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Laser therapy — sometimes referred to as cold laser therapy — is a procedure that's been available to treat humans for decades. Only in recent years has it begun to be used to treat various conditions in dogs. But what is it, and is it safe for your dog? Read on to learn about cold laser therapy for dogs and how it might help ease your pooch's pain.
Laser Therapy for Dogs
Laser therapy is a procedure that uses a laser to promote tissue healing by stimulating cell regeneration and increasing blood flow, explained the American Kennel Club Canine Health Foundation (AKCCHF). The word "laser" is actually an acronym that stands for "light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation," which means that a laser is a concentrated beam of photon radiation in the form of light, said Innovative Veterinary Care (IVC).
This type of laser therapy is sometimes referred to as cold laser therapy to distinguish it from surgical lasers, which use much higher frequencies to penetrate and reach deeper tissue. Laser therapy is non-invasive, which means there's no need to cut into your pet. Instead, veterinarians simply shine a low-frequency laser beam over the surface of the skin and fur to treat the tissue beneath the surface.
How Laser Therapy Works
Laser therapy helps promote healing of tissue and relieve pain through a process called photobiomodulation. Photobiomodulation is a photochemical process where light interacts with cells to cause biochemical reactions, said IVC. These reactions include increasing circulation at the cellular level, stimulating the immune system, reducing inflammation, and enhancing collagen production and the development of muscle tissue, all of which aid in the repair of damaged tissue.
Conditions Treated by Cold Laser Therapy for Dogs
Laser therapy for dogs is primarily used to treat the following conditions:
- Acute and chronic injuries
- Sprained or strained muscles
- Osteoarthritis and joint pain
- Spinal disc swelling
- Musculoskeletal issues
- Post-surgical nerve tissue repair
Safety of Laser Therapy
Cold laser therapy is a safe procedure. The frequency of light energy that's used has no risk of burning your dog. The biggest danger is retinal damage to anyone who looks directly at the laser beam. In order to prevent this, the laser operator wears protective glasses. Typically, dogs are either provided with protective goggles as well or their eyes are covered or directed away from the beam during the procedure.
What Laser Therapy Is Like for Dogs
Laser therapy is a low-stress form of treatment for dogs. In fact, AKCCHF noted that many dogs find it relaxing and enjoyable. Dogs are typically allowed to either stand or lie down, and they may also be held by a family member during the procedure, whichever makes them the most comfortable. The procedure can take anywhere from a few minutes up to 20 minutes, depending on the severity of the tissue damage, and no sedation or shaving of the affected area are necessary. Not only do dogs often feel better immediately after the procedure, but it also tends to release endorphins that cause dogs to form positive associations with their laser treatments.
Side Effects and Recovery
Laser therapy has no known adverse side effects, and your dog won't need any time to recover. While some dogs need multiple sessions before results can be seen, many dogs show signs of reduced pain and discomfort and increased mobility and activity after only one or two treatments.
Affordability and Availability
Prices vary by region so be sure to contact your veterinarian for the cost of a laser therapy session. Typically, your dog will start out with two or three sessions a week, depending on the type and severity of the issue being treated, and eventually decrease to once a week, and then once every two weeks.
Unfortunately, the laser equipment involved is expensive, which is why laser therapy for dogs is not yet widely available. However, as this type of treatment becomes more popular with vets and dog parents, the price of the equipment is expected to drop, which will make it more accessible to more vets. If your vet doesn't offer laser therapy, they should be able to refer you to a clinic that does. Be sure to speak to your veterinarian to see if laser treatment would be a good course of action for your dog.
While laser therapy is a fairly new form of treatment for dogs, it's already stood the test of time in human medicine. As a low-stress treatment that's been proven safe and effective, hopefully more dogs will be able to enjoy the benefits of laser therapy in the future.
Jean Marie Bauhaus
Jean Marie Bauhaus is a pet lover, freelance writer and novelist. She currently lives in the Ozarks with her husband and their gaggle of four-footed dependents, where she enjoys watching a wide array of wild animals in her back yard while drinking her morning coffee.