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A bracing experience...

It’s bad enough if your dog has a problem relating to its joints especially when a surgical solution isn’t an option, or has been tried and failed. But what if that dog is a sporting dog and enjoys Agility, Flyball or being a Working Gundog etc., what happens then? Orthotics are commonly used by agility dogs in the US to protect injuries, in some cases whilst still competing, and sometimes negating the need for surgery. Rod Hunt explains why he feels that agility dogs generally would greatly benefit from this.

There are a myriad of reasons why surgery may not be an option, clinical complications, cost, the condition may not yet be severe enough to warrant surgery, or it may just be that you would prefer not to put your dog under the scalpel. Irrespective of the reason, what are your alternative options?

You may elect to put your dog under restricted exercise, stop it from doing something which it truly loves but which exacerbated the problem. You may treat the pain with anti-inflammatory drugs & painkillers, or you may try a combination of any of these. But are any of these methods the ideal solution?

In the human world, the use of Orthotics (orthopaedic braces) is commonplace, especially in sport. These devices are used to provide stability and support to the joint for many reasons, such as to aid rehabilitation, protect a problematic joint during periods of high activity such as skiing, athletics etc., or to provide long-term aid where a surgical solution is not an option.

So why are our four legged friends not catered for in the same way? Wouldn’t it be great if a brace could be used if your dog had a hyperextension injury to its carpus, a torn Achilles tendon, or it had partially or fully ruptured its cruciate ligament?

Well as a matter of fact you can, and you have been able to for many years in the U.S. Unfortunately, on this side of the Atlantic, these innovative devices have only become readily available to man's best friend since the launch of OrthoPets Europe in the middle of 2009. Whilst the word is spreading, it takes time for it to become common knowledge amongst the Veterinary world and dog owning public.

Maddie's story
Maddie is an eight year old Working Sheepdog. She was working at TDx level with qualifications in CDx, UDx and WDx in working trials, and was grade 5 in agility. She is a very active dog, always looking to be busy doing something.

She first started showing problems towards the end of 2008. Although not appearing to be lame, she started refusing the scale and higher jumps in trials and running wide in the tight turns for agility. Throughout 2009 she started having major problems with the Achilles tendons in both hock joints. This meant she spent most of her time on the lead during exercise and it prevented her from any training or competitive work.

Despite numerous visits to her Vet, nothing concrete was diagnosed until finally, in April 2010, she was referred to the Bristol Veterinary College at Langford. At Langford, Ultrasound examination showed areas where the fibres within the Achilles tendon were disorganised and frayed close to where the tendon attaches to the hock joint. A small mineralised area was also seen in each tendon near the hocks. The left tendon appeared more severely affected than the right.

Over the next few months Maddie underwent surgery to both hocks, where a screw was placed between the calcaneus (the large, prominent bone at the back of the hock, where the Achilles tendon attaches) and the tibia. After each operation, the leg was placed in a cast for about six weeks in order to hold the hock in extension, with the Achilles tendon relaxed.

Each time, after the six weeks, Maddie underwent further surgery to remove the screw and then was put into a cast for a further two weeks. At the same time, a cast mold was made of the limb and sent to OrthoPets Europe, who fabricated a pair of Flexion Control Orthoses. These custom-made devices would allow the Specialist treating Maddie to control the amount of flexion to each hock joint and, therefore, the amount of tension the Achilles tendons were under.

At the end of the two weeks the cast was removed, and Maddie was fitted with her OrthoPets devices. These were initially set to allow no hock movement, but over the next few months they were regularly adjusted to allow greater degrees of flexion to the hock joint, thus gently allowing the tendon to take more strain.

Today Maddie happily wears her Orthoses during exercise and they certainly do not seem to restrict from doing anything she wants too. They give her owner peace of mind in that she can lead a normal life without over - extending her hocks and repeating her previous injuries.

Maddie is looking to return to competitive agility.

About OrthoPets
Based in Denver, Colorado, OrthoPets was created over seven years ago by Martin Kaufmann, and they are the industry leaders in this field. Coming from a background in the human world of Orthotics, Martin used his knowledge and experience to develop these innovative solutions for the animal world.
Most of the methods and materials used have been directly ported from the field of human Orthotics, where they have been continually evolved and proven for many years. Martin & his team in the U.S. work closely with the Orthopaedic & Oncology departments of Colorado State University’s faculty of Veterinary Science, in order to constantly evolve and improve the products and the  range.

The shells are hand fabricated from advanced heat formable plastic and in normal use should last the life of the patient. The fixtures and fitting used in the construction of the devices are a mixture of fabrics, plastic and metal, and where metal is used, it is generally either alloy or stainless steel and so is not adversely affected by water. All straps and pads are replaceable and other than some limitations to the actual shells themselves, the devices can be refurbished. The linings used in the devices are a special type of ‘closed cell’ foam, which provide a firm fit, contouring itself to the patient’s limb, whilst at the same time providing a high level of comfort. Being 'closed cell' the foam does not absorb water, and being a ‘diabetic type’ of foam it will change colour to indicate any points of excess pressure which, if not noticed, might otherwise cause problems.

The process begins with a cast being made of the relevant limb section. This process is usually being carried out be the animal’s Vet, although the relevant materials and full instructions can be supplied should the owner wish to undertake the casting themselves. This cast is then used as a mold to make an exact model of the limb section, from which the device is fashioned.

The use of this approach ensures that the device is a perfect fit for the patient, and that it provides the maximum in terms of both comfort and support. It is, therefore, extremely important that the cast maps all the contours of the dog’s limb section and that joints are placed in the correct position, which is why it is recommend that the process be undertaken by a Vet.

Currently, all devices are fabricated by the OrthoPets clinic in Denver, with adjustments and refurbishments being done in the UK. Normally speaking it takes about two weeks for the client to receive the device, from the time that OrthoPets Europe receive a viable cast, the completed paperwork and payment. OrthoPets Europe are finding that many of the main Pet Insurance companies are covering the cost of these devices.

Currently, the OrthoPets range of Orthotics cover devices to assist with conditions affecting the Stifle, Hock, Elbow and Carpus. These devices are available offering different levels of Range-of-Motion control, with paw inclusion when necessary.

Typical applications include, but are not limited to:-

  • Cruciate & Collateral ligament injuries

  • Patella Luxation

  • Palmar & Plantar grade collapse

  • Hyper extension injuries

  • Achilles tendon injuries

For more information on these exciting advancements in canine care, and full contact details for OrthoPets Europe, visit

About the author...
Rod Hunt lives in a rural setting a few miles from Bristol & Bath, along with his wife Alison and their five Labradors. They have a long term association with dogs, having had Labradors for over thirty years, some of which they have very successfully trained and worked as gundogs.

In 2001, after a 21 year career in I.T., Rod changed direction when he and Alison founded Amberco Canine Hydrotherapy. Amberco was one of Britain's first Canine Rehabilitation Centres, and has gone on to help over 1,500 dogs to date.

In mid 2009 they linked up with OrthoPets LLC, based in Denver Colorado, to launch OrthoPets Europe, specialising in custom-fabricated Orthotic & Prosthetic solutions for dogs, the only company of its kind in Europe.



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