Pododermatitis, commonly known as bumblefoot, is the inflammation of the skin of the paw. It is a common bacterial infection and inflammatory reaction that usually occurs on the feet of birds, rodents, and rabbits. If left untreated, pododermatitis causes various difficulties such as pressure sores, tissue swelling, and calluses, which can be debilitating and even lethal. A 3D printed silicone shoe can help reverse this inflammation and promises a better future for bumblefoot patients.
Walter, a 21-year-old female hooded vulture. was suffering from bumblefoot. Researchers at the Keio-National University of Singapore Connective Ubiquitous Technology for Embodiments Center (NUS-CUTE) spent two intensive months in the creative development of this 3D printed shoe to treat Walter’s bumblefoot.
Mandai Wildlife Group, formerly known as Wildlife Reserves Singapore, is a self-funded organisation based in Singapore which manages the majority of zoos in the country. The acting deputy vice president, conservation research and veterinary at the Mandai Wildlife Group, Xie Shangzhe said “While pododermatitis can be treated with traditional bandages, we wanted a more bespoke and innovative solution to treat patients. We decided to look into 3D printing because it provided a more precise way of distributing the force the feet have to bear away from the affected area.”
The protective silicone shoes were created to ease and redistribute pressure on the patient’s weight-bearing area, as well as aid the healing of the bird’s foot. Some birds prefer to stay perched on their feet for long lengths of time in certain circumstances. The constant pressure and weight on the feet can result in sores and swelling. Additionally, arthritis, which is frequent in older birds, can also cause pododermatitis. The approach taken by NUS-CUTE researchers can improve the quality of life of the park’s older birds.
After a 17-week treatment in an observation ward in 2019, Walter returned to the Birds of Prey aviary. Little did anyone know that love would bloom soon after. She began courting displays with another bird and also prepared a nesting site on a hard, high rock ledge and spent a long time perching. Unfortunately, this led to a return of her bumblefoot.
Her 3D-printed shoes came to her rescue again and Walter was monitored from August until October 2021. Her symptoms reverted rapidly during this period and finally, her shoes were removed. Soon she will be moved from her observation ward to a special aviary for retirees of the park’s “Kings of the Skies” performance, where she’ll be joined by another hooded vulture. It is a show that showcases the fierce and formidable where one can witness the presence of magnificent predators. It will be interesting to see if she finds love again and engages in nesting behavior as well.
Associate Professor Yen Ching-Chiuan, co-director of the Keio-NUS CUTE said, “A big advantage of 3D printing is the flexibility to customize the shoes according to the varying sizes, shapes, and conditions of each bird’s foot. The team at the Keio-NUS CUTE Center worked closely with Jurong Bird Park to design a shoe that was appropriate in terms of measurement, material, and usability according to the bird type and its unique usage behaviors.”
Miguel, a 31-year-old male Southern caracara was another patient who had developed pododermatitis as a result of arthritis due to his advanced age. He had shown great improvement after wearing the shoe for two and a half months. This all-new silicone shoe is a big step towards a better world for the ones suffering from bumblefoot. Custom-made for the birds based on their measurements, they are durable and can be easily removed and cleaned during the treatment period.