By Mandi Blackwelder DVM CCRP

When I hear therapeutic laser, I tend to think of the thing that Dr. McCoy had on Star Trek that told him what was wrong and magically repaired it. While we’re not quite there yet in veterinary medicine, the therapeutic laser is becoming a pillar of care in musculoskeletal injuries.

It is a scary red beam pointed at my pet?

Nope. Laser is a form of light, but the “red beam” that we think of for slide presentations and playing with the cat is a weak form of laser in the visible spectrum. Therapeutic laser is a much higher wavelength making it not visible to the naked eye, but more powerful for realigning disease processes in the body.   When a laser is aimed at a tissue at the proper wavelength, power and time, a whole biochemical laboratory opens up underneath the skin: blood flow is improved, inflammation is reduced, antioxidants are activated, nerve messages are stimulated, nerve growth is accelerated, and pain is reduced. Each new study seems to show a new benefit of laser.

What does it treat?

We are still discovering new things the laser can help to treat. Some of the main uses in veterinary medicine are:

  • Arthritic joints
  • Non-healing wounds
  • Surgical scars and other scar tissue
  • Reduce post-operative swelling
  • Faster neurological healing (post disk surgery, nerve damage)
  • Nerve and muscle pain
  • Non healing fractures

It can also be used as an acupuncture tool where the acupuncture point is lasered rather than treated with a needle.

What should NOT be treated:

  • Tumors
  • Areas of active bleeding
  • Pregnant pets

Things to know:

  • Anything between the laser and the skin will cause LESS effect, therefore the area of treatment will be affected the best if it is shaved first. (Most laser companies will claim to get the same effect if with and without shaving. Not true. Not all dogs have to be shaved, but the decreased effect MUST be considered in the therapy protocol).
  • A lower lever laser (called LLLTs) have the same effect as higher level lasers (HLLT); the treatment time is longer with LLLTs.
  • Many lasers are programmable so that anyone can “set it and forget it” and treat the patient. All laser operators should be properly trained in the use of the laser and the calculation of the dosage so that proper accommodations can be made specific to the patient.
  • Eye protection should be worn when the laser is in use. (Dog owners LOVE to take pictures of the dogs in their “doggles.”)

 A word about cats:

Laser is a peaceful therapeutic modality for our feline friends who may not be a fan of acupuncture needles or walking in water. Most cats, when handled with peace and kindness, like laser therapy and tolerate it well. Cats can be treated for arthritic conditions, wounds AND laser acupuncture which “takes the poke out of puncture.”