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Glad to the Bone

Zeus, a five-year-old Siberian husky, is self-conscious about his left foreleg.

“Whenever he meets another dog, he tucks it in and hides it,” says Sandy Vandall, his owner. “It’s like he doesn’t want the other dogs to see that he doesn’t have a foot.”

Zeus lost his foot as a puppy, when another dog attacked him and bit it off. The injury limits him to the use of three legs, severely curtailing the active dog’s mobility.

“He wants to run and play, but he tires out after about five minutes,” Vandall says. “It really affects his quality of life.”

Prototypes and models of Zeus' bones

The NC State team prepared prototypes and models of Zeus' bones.

Fortunately, Zeus will have a special surgery to replace his missing foot. Dr. Denis Marcellin-Little, professor of orthopedic surgery, and a team of NC State engineers and surgeons are providing Zeus with a custom-made, osseointegrated implant that will replace the faulty wrist joint and front paw.

Marcellin-Little and Dr. Ola Harrysson, associate professor of industrial and systems engineering, are pioneers in osseointegration, a process that fuses a prosthetic limb with an animal’s (or human’s) bones. They began their work on osseointegrated pet prosthetics in 2005 with a cat named George Bailey, who was born without the lower half of his hind legs.

Since then, the collaborators have improved and strengthened the design and streamlined the manufacturing process. They are working to improve healing of the skin and tissue around the implant.

Zeus’ limb surgery will be the third performed on a dog at NC State.

Open video in YouTube | Transcript (doc) | Video on NC State YouTube

Custom-Made Foot

NC State is the only university in the world that can manufacture custom prosthetics for veterinary patients in house, thanks to the close collaboration between veterinarians and engineers.

For Zeus’ implant, the engineers began by creating a 3-D computer model of the limb based on CT scans. The hard part is getting the replacement limb to fit just right.

“We look at it, the surgeons look at it, and everyone decides on the best design,” Harrysson says. “We fabricate that design, then we do rehearsals to perfect it. It can take three or four tries before we’re happy.” Fabricating the implant takes five to eight hours.

Although the implant is strong enough that Zeus could be up and running as soon as a week after surgery, but Marcellin-Little says that’s probably not a good idea. “That bone hasn’t ever borne weight, so we have to give him weeks to walk before he can run. We will be monitoring what his bone is doing, how the skin is healing, and we will make those decisions about how active he can be further down the road.”

Sandy Vandall is prepared for the long recovery ahead. And Zeus? “Oh, he’s ready,” she says. “You can tell he just wants to have a full and active life.”

Responses (11 Comments)

  • Karen

    Awesome so happy for Zeus! Only problem is why does he not have a Wolfpack bandanna on? What gives? :o)

  • Ericka

    Wow! That is very wonderful. It excites me to see the School of Veterinary Medicine making a difference in the world, which gives me all the more reason to anticipate the idea of being apart of the school when I am old enough to enroll. Lets Go Wolfpack!!!

  • Titan Fan

    I wonder if Zeus can throw a football – we need a quarterback.

  • Daniel


    But seriously, this makes me proud to go to NC State. It truly shows how we bring all of our intelligence together to improve the world we live in.

  • Tom in Raleigh

    I hope we see an update (video?) in a few months to see how it turns out and whether Zeus can run and play. He’s a beautiful dog. Being a U of Washington grad, seeing a Husky always makes me happy!

  • Ashley

    I’m proud to go to NC State as well. What a gorgeous dog! Best of luck to him in the future!

  • If all stays according to schedule, Zeus could be going home to Southern Pines on Wednesday.

  • Lynn

    This is a great story! What a cool dog. Good luck, Zeus.

  • Good news: Zeus just left the Veterinary Teaching Hospital at the College of Veterinary Medicine for his Southern Pines home.

    He’ll be back on Friday to have his bandage checked and changed He has 10 to 12 weeks of recovery ahead but he was happy and excited to see his owner Sandy Vandall.

    Lessons learned from Zeus and the five other VTH patients who had similar procedures continue to advance the field of osseointegrated implants and custom prosthetics–and may help people in the future.

  • Angkana Bode

    Amazing! Zeus is a perfect candidate. I am so proud of NCSU Vets School.

  • Claudia Jones

    Unfortunately Zeus died but he did get to enjoy his new foot for a little bit. He was full of life and an inspiration to all of us.

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