Researchers have created orthopedic shoes for a penguin with a chronic disease that makes walking painful. With the new device, Lucas, a penguin from the San Diego Zoo, can walk upright and swim again.
Ulcerative bumblefoot is a chronic disease common in birds that makes walking painful. Birds do not form calluses on their feet as efficiently as mammals do, making their feet vulnerable to this disease. A diagnosis of bumblebee “usually means that the animal has either skeletal or neurological problems, and they are not carrying the weight correctly.
In Lucas’ case, the condition developed because of a spinal infection he had developed more than three years earlier. Inflammation from this infection damaged Penguin’s spine, leaving him with muscle weakness in his legs and an inability to stand properly on his toes. Instead, Lucas sits on his ankles, which don’t normally touch the ground, and this has caused him to develop painful sores on his left foot and legs.
The 4-year-old penguin was treated with painkillers, physical therapy and acupuncture until he got new shoes. But none of the treatments worked. So the zoo staff teamed up with manufacturers of rehabilitation and assistive products for animals to create customized boots.
The boots are cushioned and secured with velcro, so they will help Lucas participate fully in colony life and exhibit behavior more typical of penguins, the zoo said in a statement. For example, with the new device, the animal will be able to climb rocks, swim, participate in nesting and find a suitable mate.