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The Open Sanctuary Project’s Farmed Animal Prosthetic Device Initial Survey Analysis

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Compiled by Amber Barnes, Research Specialist, The Open Sanctuary Project

August 18, 2020

What: Initial survey on prosthetic device use at farmed animal sanctuaries

Why: The purpose of the initial survey was to gather information regarding the use of prosthetic devices at farmed animal sanctuaries, which species have been considered for prosthetic limbs, and whether the sanctuary found the prosthetic limb to be successful or not. Additionally, the survey gathered information about which professionals or companies sanctuaries have used to design and develop the prosthetic devices, and comments about the use of devices through open-ended questions. The survey revealed that a number of sanctuaries have used, are considering using, or are currently using prosthetic devices for different farmed animal species, with varying degrees of success. This has created the foundation for further, more focused research that could possibly assist sanctuaries in a more substantial way when it comes to considering and implementing prosthetic devices for residents who need them.

How: A brief survey was developed, with 7 questions total (including the name of the sanctuary), 3 core questions, followed by 3 optional open-ended questions to more thoroughly gather the opinions of the respondents. The survey was designed to be shared and filled out online. When the survey was completed, the survey was posted on social media sites, Instagram and Facebook. The survey was also sent out as part of a newsletter to subscribing sanctuaries. A Google search was also employed using “farmed animal prosthetics”, “goat prosthetic”, and other farmed animal species, in the same manner. Through these search results, surveys were also sent directly to individual sanctuaries if they were learned to have cared for resident farmed animals with prosthetic devices. 

NOTE: This study is not intended to be representative of all farmed animal sanctuaries and was not conducted using probability sampling. A certain number of surveys were sent directly to sanctuaries with known prosthetic device experience, while other organizations accessed the survey randomly from social media efforts. Others still accessed the survey through a newsletter they had previously signed up for. We do not make assumptions from this data that every sanctuary has experience with prosthetic device use or that every sanctuary was reached through our efforts. 

The current estimate of farmed animal sanctuaries (excluding many equine-only sanctuaries) is around 300. We received 28 responses (we received responses twice from 3 separate sanctuaries, resulting in 31 responses total, but the duplicates were dismissed). If the estimate is correct, about 10% of the farmed animal sanctuary community responded.

Core Survey Questions And Participant Responses

Question 1: “Has your organization ever employed a prosthetic device for a farmed animal, specifically a device used to replace the function of a missing limb?”

Response choices were:

  • Yes, currently in use.
  • Yes, in the past.
  • No, but we are interested in learning more about them.
  • We have explored the option in the past, but decided against it.
  • No, and we do not plan on ever employing a prosthetic device for a farmed animal species. 

Of the 31 responses received, (2 of which appear to be duplicate responses), the majority of respondents are using, have used, or have considered using prosthetic devices with at least one sanctuary resident.

Responses, when broken down, are as follows:

  • Yes, currently in use.13
  • Yes, in the past.8
  • No, but we are interested in learning more about them.8
  • We have explored the option in the past, but decided against it.2
Forms response chart. Question title: Has your organization ever employed a prosthetic device for a farmed animal, specifically a device used to replace the function of a missing limb?. Number of responses: 31 responses.
Figure 1: Responses to the Question “Has Your Organization Ever Employed a Prosthetic  Device for a Farmed Animal, Specifically a Device Used to Replace a Limb?” (N=31)

Question 2: “Which species have you tried to implement a prosthetic solution for?”

Respondents could choose multiple answers:

  • Cows
  • Pigs
  • Goats
  • Sheep
  • Chickens
  • Turkeys
  • Waterfowl
  • Equines
  • Camelids
  • Other

Of the 31 respondents, only 25 responded to this question. 

Overall, half of respondents answered goats and nearly half answered sheep, potentially indicating prosthetic use is considered (or needed) for sheep and goats residents more often than other species. This may be due to the perceived success of prosthetic use for this species.

Forms response chart. Question title: Which species have you tried to implement a prosthetic solution for? (Choose all that apply). Number of responses: 25 responses.
Figure 2: Responses to the Question “Which Species Have You Tried to Implement a Prosthetic Solution for?”

On the other end of the spectrum, cows, pigs, turkeys, equines, and camelids (and other avian species) were only chosen by 2 respondents at the most, and there were no respondents in the case of camelids. Possible reasons for this may be the size of the species in question, as 4 out of 5 of the species listed are large mammals and the fifth is a larger bird species. This could certainly complicate the use of a prosthetic device. There may be fewer veterinarians or prosthetic designers with experience using prosthetic devices with larger species, affecting how they may counsel a sanctuary to proceed with treatment. Adding to this is the unfortunate fact that, in the past, recommendations often included euthaniasia without consideration of prosthetic devices as a viable option. 

Question 3: “In your experience, did you find the prosthetic device to be a successful long term solution for improving the residents’ overall quality of life?”

This mostly close-ended question (an open-ended response under “other” was included) received 24 responses. Seven respondents left the question blank.

The four respondents who chose “other” commented they were in the process of acquiring or testing new devices.

Of the 24 respondents, 10 had mixed success, 3 had no long term success, 4 said they worked for the short-term but ultimately had to cease using the device, and 3 responded that they had had success long-term.

