Laser therapy has been used in sports medicine—human and equine—for many years, but has only recently gained popularity in companion animal medicine to treat conditions in cats and dogs. When combined with other alternative therapies, such as acupuncture, chiropractic care, and massage therapy, in addition to traditional medicinal treatments, laser therapy can work well for pets who cannot safely take medications, or undergo surgery for pain relief. 

What is laser therapy?

Occasionally confused with surgical lasers, which cut and cauterize tissue, therapeutic lasers use light that tissues can absorb, to create photochemical reactions that lead to a healing effect. These reactions, or photobiomodulation, stimulate electrons, and activate cells to promote growth, migration, and repair. 

How does laser therapy work to treat pets?

Therapeutic lasers use low-level light energy, or photons, to stimulate cell regeneration and increase blood circulation. The photons are responsible for releasing ATP, which is the main source of cellular energy. Using the additional energy, cells can heal and repair themselves much more quickly.

Laser therapy helps heal the body by causing the following actions:

  • Endorphin release
  • Vasodilation
  • Increased blood circulation 
  • Muscle relaxation
  • Decreased inflammation
  • Faster healing and repair

Since therapeutic lasers modulate cellular functions, they can enhance muscle regeneration, wound healing, joint healing, and acute or chronic pain management. Overall, laser therapy will decrease your pet’s pain and inflammation, while promoting wound healing.

What can laser therapy be used for in pets?

Although therapeutic lasers are used primarily to treat painful or inflammatory conditions, they have many applications in veterinary medicine, and can help your pet in the following ways:

  • Reduced pain — Pets suffer from many painful conditions, including arthritis, hip and elbow dysplasia, intervertebral disc disease, wounds, and infections, which can be alleviated with regular laser treatments.
  • Decreased postoperative recovery time — Laser therapy helps bring oxygen and the cells involved with the healing process to the area of interest, allowing surgical incisions to heal faster.
  • Nerve function stimulation — Nerve conditions, such as intervertebral disc disease and degenerative myelopathy, can benefit from laser therapy. Inflamed nerves are soothed, reducing pain and increasing nerve function.
  • Decreased inflammation — Inflammation is common in soft-tissue injuries, such as cranial cruciate ligament tears, muscle sprains, and other joint issues. Laser therapy can help your pet regain full mobility more quickly and relieve her pain.
  • Increased blood circulation — As circulation is increased in the affected area, more oxygen and healing components are available to help restore your pet’s health.
  • Healing promotion — Infections and chronic conditions, including chronic ear infections, anal gland infections, hot spots, lick granulomas, and other non-healing infections, can benefit from laser therapy.

Laser therapy is an excellent pain-alleviating, healing alternative for pets who cannot safely take medications or undergo anesthesia, or who are difficult to medicate. For pets with adequate organ function who can take medication, laser therapy is still a wonderful tool in a pet’s pain toolbox. Multimodal pain management is much more effective than a single method. 

What can I expect during my pet’s laser therapy appointment?

Your pet’s laser therapy protocol will be based on the condition we are treating. For surgical incisions, we often perform a therapy session immediately after surgery to halt inflammation, and minimize postoperative pain. If your pet is healing slowly after surgery, or has open wounds, we may perform daily treatments. For chronic conditions, such as arthritis pain, we often begin with a “loading” period, where we may perform laser treatments weekly until your pet is comfortable, and then on an as-needed basis. Depending on your pet’s condition, her session may be relatively brief, or may take as long as half an hour, to focus on each arthritic joint.

Keep in mind that laser therapy treatments are cumulative, and their effects build on each other, so the full effect may not be seen for some time. You will likely see at least some improvement after the first two to three sessions. 

Will my pet might experience any side effects with laser therapy?

Laser therapy is non-invasive, and therefore safe for most pets. We avoid laser therapy around the eyes, on pregnant pets, or directly over tumor sites, but otherwise, therapeutic lasers are excellent for reducing pain. One of the few drug-free, surgery-free, and pain-free treatment modalities available, laser therapy also does not require sedating or anesthetizing, or shaving, your pet.

Does your pet have a painful chronic condition that you’re struggling to manage with medication alone? Schedule an appointment with our specialists to learn whether laser therapy could alleviate your furry pal’s pain.