Prosthetic shoes helped a penguin who could not walk due to spinal condition

Lucas can now play with his friends.
Nergis Firtina
Lucas with his orthopedic shoes
Lucas with his orthopedic shoes

San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance 

A penguin who could not walk due to illness has been dressed in orthopedic shoes.

The San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance officials gave the four-year-old Lucas, with a condition called "bumblefoot," another chance to run and play like other penguins at the zoo.

Bumblefoot is an inflammation of the skin on the foot, says Dr. Beth Bicknese, senior veterinarian at the San Diego Zoo. A diagnosis of bumblefoot "usually means the animal has either a skeletal or neurological problem and they're bearing weight inappropriately," Bicknese also adds, as per LiveScience.

The shoes that enabled penguin Lucas to walk again are from the US-based company Thera Paw.

What's wrong with Lucas?

Lucas, the African penguin, has had trouble walking for more than three years because of the inflammation in his spine. Infection of the discs, which act as a cushion between each vertebra, causes muscle weakness and pain in the legs.

Lucas has terrible blisters on his left foot and legs from sitting back on his ankles, which wouldn't normally contact the ground. Lucas’s bumblefoot is also believed to be a permanent condition.

“I’ve known Lucas for a long time, so having the ability to provide him with a chance to live a normal life brings a smile to my face,” said Dr. Beth Bicknese, senior veterinarian at the San Diego Zoo.

Prosthetic shoes helped a penguin who could not walk due to spinal condition
African penguins at Boulders Beach in Cape Town.

“The boots are cushioned and Velcroed in place, so they will help Lucas to fully participate in the colony and showcase behaviors that are more typical for a penguin—such as climbing the rocks, swimming, nesting and finding a suitable mate.

“This was such an amazing opportunity, and we were honored to be asked to assist the team at the San Diego Zoo,” said Ilaria Borghese, founder and president of Thera-Paw.

“Over the years, we’ve tackled challenging cases like Lucas’s, and each is special and memorable. One thing that never gets old is seeing an animal’s life dramatically improve after using one of our aids. It inspires and drives us every day.”

Lucas is cozy with his new shoes

The zoo's wildlife care specialists noticed that after fitting Lucas with his new boots, his gait improved, allowing him to navigate his rocky habitat more easily—and his posture became more natural, allowing him to gain better balance while standing.

“We were pleasantly surprised at the immediate change in Lucas after we fitted him with his new boots,” said Debbie Denton, senior wildlife care specialist at the San Diego Zoo. “Seeing him move about now gives us hope that he may be OK going forward, and able to live a full life.”

About Thera-Paw, Inc.

Thera-Paw is a company based in the United States that designs and manufactures products for special-needs animals in collaboration with veterinary professionals and pet parents.

Thera-Paw has been the only company in the world that designs, fabricates, and manufactures soft orthoses, protective garments, and mobility aids for pets for over 20 years.