Printing in 3D reaches veterinary hospitals

A team from the Veterinary Clinical Hospital of the Complutense University is using a Witbox 2 to improve surgical procedures, make prostheses and create anatomic models to make up for the lack of cadavers.

Between operating rooms, laboratories, hospitalisation wards and test rooms, Javier Sanz and his team have found some time for 3D printing in the Complutense University's Veterinary Clinical Hospital. Models created with this technology help with learning and facilitate surgery. The team is starting to experiment with the creation of prostheses and they have also come across a solution to one of the primary obstacles faced by faculties of veterinary medicine in Spain: the problematic acquisition of animal cadavers for study.  


“Each year they become harder to obtain due to the Zero Killings Law in the Community of Madrid. We don't want this law to disappear, so we're looking for alternatives and one of these is 3D printing”.

esqueleto animal impreso con BQ Witbox

This involves scanning the skeleton of the animal (a dog, for example), uploading it to the Sketchfab platform and then printing the anatomic parts that the teacher needs for practical training in the class.  

“This way cadavers don't have to be acquired, cleaned or prepared. It's true that nothing can replace training on a real body, however, some classes don't require such extreme reality, making these printed parts fully suited to the requirements”

The team behind the 3DVetLab project uses BQ's Witbox 2 printer to give life to anatomic models that have been virtualised in 3D using CAT scans (computerised axial tomography) of animals that have visited the clinic. “Teachers use these models in class to present clinical cases to students and to have them perform practical exercises”, says Javier.

They have created a virtual anatomic library with free and open access in which, apart from the browsable model, they can add notes and photographs of cases, facilitating the understanding of the pathologies presented and their conclusions.

Improving surgical interventions

As in medicine, 3D printing is also gradually entering the operating rooms of veterinary surgeons. In 3DVetLab they are testing this technology in situations that are difficult and uncommon. Javier says, “you've got a case involving a dog, for example, with a deformity that you've never seen. A 3D print can help you arrange the surgery, and it lets you practise and make cuts in the printed bones in order to plan your course of action on the real patient.

Cabeza de pastor alemán BQ Witbox

When you're in the operating room facing something which you've already practised on, the operation becomes easier. This reduces surgery time and anaesthesia costs”. Furthermore, if the 3D model is sterilised it may be present in the operating room, allowing the veterinarian to use it while performing surgery. Models of osteosynthesis plates can be created prior to surgery, obviating the need to adapt them in the operating room during the time allotted for the intervention.

Another aim of the team is the creation of prostheses for animals. They are currently designing a beak for a lovebird, which another bird caused it to lose. They will test whether PLA is resistant enough, if not, they will use the 3D model to commission its manufacture in another material.

“The last case is that of a greyhound that suffered a thrombosis, causing necrosis in both its hind legs at different heights. We had to amputate them, so now we're designing prostheses in 3D that will fit the dog suitably”
Hueso impreso en 3D con BQ Witbox 2

The main advantage of using this technology is cost savings. Traditional prostheses cost around 5000 euros each. “We're currently trying to develop an optimal technique for prosthesis design for this particular patient. Even if the final prosthesis is made of another material, we prefer the initial prototypes to be made of PLA because they can be printed in 30 minutes. When the dog comes in for a checkup they can be tested, adjusted and remade if necessary”, says the veterinarian.

The introduction of 3D printing in the faculty has also opened a door to a potential future project in the cradle of humanity: Atapuerca. A group of professors from the Complutense University and the University of Burgos are considering the possibility of using these BQ printers to make replicas of fossils for use in teaching and research.

Printing in 3D has reached the veterinary field. It has improved surgical procedures on animals and their quality of life, and has contributed to new successes. It still has a way to go however, a way almost certainly filled with great accomplishments.