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UNL prototype gives cats a leg up

Renderings of the prosthetic prototype, which was printed at Nebraska Innovation Studio and...
Renderings of the prosthetic prototype, which was printed at Nebraska Innovation Studio and weighs less than an ounce.(University of NebraskaLincoln)
Updated: Jun. 18, 2021 at 11:41 AM CDT
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - UNL students have devised a prosthetic leg for felines that’s sure to be the cat’s meow.

According to a news release, five engineering students at the University of Nebraska Lincoln used a 3-D printer in the Nebraska Design Studio to create a prosthetic leg prototype for Olive, a tabby who’s missing the half of her left foreleg.

The students — Harrison Grasso, Abby Smith, Jaden Schovanec, Alexandra Jensen and Rachael Stanek — put two of their bioengineering classes to use. Each had filled out a survey of career goals and found a common interest in prosthetics. So Deepak Keshwani, who instructed both courses, assigned them to a project spearheaded by Beth Galles, an assistant professor with the Professional Program in Veterinary Science.

Galles had seen plenty of cats with amputated legs, mostly caused by frostbite, according to the release. She challenged the students to create a prosthetic prototype that was “adjustable, removable, nontoxic and cost less than $100 to produce.”

The result was a device with a short, curved leg for a foot and a silicone sheath for the amputation site. The biggest problem the team encountered was “keeping this thing on,” Smith said. “(Olive) had very thick fur and a lot of loose skin at the end of the amputation site.” The sleeve was key in helping the device stay in place, she said.

Recent Husker graduate Abby Smith (left) holds a prosthetic prototype that she and senior...
Recent Husker graduate Abby Smith (left) holds a prosthetic prototype that she and senior Harrison Grasso (center) helped develop for Olive (right), who is missing part of her left foreleg.(Craig Chandler/University Communication)

Getting Olive to wear the device was difficult, so Schovanec — who has a relative who owns a cat — was “volunteered” for the job, Smith said.

Olive’s success has been incremental. “It’s a slow process,” Smith said. “Although bodies are adaptable, it all takes time.”

In the end, the team brought the prosthetic home for about $10, and Galles, who conceived the project, adopted Olive. The students considered the effort a success. Working on “such an adorable client” was a nice bonus, the engineers said.

The funny thing is, most of the students consider themselves dog people.

“We’re like, ‘Oh, we’re going to be working with a cat,’” said Smith, who graduated in May. “But Olive was a trooper through the entire process.”

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