New 3D-printed Mask Helps Heal Puppy's Fractured Skull
An image of a 3D-printed mask used to help heal a dog's fractured skull.
Credit: UC Davis Vet Med/YouTube

A new 3D-printed mask helped a puppy in California heal after its face was severely wounded in an attack by another dog.

The puppy, a 4-month-old female Staffordshire bull terrier named Loca, arrived at the University of California Davis School of Veterinary Medicine with a fractured cheekbone and jawbone — the result of a severe dog bite. In addition, she had a damaged temporomandibular joint (or TMJ, which connects the jawbone to the skull), and puncture wounds on her face and neck, according to a statement from the University.

Loca's doctors saw her case as an opportunity to use a new approach for treating facial fractures — a 3D-printed "exoskeleton" mask for dogs. Work on such a mask, known as the Exo-K9 Exoskeleton, was already underway at the university, as part of a collaboration between the veterinary hospital and the U.C. Davis College of Engineering.

The mask works much like a traditional cast for the arms or legs, meaning it holds the affected bones in place while they heal. [7 Surprising Health Benefits of Dog Ownership]

The engineers used a CT scan of Loca's skull to design a custom-fit mask, which was then printed with a 3D printer. Loca was the first patient to try the Exo-K9 mask, the university said.

After 1 month of wearing the mask, a CT scan showed that new bone was forming. Loca was then allowed to eat hard kibble to help her new TMJ become a functional joint — otherwise, it might fuse with her skull, the statement said. Another CT scan performed 3 months later showed that her TMJ healing was "progressing nicely," and that she is continuing to recover from her injuries.

Original article on Live Science.