With the better preventative care and healthier lifestyles that our pets now enjoy, our furry companions are living longer than ever. Unfortunately, one consequence of living longer is that they often develop arthritis and can suffer from chronic pain as a result.
Chronic pain can sometimes be difficult to identify for owners, as the initial signs can be very subtle. Pets may be slower going up and down steps, getting in and out of the car, or on their normal walks. They may withdraw from their daily activities, or a previously happy dog may appear “grumpy.” Treatment options for arthritis pain typically include oral pain medications and physical therapy, but all too often that is not enough as the arthritis becomes more advanced, and pets silently suffer. Eventually, desperate owners are left feeling hopeless, feeling that nothing more can be done, and they must make the ultimate life decision on the behalf of their beloved pet. Recently, however, newer technology in the development of pet laser therapy has allowed veterinarians to integrate this new treatment in their practices as an effective, alternative approach to pain management.
What is Laser Therapy?
Laser therapy is a painless and drug-free treatment that can be used to alleviate both acute and chronic pain when conventional therapies have been ineffective, or simply when a more rapid regain of function is desired. The laser system sends photons, or packets of light energy, deep into tissue without damaging it. These photons are absorbed within the cells and induce a chemical change called “photo-bio-modulation” which then inspires production of ATP in the cell. ATP is the fuel, or energy, cells need for repair and rejuvenation. Impaired or injured cells do not make this fuel. The laser light increases ATP, and this in turn repairs the damaged cell and reduces inflammation and pain. Laser therapy has been used in human medicine for many years, but has recently transitioned to veterinary medicine, and the benefits are just as impressive!
Is Laser Therapy Safe?
Laser therapy is very safe. It is an FDA-approved treatment for the control of pain in both humans and animals, with no reported adverse side effects. This means you can use laser for both acute and chronic conditions, with no concern for any ill effects to your pet.
What Should I Expect During My Pet’s Treatment?
Laser therapy treatment is safe, painless and fast. The treatments are done right in front of you, with your pet typically lying down on a nice warm bed while the treatment is administered. Treatments to deeper tissues last anywhere from 5-20 minutes, depending on the size of the area treated. Pets feel a very slight warmth, but no pain, as the laser is gently applied to the painful area. We usually notice pets will begin to relax as the laser light penetrates deeper, and some even fall asleep. Despite short treatment times, laser therapy treatments initiate a healing process that continues to actively reduce inflammation for up to 48 hours after treatment, and most patients experience noticeable improvement after 3-4 sessions.
How Do I Get My Pet Evaluated for Laser Treatment?
Typically, a physical exam will first be performed to determine the best protocol for an individual dog or cat. During that time, the areas of concern will be assessed and a laser treatment plan will be established. For chronic conditions, such as arthritis, multiple sessions will be recommended, either daily or every other day depending on the severity of the pain. A typical arthritis protocol is 20 minutes every other day for 4 sessions, then once weekly to once monthly for long-term pain control. Overall, pets that suffer from debilitating conditions such as arthritis feel more comfortable and more mobile after each laser session has occurred, and experience a cumulative effect.
What other conditions may benefit from laser therapy?
Although laser therapy is often used for treating patients with arthritis, there are multiple other beneficial uses for laser therapy. Veterinarians use lasers to help improve nerve function in cats and dogs with weakness in their hind limbs as it helps speed up nerve cell regeneration. It can be used to heal wounds such as burns, ulcers, or “hot spots” because laser energy stimulates cells to produce collagen, a vital protein necessary for tissue repair. Post-operatively, laser use can speed up the healing and recovery from a surgical wound. At Hemlock Bluffs Animal Hospital, we use the laser after each surgery to help our patients feel better faster. In addition, there are countless other beneficial uses of laser therapy, including treatment of abdominal pain, back pain, allergic skin disease, infections of the skin and ears, and even after oral surgery to help the gums heal and reduce pain.
As pets continue to be an essential part of our lives, we are continuously looking for ways to improve and maximize their quality of life. Laser therapy is becoming increasingly important in the role of managing their care. We are proud to be one of the few hospitals in the Triangle area to offer laser treatment therapy for our patients. Don’t let your pet suffer needlessly; be sure and ask how your pet can benefit from laser therapy, today!
Dr. Snyder is with Hemlock Bluffs Animal Hospital in Holly Springs.