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Table of Contents:
- What Is a Laser?
- How Do Lasers Work?
- Common Conditions Treated by Laser Therapy
- Laser Therapy Considerations
- Treatment with a Laser
Not too long ago, if you told someone that your pet was receiving laser therapy, it would have seemed like something out of a science fiction novel. Nowadays, laser therapy is not uncommon and is considered a valuable tool in veterinary medicine. This article’s focus will be on therapeutic lasers – how they work, what conditions they treat, and special precautions to take into consideration.
What Is a Laser?
The term ‘LASER’ stands for Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation. If you think about it, lasers are everywhere: from the scanner at the grocery store, to your laser-pointer cat toy, to high-powered surgical laser devices.
How Do Lasers Work?
Laser ‘light’ in the form of a beam is emitted from the laser treatment piece. This beam consists of a specific wavelength in the form of ‘photons’ or a packet of energy. The photons are absorbed by the cells of the body, creating a biological reaction referred to as photobiomodulation.
This absorbed energy is equivalent to a kick start for cells that are unhealthy and have not been functioning properly. The cell is stimulated to produce energy that promotes the release of chemical signals, which result in important biological changes. One change in particular is the dilation of nearby blood vessels, which allows more blood to the flow to the treatment area. Ultimately, the increased blood flow provides nourishment, as well as anti-inflammatory cells that mitigate inflammatory processes that occur with conditions like osteoarthritis and infection. Another benefit of photobiomodulation is the release of beta endorphins – the body’s own pain-relieving chemicals – which are an important component of a multi-modal approach to pain management.
Common Conditions Treated by Laser Therapy
Through the process of photobiomodulation, laser therapy can help with numerous chronic inflammatory conditions, such as:
- Degenerative joint disease
- Lick granuloma
- Otitis externa (ear infections)
It can also treat acute conditions like wounds and strains, as well as accelerate healing, decrease scarring, and provide higher tensile strength of healing tissue. Patients with neurologic diseases, such as intervertebral disc disease, can benefit from increased nerve function and reduction of secondary inflammation offered by laser treatment.
Laser Therapy Considerations
Though laser therapy can help treat many conditions, caution must be used in certain cases. Many therapeutic lasers used in clinics are class IV high-powered laser machines. While it is never appropriate to look directly at any laser, in the case of therapy lasers, it is of the utmost importance to protect the patient, since laser light can cause permanent damage to the eye.
While there are many advantages to increased blood flow to areas treated with a laser, it is important to avoid treating areas with open bleeding and bruising, or those that have cancerous tumors. Certain medications can also affect laser treatment. If your pet is taking medications that increase photosensitivity (eg. doxycycline), special care should be taken and laser treatment doses must be calculated accordingly. Additionally, lasers should never be used over reproductive organs, on pregnant patients, or over the growth plates of young animals.
Treatment with a Laser
Laser treatment times can range from as short as twenty seconds to much longer, depending on the area of the body being treated, the size of the patient, the patient’s condition, and the dose. It should also be noted that energy is lost to air, hair coat color/thickness, skin pigment, and bodily fluid (blood, lymph, interstitial fluid).
Treatment itself is pain free and non-invasive. Patients may feel a bit of warmth over the treatment area, especially if they have darker-colored fur. For initial treatments, it is helpful to have treats ready to occupy a potentially nervous patient. Most patients, however, are generally accepting and relaxed for their treatment sessions.
How long does it take to see desired effects?
Positive effects of photobiomodulation can be seen in one to two days in the case of superficial wounds, hotspots, dermatitis, and post-operative incisions. Chronic conditions can take a bit more time to produce desired results. Pets with a chronic disease, such as osteoarthritis, have likely had the condition for several years prior to starting laser treatment. In these cases, patience is key.
Some pets can have notably positive results after a single treatment, while others need four to six treatments before showing signs of improvement. Before deciding that laser treatment isn’t working, make sure to complete at least six treatments. It is not uncommon for a pet’s condition to both surprise their healthcare providers and their owners after undergoing the full initial course of treatment. When patients with chronic conditions complete the initial treatment period, time between treatments is slowly increased until a maintenance interval is achieved.
A therapeutic laser is a great tool for treatment, as it accelerates healing for acute conditions, and acts as an important component to the management of chronic conditions. Despite the many benefits of photobiomodulation, it is important to note instances where care must be taken in order to avoid permanent harm. In the right hands and adhering to safety protocols, lasers can provide pain-free, non-invasive treatment of our furry, scaly, and feathered family members.