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Veterinary Use of Laser Therapy Expands

Laser Therapy MachineLaser therapy works in a number of ways to heal injuries and manage pain. Among them:

  • It increases the release of endorphins (natural painkillers).
  • Laser therapy decreases inflammation, which helps return tissue to a normal state.
  • It restores metabolic function.

Robin Downing, DVM and owner of The Downing Center for Animal Pain Management LLC in Windsor, CO, uses the laser to treat post-operative pain and kick-start the healing process. She uses it on acupuncture points for patients that can’t tolerate needles. And she also uses it to manage the pain some animals suffer in the iliopsoas muscle, the muscle bundle that helps stabilize the lower spine.

Don Nunn, DVM and owner of Integrity Animal Hospital in Kingsland, GA reports that his laser is nothing short of miraculous. He uses it in quite a variety of applications, including:

  • Otitis externa (an infection of the skin covering the outer ear, also called swimmer’s ear)
  • Orthopedics
  • Bladder inflammation
  • Infectious cough
  • Snakebite
  • Hip dysplasia

Results with hip dysplasia patients are especially satisfying, according to Dr. Nunn:

“We’ve had dogs who’ve been barely able to walk, then after a series of six treatments, they’re acting like puppies,” he says. “We treated a 100-pound Akita the owner couldn’t even bring in. When we got there to load him in the pickup, he was laying in his own urine.

After the first treatment, we were able to towel-walk him around. After three more, he was able to walk on his own. Then after six, he was running around the back yard.”

Laser treatments range from about $35 to $60 per session and are ideal for owners of sick or debilitated pets who are looking for alternatives to pain medications and invasive procedures. At some clinics, pet owners can even hold their animals during laser therapy sessions.
Dr. Becker's Comments:

As you can probably tell from the excitement of the veterinarians interviewed for the above article, laser therapy really is a tremendous tool to treat a wide variety of conditions that afflict companion animals.

The benefits laser therapy provides for animals with chronic pain and lack of mobility – often these are aging and arthritic pets -- is especially gratifying.

Laser therapy provides a drug-free, non-invasive way to alleviate discomfort and restore quality of life to many horribly debilitated animals.

Class IV Lasers

The type of laser we’re discussing is the high power Class IV, recently approved by the FDA. This is not what is known as the ‘cold’ laser or low-level laser; those are Class III lasers. They work on the same principles as the Class IV, but are less powerful.

The Class IV laser is about 50 times stronger than its predecessor, the Class III. Since FDA approval, use of Class IV therapeutic lasers in veterinary medicine has grown dramatically.

A laser with power above 500mW is considered a Class IV. The reason for higher power is so the laser can deliver enough photons on the surface of the skin to compensate for the decreasing amount of photons that are able to reach deeper tissues. Class IV lasers are considered extremely safe.

This new class of laser has adjustable power output. Class IV’s can be used at a low power to treat, for example, superficial skin wounds or to stimulate acupuncture points.

They can also be used at high power to treat deep musculoskeletal problems. And there are applications all along the spectrum of low to high power.

How Lasers Act on the Body

Lasers work through a process known as photobiostimulation. The photonic energy delivered by the light of the laser changes cellular chemistry by:

  • Increasing production of cell fuel (ATP, or Adenosine-triphosphate)
  • Reducing inflammation and pain
  • Increasing circulation at the injury site

Laser light in the red and near-infrared range triggers a photochemical reaction in the body that increases blood flow to tissues. This in turn promotes improved function in the growth, replication and repair of cells, as well as the production of important compounds like enzymes, DNA/RNA, immunoglobulins and proteins.

According to Ronald Riegel, DVM, who has written manuals on the use of lasers to treat veterinary patients, “The key to a successful therapeutic dose of laser energy is achieving the right combination of power, wavelength and time.”

The longer the waves, the deeper the tissue penetration. This sets the stage for optimum photobiostimulation of cells.

“We need to use enough energy to increase the respiratory rate of cells and put them into hyperdrive,” Riegel says. “We’re dealing with cells that are already injured, and we’re looking to initiate this whole biochemical cascade of events.”

Laser Therapy Applications

Lasers are being used in veterinary medicine for pain management, to promote wound healing, to reduce inflammation and swelling, and for rehabilitation in both small and large animals.

Conditions currently treated successfully with lasers include:

  • Acute and chronic ear infections
  • Gum disease
  • Skin wounds caused by abscesses, hot spots, and lick granulomas
  • Anal gland infections
  • Acute and chronic neck and back pain
  • Fractures
  • Post-surgery pain, healing, and rehab
  • Muscle, ligament, and tendon injuries
  • Arthritis; degenerative joint diseases like hip dysplasia
  • Neuromuscular disease
  • Certain GI, urinary, respiratory conditions

The potential uses of laser therapy are also exciting, and include treatment of:

  • Allergic conditions
  • Chronic rhinitis and bronchitis
  • Bacterial and viral infections
  • OCD (osteochondrosis dissecans), a joint cartilage disease mainly affecting large and giant breed dogs
  • Chronic inflammation of the intestines or urinary tract
  • Snake and insect bites
  • Control or treatment of certain tumors
  • Neurologic events (concussions, strokes); peripheral nerve damage

Laser Therapy Offers Huge Benefits for Pets

The benefits of laser therapy can’t be overstated. It not only hastens healing, it actually improves the way tissue repairs and renews itself.

In post-operative patients, laser treatments reduce the risk of complications.

Lasers can reverse muscle atrophy and improve tendon and ligament strength and resilience. Range of motion, function, flexibility and mobility are all enhanced. In addition, the probability of re-injury is significantly less. Pets get back on their feet and return to normal activities faster.

Patients don’t need to be sedated. No drugs are involved; there are no IV lines and no invasive clipping of hair or cutting into the skin.

Class IV laser therapy treatments are cumulative, meaning each treatment builds on prior treatments and the animal’s condition improves continuously.

As a proactive, integrative veterinarian, I strive to combine the best traditional and alternative medical therapies to improve the health of every patient I treat. Laser therapy is an option I especially love because it can restore quality of life to animals with a wide range of incapacitating health conditions.