Swee’ Pea is an 18-year-old border collie/Australian shepherd cross who holds nine Guinness world records for stunts such as walking up and down a flight of stairs backward while balancing a glass of water on her nose.
As you can imagine, a dog that old – even one who undergoes stretching and other exercises daily to keep her fit – still has aches and pains in her hips, back and shoulders. Her veterinarian, Laurie McCauley, medical director at TOPS Veterinary Rehab in Grayslake, Ill., uses low-level laser therapy to help Swee’ Pea stay comfortable.
Sometimes known as cold laser or class IV laser, the therapy works by altering or stimulating cellular function. The light energy penetrates to a certain depth – depending on the wavelength and energy applied – and affects cells and blood vessels in certain ways, such as by blocking a nerve’s ability to send a pain signal to the brain, increasing blood flow or decreasing swelling. It may also significantly speed wound healing.
That was the experience for Graham, a greyhound, whose injured tail was amputated. Cold laser helped the area to heal quickly, says his owner, Marcia Herman of Anderson, S.C.
Jake, a cavalier King Charles spaniel, received cold laser treatment for an ACL injury. His owner, Cathy Remoll Torres of San Diego, says the treatment helped him to avoid surgery.
In my own practice, I’ve used the class IV laser a number of ways. It can help to relieve pain, redness and swelling at surgical incision sites; reduce inflammation related to hot spots, inflamed ears and lick granulomas; and soothe arthritic joints. Dogs who have spay surgery with laser treatment have little redness, drastically reduced swelling and no discomfort. A severely arthritic dog treated with a laser was able to break the shackles of pain and stiffness and start moving normally again.
That’s so satisfying for me and for the pet owner. Veterinarians and pet owners like laser treatment for a number of reasons:
It’s noninvasive. When used correctly, it doesn’t have any side effects. It can be used weekly or monthly for pets with chronic pain, giving them better quality of life. In cases of severe pain caused by surgery or trauma, laser treatment can be used twice a day for a few days and then daily to diminish pain and speed healing.
Cold laser has limitations. It can be harmful for pets with cancer, and it shouldn’t be directed at the retina of the eye or over tattoos, or areas of active bleeding. Cost varies depending on the type of machine used and whether a veterinarian or technician is administering the treatment.
Some pet health insurance plans do cover it. What is really exciting is the potential of laser therapy to help pets be less fearful during veterinary visits by using laser to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system. In the end, helping fearful patients become fearless in the hospital is where veterinary medicine might end up using these the most.