How to Make Custom Splints and Neoprene Braces (Veterinary use only)

Updated: Jan 19

Custom splints and braces of pets are becoming standard practice.

There are many other reasons that custom braces are preferred. A custom brace:

  • Provides a better and more intimate fit

  • Makes a brace more comfortable and tolerable for the pet

  • Provides better support

  • Decreases the chance that the brace slips or twists

  • Decreases rubbing and pressure sores that can occur from a poorly-fitting brace

There are three basic choices when is comes to custom braces:

  1. Custom orthotic braces

  2. Custom thermoplastic splints

  3. Custom neoprene braces

1) Custom Orthoses

Custom orthotic braces are fabricated from a cast of the pet’s leg by a reputable orthotics company (see Custom Orthotics & Prosthetics Choices).

When should you consider using a custom orthosis for your pet?

  • If you need a long-term solution (orthoses are extremely durable and usually made for the life of the pet)

  • When graded/controlled movement is needed (via locking hinge)

  • Recommended for large or heavy-set dogs with severe issues

  • When the paw needs incorporation or support as well as the limb

  • When cost is not a significant factor

2) Custom Thermoplastic Splints

Custom thermoplastic splints are made directly on the pet by the veterinary professional. Flat sheets of thermoplastic are heated in hot water until soft, then draped and formed over a pet's body part. The incorporated joint is immobilized by the splint. The thermoplastic sets in minutes, forming a custom-fitted splint. The splint can be reheated and remolded as needed (up to 3-4 times depending on type of thermoplastic).

When should you consider using a custom thermoplastic splint?

  • For general stability and immobilization (splints immobilize the body parts they cover)

  • For short-term use (up to 2-3 months)

  • When modifications are needed since splints can be reheated and remolded (e.g., edema, reducing contracture, growing puppy, osteosarcoma)

  • To serve an immediate need for immobilization (splints are made directly on the pet by the treating professional)

  • When needing a cost-effective alternative to an orthosis

There are many brands of thermoplastics, each with their unique set of characteristics (e.g., strength, drape/contour, working time, surface self-adherence). When splinting pets, two different thermoplastics are recommended:

A) For small dogs, toy breeds, and cats use a solid (non-perforated) sheet of 1/16” thick thermoplastic with a high degree of drape to contour discreet areas. B) For medium-to-giant breed dogs, use a solid sheet of 1/8” thick thermoplastic that is strong, with moderate drape, and has surface-adhering properties so that you can reinforce areas subjected to increased stress.

Below is a video on making a custom carpal splint. Similar techniques can be used when splinting any part of the body. Additional product links are at the end of this article.

3) Custom Neoprene Braces

Custom neoprene braces range from flexible-to-rigid. They are useful as a post-surgical protective aid, transitional coaptation device post-cast removal, and as a stabilizing agent following ligament sprains and strains. Light and more flexible neoprene wraps are useful for offloading painful arthritic or deviated joints and for proactive protection. Supportive, neoprene wraps allow partial weight-bearing so that soft tissue and recovering structures can gradually adapt to loading.

Custom neoprene braces often include foam or sheepskin liners for added comfort and support. The use of soft materials significantly reduces rubbing and pressure sores, and their flexibility make these soft supports the most versatile choice for bracing. See this article for more information.

When should you consider using a custom neoprene brace?

  • For general support or stability that does not require immobilization

  • For small dogs, toy breeds, and cats (materials are very light and comfortable)

  • To serve an immediate need for support or stability (these braces can be made or modified directly by the veterinary professional)

  • For variable needs on the same pet (support can be upgraded or downgraded as needed)

  • When looking for a cost-effective alternative to an orthosis

Ideally, these neoprene braces are custom-made using measurement forms based on the pet's size and specific needs. Following fabrication, the brace is shipped to the treating veterinary practitioner for proper fitting and pet parent instruction.

If you need an immediate solution, neoprene braces can also be custom-made in the veterinary clinic. The materials adhere to one another so that a veterinary professional can custom-make their own braces for short-term use. A video on making a custom carpal neoprene brace is provided below. Similar techniques can be used when making a neoprene brace for any part of the body.

Final Notes for Veterinary Practitioners

With the growing number of choices, it can be difficult to determine which device is best for the pet. Though patient history, diagnosis, and prognosis are important, of fundamental importance is the pet’s present level of function. The pet and client’s individual characteristics also influence the device’s effectiveness. These include the pet’s age, activity level, size and weight, other orthopedic and/or neurologic conditions affecting function, skin sensitivity/integrity, and activities and environment where the device will be used (e.g., device to be used in the underwater treadmill). The client’s motivation and compliance levels, as well as their ability to comply are equally important.