Pet Laser Therapy

By Sandra J Platt VMD

A laser therapy treatment seemed like magic only a few years ago, but now we know light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation, or “laser” therapy has many bedside uses. Laser light has three specific properties, which are all necessary to create its healing characteristics.  These are that the light is collimated, monochromatic, and coherent.

One of the primary uses of laser therapy is for pain management and tissue healing. The operation of this technology are broad, and often surprisingly effective. From skin infections and abscesses to deep tissue inflammation causing pain and bone healing, laser therapy can speed healing. There are a few cases in which the use of a laser is not appropriate, such as on a pregnant belly, eyes, growth plates, or over a tumor, but these instances are few and far between. However, because of these, and to make sure we know precisely how to treat your pet, some tests may be required before we begin with any therapies – expect your veterinarian to bring up Blood Work, radiographs, ultrasound, or other tests.

A laser may be used at the beginning of your rehabilitation treatments to make the patient more flexible and comfortable prior to exercise or at the end of treatment to reduce inflammation and pain after working problem areas. Either way, the laser can improve overall patient function – either by increasing the amount of therapy which can be done or by increasing the patient’s ability to move more normally after a rehabilitation session. The laser is generally applied to clipped or haired skin and requires no gel for the application. A session can take between 5-20 minutes and is considered very comfortable, creating a warm sensation. If you have any doubts, you can ask your therapist to try it on you in order to ensure your pet is as comfortable as possible.

How does it work? Once laser penetrates the tissues, it modulates cellular functions through a process known as photobiostimulation. Low-level lasers (type 3b and 4) are used exclusively to provide this type of therapy – these lasers cannot cut tissue, communicate with outer space, or be used to launch intercontinental ballistic missiles. This “cold” laser therapy decreases pain through the release of endogenous opioids, changes in the conduction of nerves, increased cellular metabolism, increased circulation, promotion of neovascularization, decreased fibrosis formation, and reduction of inflammation. Together, these lasers modulate biological processes in the cells to accelerate joint and wound healing and promote muscle regeneration. The bottom line of this is that over the course of several treatments, you can see decreases in inflammation, lower infection burdens, new skin formation, and other signs of healing.

Laser therapy is a welcome addition to the clinical setting, bringing with it renewed capacity for the body to heal itself. In addition to a complete rehabilitation protocol, laser therapy can stimulate healing, soothe pain and discomfort, and get patients walking (and maybe even running)!