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How Can Therapeutic Lasers Help Your Pets?

By: Andrew Best, RVT

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What is a Laser?

A laser, by definition, is "Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation". Lasers emit electromagnetic radiation. When used properly, electromagnetic radiation can be used to treat medical conditions.

There are many kinds and classes of lasers. Some lasers are used to do surgery, some can be used in laser pointers, CD players, scientific research and others are called "therapeutic" lasers.

What is a "therapeutic" laser?

A therapeutic laser is a "class IV laser" used to reduce pain and aid healing.

What Can Laser Therapy Do?

There are many benefits to laser therapy. Laser therapy can provide pain relief for many conditions as well as aid wound healing. There are 9 key benefits:

  • Pain relief
  • Reduces inflammation.
  • Accelerates tissue repair and cell growth.
  • Improves circulation.
  • Reduces scar tissue formation.
  • Improves nerve function.
  • Increases cellular metabolic function allowing tissues to be more resistant to infection.
  • Accelerates wound healing.
  • Stimulates acupuncture points.

    In general, as you can see from this list, laser therapy works to reduce inflammation in conditions that cause swelling and itching. In addition, it can accelerate tissue repair and cell growth, reduce scar tissue formation and help the immune system fend off infection for any unfortunate traumatic injuries that you pet endures. Furthermore, laser therapy can improve circulation and nerve function in certain conditions.

    What Conditions Can Laser Therapy Treat?

    Laser therapy can be used to treat many different conditions. The three main types of problems that laser therapy can really help to aid in are wound healing, treating various skin diseases and to aid healing and pain relief of various orthopedic conditions.

    For example, therapeutic laser may be used for:

  • Aid in wound healing. Such as with the following:
    o        Post-operative surgical incisions
    o        Contaminated or infected wounds,
    o        Burns
    o        Snake bites

  • Treat various dermatological (skin) conditions. These may include:
    o        Dermatitis
    o        Cat bite abscesses
    o        Eczema
    o        Ulcerated or non-ulcerated eosinophilic granulomas (particular type of scab)
    o        Frostbite
    o        Panniculitis (subcutaneous inflammation)
    o        Pododermatitis (inflammation of skin on feet),
    o        Pyoderma (pus in the skin)
    o        Seborrhea (dandruff)

  • Treat pain caused by musculoskeletal disorders such as:
    o        Cruciate ligament injury
    o        Hip dysplasia
    o        Elbow dysplasia
    o        Intervertebral disc disease
    o        Degenerative myelopathy
    o        Neck pain
    o        Back pain
    o        Paralysis
    o        Loss of motor control
    o        Osteoarthritis
    o        Post-operative fracture repair
    o        Degenerative joint disease

    What does My Pet Experience During Laser Therapy

    The first thing that will need to be done is to have the veterinarian perform a physical exam and to talk to you about the procedure. Then you will take your pet to the veterinary clinic on a regular schedule. The area that will be receiving the laser therapy will be prepared. If your pet has thick or long fur, it may be necessary to remove some hair using electric clippers.

    During the laser therapy session, your pet will have to remain very still. If your pet it anxious, sedation may be used to help your pet relax. If you veterinarian is using a higher power laser unit, the session will only last about 15 minutes per site. Lower powered units can take up to an hour.

    Once the area is clipped, proper eye protection for you pet is put in place and the energy dose is calculated. Then the session will begin. The laser probe is moved back and forth on the skin or over the affected area. The only thing that your pet will feel while the laser is in operation is a warm sensation. There is no pain at all.

    Please note: Depending on your preference, it may be important to find out how much energy your clinic's unit puts out. Higher power units that take less time are usually 12-15 watts.

    How Many Treatments are Needed?

    For most acute conditions such as a skin infection – one treatment may be all that is needed. For chronic conditions such as treating chronic pain, your pet will likely start off with every other day treatments. After the first week or so, you will take them in less often. Some pets will benefit from monthly treatments. A total of eight treatments is standard for most conditions.

    When Does my Pet See Results?

    For many conditions, improvement will be seen in the first few sessions. For musculoskeletal disorders like arthritis, improvement may not be seen until the final session is complete.

    What Does Laser Therapy Cost?

    Costs for laser therapy will vary widely between regions, but you should expect to pay several hundred dollars for complete treatment. Often treatments are organized by how many areas and a series of treatments ranging from 4 to 8.

    Is Laser Therapy Right for Your Pet?

    Laser therapy is not a cure-all, but can assist in the treatment of your pet's conditions. It may be used in conjunction with medical and/or surgical treatment.

    The equipment and expertise required to perform laser therapy is not available everywhere. Ask your veterinary office if they offer laser therapy or if they recommend any clinic that does. If you contact a veterinary office that offers laser therapy, they would be more than happy give you all of the information you need to make a decision.
    Most conditions that can benefit from laser therapy require many sessions be effective. Laser therapy has been used in human medicine and has been proven to give positive results.

    If you have a pet that suffers from chronic painful or inflammatory problems and you have tried many other treatments, try laser therapy next.

    When is Laser Therapy Contraindicated?

    Laser therapy may not be used in pregnant animals, animals with cancer, intact males that may be used for breeding and areas close to or involving the eyes.

    Is a Laser Dangerous to My Pet?

    Class IV lasers are dangerous if used improperly. If direct eye contact is made with a class IV laser, it could cause retinal damage which can lead to blindness. Also, Class IV lasers can cause burning of the skin if not used correctly. This is why licensed veterinary professionals must undergo special training in order to used these devices. Veterinary clinics that offer laser therapy have learned how to operate Class IV lasers in a way that will minimize risk and maximize positive results for your pet.

    Summary

    In general – laser therapy is wonderful modality that may help pets not responding to traditional treatments. Remember, laser therapy should be used in conjunction with medical and/or surgical treatment.
    Ask your veterinary office if they offer laser therapy or if they recommend any clinic that does.

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