Laser Light Therapy For Your Pet
Anne Luther, DVM
Laser light therapy has been used as a treatment modality in veterinary medicine for decades, but only recently has it has gained mainstream acceptance. Laser therapy, especially as part of physical therapy, has been used in many parts of the world including Canada, Australia, Europe, and some Asian countries for many years. Numerous studies conducted on both humans and animals have confirmed its use as scientifically valid and repeatable.
Laser therapy is effective in treating a wide spectrum of conditions in companion animals, ranging from skin issues to chronic pain to acute injury. Laser therapy acts by increasing the release of endorphins, improving blood vessel formation, and promoting collagen synthesis and skeletal repair. The anti-inflammatory effects of laser therapy are similar to those of pharmacological agents for treating pain. This non-drug option is a safe alternative to prescription medications that have the potential for serious adverse effects, such as liver and kidney disease, especially when taken long-term. A response to laser therapy is usually seen within one to three sessions.
I’m often asked “how does the laser work?” It is hard to believe a red light could have such beneficial effects. A laser is an amplifier of light, emitted in the form of photons. When the photons come into contact with biological tissue, part of it is absorbed, resulting in activity at the molecular, cellular, and tissue levels. Laser therapy increases healing, decreases inflammation, and decreases pain. One way laser therapy accomplishes these objectives is by generating an increase in localized blood flow, which heals damaged cells. In the body, blood transports oxygen and nutrients to cells and carries waste products away; laser therapy increases this process, resulting in more oxygen being delivered to cells to be converted into cellular energy. Laser therapy is similar to photosynthesis in plants in that the light delivered by the laser converts to energy that the body can use. In other words, laser therapy causes more energy to be available for cells to do their job. Damaged cells and tissues have been shown to have a significantly higher response to laser therapy than normal healthy structures.
Laser machines come standard with one or multiple sets of predetermined wavelengths. The wavelength of the laser light determines the distance that the light penetrates through tissue. The laws of laser physics have demonstrated that the higher the wavelength, the deeper the penetration. The wavelengths of light used for laser therapy fall into an optical window of near-infrared wavelengths measuring in the range of 600-1070 nm. The amount and strength of light used depends on the pathology being treated and in particular how deep the light is thought to need to penetrate the tissue. Correct dosage is vital to the success of laser therapy. Therefore, it is important that your veterinarian is trained and experienced in using laser therapy. The most advanced and therapeutic lasers are Class IV Lasers and they cost around $ 30,000.00. Less expensive lasers are not nearly as effective. Ask your Laser provider what class Laser therapy they provide. The Class IV Lasers require protective eyewear to be worn during treatment.
With chronic conditions, the patient may receive up to 12 treatments before the desired result is achieved; the treatment then shifts to a maintenance phase – typically every 4-6 weeks. Chronic conditions, such as arthritis, chronic dermatitis, back injuries, inflammatory bowel disease, and chronic cystitis require ongoing treatment. In my practice, I often combine laser therapy with both conventional medical treatment and acupuncture and chiropractic modalities, finding they work synergistically to produce the most effective results.
A recent study at the University of Florida showed that dogs who received laser therapy after spinal cord injury and surgery had no medical complications, walked sooner, and were discharged earlier than dogs who did not receive laser therapy.
Laser therapy is becoming a routine component of pain management and rehabilitation in many veterinary practices. At the Sarasota Animal Medical Center, I have been administering therapeutic laser therapy since 2008 and have found it to be one of the most rewarding modalities I use because it is not painful at all and the results can often be seen almost immediately. Also, it can provide great improvement in quality of life with no potential for negative side effects.