Laser therapy: A promising trend in veterinary medicine
Mindy Tehan, RVT, gives laser therapy treatments
to a patient at Animal Care Unlimited.
Photo courtesy of Lindsay Melia.
Denver resident, Sue Kohut, was alarmed when her Great Dane puppy, Beauxmont, became lethargic and developed swollen legs that were hot to the touch. At just five months old, the pup was diagnosed with hypertrophic osteodystrophy (HOD), a painful bone disease that can occur in fast-growing large and giant breeds.
"It can be crippling—in certain cases, a puppy would have to be euthanized," Kohut said. "I had this big puppy who was in so much pain. I was like, 'Just fix him!'"
Fortunately, Kohut's veterinarian developed a treatment protocol that included laser therapy. Unlike surgical lasers that cut through tissue, therapy lasers—or "cold" lasers—stimulate the body's cells to promote healing and alleviate pain.
"I literally noticed an improvement after his first treatment," Kohut said. "He was less lethargic and seemed like he was in less pain."
After three or four laser therapy treatments, Beauxmont's condition was completely resolved. Two years later, Beauxmont, who is also deaf and blind in one eye, is a loving pet who is "simultaneously graceful and goofy."
Beauxmont is just one of a growing number of pets who have benefitted from laser therapy, particularly over the last decade as the technology has evolved. Jamie Bobulsky, DVM and medical director at AAHA-accredited Animal Care Unlimited in Columbus, Ohio, said the practice invested in a therapy laser in 2010 and has since seen some "remarkable" results. In fact, the hospital now includes laser therapy in treatment plans for everything from surgery to arthritis to ear infections.
"Laser [therapy] causes many physiological and biochemical processes to occur," Bobulsky said. "It stimulates the release of endorphins, causes vasodilation, and promotes lymphatic flow, which brings more blood to the area and flushes out inflammatory mediators and swelling, and accelerates tissue repair by increasing the rate of cell division and activating cells needed for repair. I explain this to clients as bringing in the good cells and taking out the bad ones."
Bobulsky said laser therapy is a valuable pain management tool, particularly for older dogs with arthritis who are starting to lose the use of their back legs, or those with compromised livers that prevent them from being able to take pain medication. It is a great option for cats as well, since there are fewer pain control options considered safe for them.
Therapy lasers are also useful in treating exotic animals that may not take medication easily, Bobulsky said. In addition to dogs and cats, her team has performed laser therapy treatments on birds, rabbits, guinea pigs, rats, ducks, sugar gliders, and wildlife, including owls, hawks, bald eagles, peregrine falcons, red-tailed hawks, and turtles.
"There was a cockatiel named Beaker that suffered an unknown injury to the base of his tail and plucked out all of the surrounding feathers. After several laser treatments and some pain medication, he healed beautifully and all of his feathers grew back," she said. "We have also used laser therapy on raptors with a condition called bumblefoot—sores on the bottoms of their feet. This is notoriously difficult to correct and sometimes requires medications and bandaging. They heal more quickly when we use the laser."
Software on many therapy lasers helps calibrate the proper dosage for each animal and length of each session by prompting the veterinary team to enter the pet's weight, skin color, and hair coat length, as well as the medical issue and area to be treated.
Therapy lasers emit a pleasant warming sensation and most patients seem to relax and enjoy their sessions, she said. Typically, multiple sessions are most effective, so the practice offers special packages to achieve the best results.
Though the laser cost about $25,000, Bobulsky said it has been a good investment. She expects the technology to continue to evolve so the machines become more affordable, allowing more veterinarians to offer the modality to their clients.
Bobulsky "absolutely" suggests pet owners try laser therapy for their pet if their veterinarian recommends it.
"It is noninvasive and can be very beneficial," she said.