There was only one veterinary hospital in my city that offered laser therapy for dogs when Sophie became paralyzed. We were referred by a dear friend whose vet had just added the device to his practice as a means of treating dogs with severe arthritis. In 2010, cold laser therapy was only being used to manage arthritic dogs.
Today therapeutic lasers are as common as X-ray machines. They’re used to relieve pain, reduce inflammation and heal canine patients with a variety of ailments.
If you have a dog that’s been diagnosed with back problems, disc disease or paralysis, you should know about laser therapy. Chances are good it will be part of your pet’s treatment plan.
One dog’s experience
Sophie went through a series of six laser treatments before the vet decided we should “call it quits” because it didn’t improve her mobility. We tried laser therapy a little ahead of its time. Today, veterinarians are able to dial in a diagnosis and the laser adjusts so the right dose of light is emitted.
But even in 2010, the treatment was a godsend that changed lives. I personally saw this with a dog who had his appointment right before Sophie. He was a big Labrador retriever with extreme arthritis.
The first time he arrived for his treatment he had to be carried into the clinic on a stretcher because the pain. At his next visit, the Lab was able to slowly walk in, while his owner supported the dog’s back end with a sling made from a towel.
And by the third treatment, the Lab walked into the clinic entirely on his own. I can only imagine the final outcome after he went through the full course therapy.
Why laser therapy works
Laser Therapy or Cold Laser Therapy, as it’s officially called, is light years ahead of the procedure Sophie had. Advances in the technology and ease of use have made it a popular treatment for dogs, cats, horses, rabbits and other small animals.
Nearly 50 percent of veterinary hospitals in the U.S. have a laser therapy unit on hand.
Therapeutic lasers work by emitting a low-powered infrared laser light called ATP that’s cool to the touch and completely painless to the patient.
According to the American Animal Hospital Association, when the laser is applied to the surface of the skin, it starts a chemical reaction in the body. It releases endorphins, increases blood flow, reduces inflammation and accelerates the growth of cells and tissue.
In plain English, laser therapy for dogs decreases pain and inflammation while healing injured areas fast.
It’s an amazing treatment because it’s safe, non-invasive and considered to have no known side effects – except for one caveat.
The one risk of laser therapy for dogs
The procedure isn’t recommended for dogs with: cancer, thyroid problems, bleeding and autonomic “involuntary” nerve problems.
The reason is due to the laser’s ability to replicate cells quickly. That capability is great for healing, but not very good for cancer cells or bleeding. Veterinarians treating these conditions try to minimize cell growth.
Treatments are best used for these disorders:
- Back problems and disc disease
- Joint injury
- Ligament or tendon injuries
- IVDD – Intervertebral Disc Disease
- Muscle sprains
- Post-surgical wounds
- Chronic ear infections
- Hot spots
- Lick granulomas
- Bladder infections
What the laser unit looks like
K-Laser is one of the companies that manufactures laser therapy equipment for veterinary hospitals. I had the opportunity to talk with them at the Western Veterinary Conference. They explained how easy they’ve made the design of their laser. A veterinarian or vet tech is able to dial in a medical condition and the type of animal being treated and a preprogrammed treatment is automatically set.
How treatments are administered
- One of the most important components of laser therapy starts before the treatment begins. Everyone in the exam room must wear specially designed darkened goggles. The infrared light emitted by the laser can permanently damage the retina in your eyes, if you aren’t properly suited up. So, from the veterinarian and vet tech to your dog and you, everyone in the room wears these protective sunglasses.
- Next, your dog will be made comfortable for the procedure. Most vets provide a padded bed or blanket that’s laid floor or on an exam table. Our vet set a big comfy blanket on the ground for Sophie.
- Then the laser unit is set for your pet’s medical condition.
- The vet or tech slowly runs a handheld wand, attached to the laser, over the surface of your dog’s skin. The wand emits the laser light and is continuously moved back and forth across the injured area.
The number of sessions dogs need
Each session runs 15 to 30 minutes, but depending on your dog’s medical condition the frequency of treatments can vary quite a bit. Some vets require daily or near daily laser therapy sessions for acute conditions, while chronic problems are treated two or three times a week. Sophie and I went twice a week for a total of 6 treatments.
How dogs react to laser treatments
Most dogs find the treatment relaxing. Some even fall asleep. Dogs generally enjoy laser therapy because they have their owner by their side and the procedure is completely painless. I think they also tolerate it well because it makes them feel better, fast.
And on a final note, I want to mention expenses. Compared to other procedures, laser therapy for dogs is inexpensive. It ranges in price from $25-$45 per session and many veterinarians bundle packages of treatments to make it even more reasonably priced.
Exciting potential for laser therapy and Degenerative Myelopathy dogs
Degenerative Myelopathy is a heartbreaking neurologic disease in dogs, but results from a brand new study are giving hope. Laser therapy was administered to two groups of dogs with DM and the results showed potential benefits of slowing the progression of the disease. I’ll be writing more about the study, but you can read some of the details at DMV 360. It’s very exciting news.