Leo gets his bounce in a hightech way

A bouncing four-month-old with a
soft black and white coat and gleaming eyes, Leo the pup is sharp as a whip.
The handsome little guy has already learned how to sit, lie down and stand up,
eager to be a good boy.

And thanks to a procedure he has
just undergone, he is now more than just a clever youngster. While Leo is not
exactly bionic, he’s not far off.

Young Leo was diagnosed with a rare
condition in his hind legs commonly known as slipped hocks. The condition,
known in medical terms as hyperextension syndrome or tarsal hyperextension, is
a hyperextension of the talocrural, also known as the tarsal, hock or ankle,

“A dog affected with this appears
to look as if it is walking on tip toes and the condition results in a
non-painful lameness,” said Dr. Colin Manson of Cayman Animal Hospital.

In Leo’s case, the hyperextension
was locking his ankle joint, turning his knees inward causing a pigeon-toed
gait when he walked. Instead of trotting, Leo resorted to bunny hopping. Dr.
Colin says he has only seen three cases of slipped hocks in his professional
career, and the consensus is that it does not resolve itself over time.

But Leo had a stroke of good
fortune. Cayman Animal Rescue Enthusiasts, a local non-profit group, stepped in
to help. The group has appealed to the public donate their spare change to
defer the cost of ground-breaking surgery, to help retrain the muscle groups in
Leo’s legs.

Last week, Dr. Colin inserted four
pins into the bone at specific points on each of Leo’s hind legs. Then two bars
were attached to the pins to hold them in place. All that was left were a pair
of little boots with rings on the toes and some elastic bands.  

The contraptions are called dynamic
external fixators, as they allow limited movement. With the elastic bands
attached to the pins gently pulling Leo’s legs into the correct position, the
idea is to allow Leo’s legs to get used to moving in the normal range of

Left in place for up to three to
four weeks, they should prevent the hyperextension from happening again. Soon,
he’ll be able to run and play just like a normal dog.

Though they may look rather
drastic, Dr. Colin says once in place the fixators are not painful.

“Leo may feel some discomfort in
the soft tissues, but once those pins are in there, they don’t hurt because
they don’t move,” he explained, with assurances that Leo is on painkillers and
other medications to ensure he’s comfortable.

“He’ll be a little sore, but he’ll
be fine.”

Indeed, little Leo was his usual
bouncy self only a day after the surgery, prancing around the hospital with
newly acquired ease.

“We are doing our best to treat him
like he’s normal and not fuss over him too much so he doesn’t get spoiled,”
said Dr. Colin.

Gauging from the coos and cuddles
Leo gets wherever he goes, however, that seems highly unlikely.


Leo’s dynamic external fixators are retraining his leg muscles.
Photo: Basia Pioro McGuire