If you were a child in the 1970s, you probably recognize these opening words to the TV show The Six Million Dollar Man – “We can rebuild him. We have the technology.” The show featured adventures of a so-called “bionic” man. After suffering terrible injuries in an accident, doctors repaired and enhanced the former astronaut’s body with biomechanical devices.
While the stories of superhuman feats played as pure science fiction, advances in medical technologies have resulted in some bionic options for pets -- in a more mundane sense. The goal remains to return normal function to injured or ill pets, which is important for quality of life in countless scenarios.
Here are a few examples of bionic options for pets.
Growing Real Bone
Veterinarians at the University of California Davis, School of Veterinary Medicine, have teamed up with biomedical engineers at the university to grow missing bone in dogs. Using titanium plates and a sponge-like material soaked in a bone growth promoter called “bone morphogenetic protein,” they’ve been able to repair severe injuries in dogs.
On x-ray, you can see bone growing after two weeks. In another four to six weeks, the gap appears filled in with new bone. A total of eight to 10 weeks after surgery, dogs have fully functioning bone.
So far, about a dozen dogs have benefited from this new technology. One dog – an abused terrier named Frankie who was suffering from many injuries, including a gunshot wound to the face – got a new jawbone out of the deal.
Some dogs are born with a congenital heart defect called a patent ductus arteriosus (PDA). In the simplest terms, a hole in the heart doesn’t close as intended after birth. The Amplatz® Canine Ductal Occluder (CDO), a special stent designed just for dogs, plugs this hole. The CDO is self-expanding and is made from nitinol (a strong, flexible nickel-titanium alloy) wire mesh. Currently, veterinary cardiac surgeons at Texas A&M do one or two of these surgeries per month.
Total Hip Replacements
Believe it or not, veterinarians started doing total hip replacements in pets about the time The Six Million Dollar Man was on TV. Today’s hip replacement devices often feature:
Cobalt-chromium metal alloy balls (head of the large femur bone in a pet’s thigh)
- High molecular weight polyethylene plastic socket (hip joint)
- Special bone cement to hold everything in place
TPLO Knee Surgery
A veterinary surgeon named Barclay Slocum patented a knee surgery called tibial plateau leveling osteotomy (TPLO) in 1993, after having studied the mechanics of the canine knee since 1978. The TPLO surgery uses medically certified, implant-grade stainless steel plates and screws to fix canine knee ligament injuries, by changing the geometry of the knee joint.
My eldest dog had TPLO surgery on both knees – three months apart – when he was about 3 years old. It’s quite a surgery, requiring drills and saws, but my husband and I watched the whole thing through windows to the surgery suite. Very neat!
Tell us about your bionic pet!
What kinds of cutting-edge treatments have your pets received? Any bionic pups or six-million-dollar kitties at your house?
“After Long Journey, Abused Dog is Happy and Healthy in a New Home,” UCDavis Veterinary Medicine
“New Advances in Technology for Pets,” Texas A&M Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences
“FAQ: Total Hip Replacement,” The Ohio State University, College of Veterinary Medicine
“TPLO for Dog ACL Tear,” Colorado Canine Orthopedics
Looking for more like this? Try: