3D Printed Models of Dog Skulls to Help Save Animals

University of Queensland (UQ) vets can now use 3D printed models of dog skulls to help save animals and educate veterinary students in the future.

Violette examines how the 3D printed model of a greyhound’s skull fits with Barney the rescue greyhound. (Image credit: University of Queensland)

The models, presented at the World Science Festival, were the outcome of a partnership between UQ Library’s Digital Scholars Hub and the School of Veterinary Science.

UQ veterinarian and Associate Professor Rachel Allavena used the skulls to help children comprehend how dogs with short noses can suffer from the illness called brachycephalia.

“Some dogs – like pugs, French bulldogs, and Boston terriers  – can have such short faces that they have trouble breathing and keeping themselves cool, as they’re unable to pant effectively,” she said.

“This trait has been selected by humans to make dogs look cute and more flat-faced like us, but it can result in significant suffering or invasive surgical treatments to help the dogs breathe002E.

“By having 3D models, we’re able to show just how problematic this condition is and to easily explain tricky concepts like this to school kids.

“It also helps us explain why people should consider adopting shelter dogs, which are often greyhounds or mutts, and are generally very healthy and make excellent pets.”

UQ Digital Scholars Hub’s Nick Wiggins, who created the models, is enthusiastic to use forthcoming digital technologies for science education.

3D model creation is becoming more accessible, more affordable and improving in quality. In this case, using the medical imaging data of a dog that had a CT scan at UQ, open-source medical imaging software, a low-end 3D printer and some biodegradable starch-made plastic, we can build something quickly and cheaply that will connect science to a whole new audience. And it’s not just veterinary science – I’m working with a number of other disciplines, including archaeology, palaeontology, botany, zoology, geology, history, and human movement science. I’m in discussion with archaeobotanists – archaeologists that look at plant remains – to scan tiny seeds and then 3D print larger copies to better display their unique morphologies to students.

Nick Wiggins, Digital Scholars Hub, UQ

Dr Allavena believes educational displays are merely the primary step for 3D printing in veterinary science.

Beyond veterinary education, 3D printing is now starting to be used to treat animals, particularly in surgical applications. I know of a dog that had most of its skull removed due to a cancer, then had a custom-made 3D printed titanium plate implanted. And surgeons are creating unique 3D bone models for animals requiring surgery, in order to plan and practice a procedure before it’s conducted. 3D printing will help us inspire future vets, create better educational outcomes for veterinary students and lead to happier, healthier animals.

Rachel Allavena veterinarian and Associate Professor, UQ

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