21st Century Pet Therapy Options
Dr. Matthew Heller
Pet owners around the country are discovering a new wrinkle in an existing technology to deliver both pain relief and healing for their furry, feathery or scaly companions. Laser technology has been used in the veterinary field for many years for surgery. Now, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved Class IV laser therapy to deliver non-invasive relief for pain and inflammation, as well. Treatments benefit pets suffering from arthritis, back injuries, acute sprains or spasms and dermatological hot spots and wounds, plus enhance post-operative rehabilitation.
How It Works
The science is fairly straightforward. In a Class IV laser therapy session, a concentrated beam of light emanates from a wand that is slowly moved over the animal’s body, and several processes occur that accelerate healing and pain relief. Effects include an increase in circulation and metabolism, stimulation of nerve cells and a boost in collagen production, all of which facilitate wound healing. The associated production of oxygen encourages cells to regrow, while a release of endorphins stimulates cells to heal more rapidly, reducing pain.
Unlike pharmaceutical, non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID) that provide relief from pain and inflammation, laser therapy does not pose serious side effects for the liver or kidneys, nor is it painful or typically require sedation. Because it promotes cellular activity and increases blood flow, laser therapy should not be used on tumors or pre-surgical sites where it could be detrimental.
Frequency, Duration and Intensity
The duration and frequency of a therapeutic laser session depends on the type of injury or illness being treated. A certified operator will select a pre-programmed protocol, established to regulate the power of the laser (typically from six to 12 watts). The desired wattage is often determined by the size of the area to be treated, along with the nature of the injury and the pet’s coat type and body weight.
As with most medical therapies, one size does not fit all. Initially, a laser therapy session will begin with a thorough physical examination and radiographs, if indicated, to ascertain the extent of the injury or condition, and develop an individualized plan to return a pet to a heightened state of wellness.
For instance, a pet suffering from degenerative arthritis that is experiencing great discomfort in walking may initially be treated for five to 10 minutes every two or three days for a few weeks. As the pet’s situation improves, the frequency of the sessions may decrease to once weekly, and then every two weeks, until the pet receives a laser treatment on a monthly basis. For chronic conditions, laser therapy may not cure the pet, but it will help alleviate its discomfort.
For more acute situations, such as a hot spot or a sprain, the animal may be treated for three to five minutes every three days over a 10-day period. A pet that has recently undergone invasive surgery, such as an ACL (anterior cruciate ligament, or connective knee tissue) repair or tumor removal, may be treated just minutes after the sutures are closed, to promote circulation, stimulate nerve cells and boost collagen production, reducing healing time. Over the next seven to 10 days, the pet may receive a laser treatment every few days until the skin around the incision is less inflamed. Results of laser therapy treatments are cumulative, but most pet owners report significant improvement after two to four sessions.
An article in the Newark Post, in Delaware, quoted pet owner Cricket Barazotto as saying, “I was desperate to get [my dog] Clare out of pain. It was hard for her to walk through our neighborhood. But after the first week of laser therapy, she started jumping back up on our bed.”
Pet owners who previously relied upon more traditional means of relieving inflammation or pain, such as drugs, prescription diets for skin allergies and other types of palliative care, are often surprised by the affordability and availability of laser therapy. Treatment costs vary by location, generally ranging from $50 to $75 a session. To find an area veterinarian that uses non-surgical laser therapy, visit the websites of the two main manufacturers: K-LaserUSA.com/locator/locator/index.php and CompanionTherapyLaser.com/Pages/pet-owners.
This federally approved safe and effective technology delivers results, increasing mobility, accelerating wound healing and decreasing pain. To see if a family pet could benefit from laser therapy, contact a veterinarian to discuss the best application of this innovative approach.