johnston
    Sarah Johnston
    This is fascinating. What a great way to extend the life of a beautiful animal.
    1. Eve Sherrill York
      Eve Sherrill York
      Indeed it is. Thanks.
  7. Julie Sinclair
    Isn't it amazing what they can do today?
    1. Eve Sherrill York
      Eve Sherrill York
      It sure is Julie!
  8. autumnap
    autumnap
    Sounds great in theory but I doubt it would work in practice. The horse's physiology wouldn't allow for immobility that would be necessary during the recovery time. As for the three legged horse - I think most people who know horses would agree that that just isn't possible.
    1. Eve Sherrill York
      Eve Sherrill York
      She has committed her life to this and I hope she finds a miracle.
      1. autumnap
        autumnap
        She's certainly gonna need one!
        1. Eve Sherrill York
          Eve Sherrill York
          I guess some are more positive than others.
  9. nikimariephd
    nikimariephd
    Hi Eve! Just when I thought I've seen all the press, I stumble across something I haven't seen before. Thank you for the write up! I would like to clear up some incorrect information and give everyone here an update. First, my childhood horse "Power" came up lame and we opted for a risky and expensive surgery instead of euthanasia. It was from this moment that I wondered why horses couldn't have prosthetic legs. Power was never an amputee. In fact, he made a full recovery and lived about ten more years out at pasture after I moved South. As for the update and to clear up a little doubt... I was not the first person to look at implanted prosthetics in horses; that honor goes to Drs. Doug Herthel and Barry Grant. In the early 1990s, they actually implanted horses that would have otherwise been euthanized with prosthetics into their bones. The horses did very well initially (over one year in a few cases), but as is the problem with anything implanted into the body, infection caused failure in many cases and in others, the horses died from unrelated causes. The problem with approaching the veterinary community with this treatment option is that there needs to be proof in the form of research presented in a stepwise manner to show the biomechanical integrity of the implants in bone and their ability to withstand the forces a horse would regularly exert on them. My research showed that even prior to bone ingrowth into an implant, the implants would be able to withstand those forces and then some. In the future, I hope to work on a new implant design and start my research in wound healing. If you or anyone else has any questions, I'm always happy to try and help or clarify. My gmail is the same as my account name. Thank you again for your post. Warm regards, Niki Marie Hansen, PhD

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