The answers were broken down as follows:

  • Yes, all prosthetic device use has been successful in the long term.3
  • Prosthetic device use was successful at first, but complications led us to cease their use.4
  • Some prostheses were successful in the long term, some were not.9 
  • No prosthetic device we have tried has been successful in the long term.3
  • Other responses – 4
  • No response – 7

Of those that responded “not successful” or “some were successful, some were not”, 4 listed a lack of access to a professional who could properly design and fit a prosthetic as the reason for failure. Three respondents commented that the resident (2 chickens, 1 sheep) seemed to do fine without a prosthesis. Additionally, another respondent to the survey, who did not answer this question directly, later commented that they care for a 3 legged llama without a prosthetic device.

Forms response chart. Question title: In your experience, did you find the prosthetic device to be a successful long term solution for improving the residents’ overall quality of life?. Number of responses: 24 responses.
Figure 3: Responses to the Question “In Your Experience, Did You Find the Prosthetic Device to be a Successful Long Term Solution for Improving the Residents’ Overall Quality of Life?”

NOTES: Size, access to resources for proper design and fitting, and potentially (although we did not collect this data) which limb, the extent of amputation, and the length of time they have been without the assistance of prosthetic devices could all be factors for a lack of success.

Summary: The overall takeaway from these responses is that prosthetic devices can be helpful and successful for some, but may not be successful in others, possibly due to species, size/weight, which limb was amputated, the location of amputation, and the time spent without an assistive device. 

Open-Ended Questions:

In addition to the above questions, the survey included 2 optional open-ended questions. (A third question was asked and could be considered “open-ended”, but it only served to ask the organization to input their email if they were interested in a follow up discussion with a representative of The Open Sanctuary Project about prosthetic device use in sanctuary).

In the first of the two open-ended questions, respondents were asked:

Do you have any comments about your experience with prosthetic device use in farmed animal species or questions about them?

We received 13 responses; there were notable trends in the responses. 

  • Four respondents noted that the size and weight of a resident was an issue.
  • Three respondents mentioned they had had success with the use of orthotics (a cow and a miniature horse resident were mentioned)
  • Three respondents cited a lack of access to prosthetic specialists as the reason for failed success.
  • Two respondents noted the level of amputation and the remaining length of the limb resulted in complications with the use of a prosthetic device. 
  • Lastly, three responses indicated the respondents did not have experience with the use of prosthetic devices but would like more information about prosthetic use in farmed animal species.

Open-Ended Question (2): 

“Do you know of any other individuals, companies, or organizations that you think we should get in touch with for their perspective on farmed animal prosthetic device usage? If so, please list them below: ”

We received a total of 17 responses listing other sanctuaries believed to have experience with prosthetic devices, and/or professionals or organizations they had used to procure the devices. More specifically:

  • Six responded with names or an offer to send on the information of the professionals with whom they worked.
  • Ortho Pets, Bionic Pets, Veterinary Inclusive Prosthetics, and Animal Ortho Care were listed as companies used to design and create prosthetic devices.
  • Four respondents gave information about individuals with whom they worked to design and create prosthetic devices.
  • 13 sanctuaries were recommended for us to contact as they are believed to have experience with prosthetic use, 10 of which did not fill out the survey. 

This data provides the foundation for further research that might include contacting the sanctuaries recommended, the companies listed, and the individual professionals used.

A second survey could provide more data and potentially help us learn what factors affect a successful outcome. In addition, it may assist in creating more connections within the sanctuary community and with companies and professionals that can assist organizations who are seeking the use of prosthetic devices with their resident(s).

Conclusion:

After reviewing the survey responses in their entirety, there were several notable findings from the survey responses. Namely, the farmed animal sanctuary community has had mixed success with the use of prosthetics due to a number of factors.These factors include the species, the size and weight of the individual, which limb was amputated and where the limb was amputated, how long the individual was without prosthetic devices after the amputation, and whether the individual is still growing. We can surmise that different devices and access to a professional who can properly fit such devices would also affect outcomes.

We can also determine a clear interest from sanctuaries wanting to learn more about the use of prosthetic limbs and how they can access resources that can ensure a successful design, construction, and fitting of prosthetic devices. 

Other Areas For Further Study:

A second follow up survey could provide useful information regarding the factors leading to success or failure of prosthetic devices. This survey could incorporate questions about which limb was removed and at what proximity to the body it was removed. It is possible correlations may be found between these factors and the success of the prosthetic device. A second survey could also look for any connections between success or failure with residents that were able to be seen and measured for a specially designed device versus those that had to rely on sending measurements and ordering remotely. A description of each prosthetic device used would also allow for further insight into whether there are strong correlations between these factors and success or failure of the device.

Living space designs could also potentially have an effect on the perceived success of the device. For example, a resident with a prosthetic limb is likely to have more issues if residing in living spaces that are rocky or have a steep incline. Collecting information on the landscape of the living space in which the individual resides, the accessibility of resources, and presence of other assistive measures (such as specially designed ramps and furniture, or space adjustments made with the intention of benefiting the individual) could add another dimension to discovering what causes a prosthetic device to succeed or fail.

There remains a need to collect more data from additional sanctuaries and veterinary and prosthetic experts. Additionally, sanctuaries would benefit from a list of prosthesis professionals, including designers, builders, and veterinarians. Gaining this data would allow for more thorough statistical analysis and provide useful insight into the factors contributing to success or failure of prosthetic devices used in farmed animals.

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Updated on August 18, 2020

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