Written by Dr. Jennifer Bloss
When we use the word LASER, what comes to mind?
A giant “Laser” for mass destruction and world domination like in some of our favorite movies? A mastermind that is plotting the end of humanity or holding the world ransom?
A bright and illuminated lightsaber that is used for fighting your mortal enemies in space? Using the light as a weapon that can be wielded by only the most masterful and trained.
In the movies, a few different things come to mind, but in veterinary medicine, it can actually mean a few different things as well.
Laser Therapy for Pets
In veterinary medicine, there are several forms of laser that can help our patients, treat them, and keep them healthy. The two forms of lasers used in the field are veterinary therapeutic lasers and veterinary C02 laser. Both have dramatically different uses in the field and have benefits.
Co2 lasers are similar to what you would think of; a bright light used to cut and cauterize. It is used as a surgical tool to help prevent bleeding and maybe the veterinary field’s lightsaber of sorts.
But we can also use light to help heal and stimulate our own bodies to help with inflammation and speed wound healing. This is the veterinary therapeutic laser that will be the focus of this blog. We will discuss how we can use light and secondary mild heat production to help treat pets’ chronic conditions and speed wound healing.
How Does Laser Therapy Help Pets Heal?
Lasers can be used to help pets by decreasing healing times and to soothe chronic pain. Brook- Falls Veterinary Hospital and Exotic Care Inc recently acquired a state-of-the-art therapeutic laser that can be used to help pets with many different conditions.
First, I will explain what lasers are and how they work:
Lasers are a form of light delivery. Specifically, laser is, an acronym for “light amplification of stimulated emission of radiation,” which refers to a unit that emits focused, penetrating light beams in three forms:
- Monochromatic: Light that is a single wavelength (as opposed to natural light, which is emitted as a range of wavelengths)
- Coherent: Photons (i.e., tiny particles of light or electromagnetic radiation) that travel in the same phase and direction
- Collimated: Photons that travel in a single straight beam
Coherence and collimation give a laser penetrating power to a restricted area so that nearby tissues are unaffected.
Do All Lasers Have Therapeutic Effects? No!
There are four classes of lasers being manufactured today. They are grouped into classes by their wavelength and potential energy output:
- Class 1 lasers, such as barcode scanners used in supermarkets, are used safely every day.
- Class 2 lasers, which include laser pointers and some therapeutic lasers, produce a beam in the visible spectrum (400–700 nanometers)
- Class 3 lasers include the most commonly used therapeutic lasers.
- Class 4 lasers cause thermal injury to tissues and include surgical lasers used to cut and cauterize tissue during surgical procedures.
Our laser is optimized for healing and is one of the more powerful lasers on the market.
Now that you know what a laser is and which types of lasers are therapeutic, you may be wondering how they affect your pet’s body.
Therapeutic lasers use light waves of a specific wavelength to cause photo-biomodulation, or the alteration of cellular and tissue physiology. Light absorbed by cellular components (specifically cytochrome C, a molecule which abounds in the mitochondria of the cells) stimulates electrons and activates cells to promote growth, proliferation, migration, and repair.
Laser therapy helps tissue repair by causing the following:
- Endorphin release
- Vasodilation, which increases blood flow to bring in oxygen and cells involved in the healing process
- Decreased inflammation
- Muscle relaxation
- Faster repair and healing
The main clinical benefits of laser use in pets include decreased inflammation, decreased pain, and improved wound healing.
We already use therapeutic lasers for most of our surgical patients to help reduce healing times and inflammation. Other common uses are listed below:
- Chronic arthritis
- Tendon and ligament injuries
- Traumatic injuries
Laser therapy for pets is beneficial with limited medical treatment options, such as:
- Pets with liver or kidney disease who cannot take medications
- Cats and exotic pets, for whom only a few pain-control medications are approved, and for whom medication administration is difficult or impossible
- Geriatric with diminished organ function
How Long Does Laser Therapy Last?
During a treatment session, the handheld laser wand is slowly and rhythmically moved back and forth over the damaged tissue, producing a warm sensation that is well tolerated by most pets. It usually lasts 15 to 30 minutes, with the number of sessions and frequency of treatments depending on the injury. Chronic conditions may be treated weekly, whereas surgical incisions and open wounds often require daily treatment.
Are There Side Effects of Laser Therapy?
Laser therapy is safe if performed correctly, using the proper settings and treatment durations. Higher-powered units can cause thermal burns to tissues if used incorrectly. Our laser has settings specifically tailored for pets of all weights, fur length and color, skin color, body composition, and for a specific place on your pet’s body as well. This is to ensure your pet receives the most effective therapy while ensuring they are safe.
Also, laser beams directed at an eye can cause permanent retinal damage, so patients and veterinary staff must wear protective goggles during treatment. We have enough goggles for every human in the room and pets of all sizes so that everyone can safely observe during treatment.
Is Laser a Better Alternative to Pain Medication and Physical Rehabilitation?
No. Laser therapy is designed to be used in addition to traditional therapy such as anti-inflammatory pain medications. Laser therapy can help with pain, inflammation, and healing times but does not take the place of traditional therapy altogether.
The approach to pain and inflammation is multi-modal, using as many tools as we can to help our patients and provide them with the best care and comfort due to an injury or when dealing with chronic pain and inflammation. As a very progressive practice, we want to make sure we have all the tools that we can to help our patients with the best care and offer all of the options and treatments we can to be treat our patients. Laser therapy or a therapeutic laser is a minimally invasive tool that we can use to help pets, and we are very excited to start offering this new therapy to your pets. If you have any questions or concerns at all, feel free to ask!