Laser Therapy for Dogs
“You are going to LASER my dog?”
Yes, lasers are being used by veterinarians in the treatment of your four-legged companion. We are accustomed to hearing of lasers being used in applications as diverse as telecommunications to manufacturing computer circuit boards. Now, they are even treating pain and inflammation in world class athletes, race horses and yes, our pets. Lasers have been used for advanced medical applications for over 35 years.
A relatively new application is the use of lasers for the relief of pain, the reduction of swelling and the healing of wounds. This is a unique use of laser light, due to the noninvasive nature of the treatment. Many laser applications use the intense energy which a laser can deliver to ablate or cut biological tissue. Therapeutic lasers, in contrast, work without any damage to tissue; the treatments are painless and quite enjoyable. Simply pass the laser over the body part and the pain goes away and the healing starts. Almost sounds too good to be true.
Today's veterinarian has access to this advanced laser technology, which can make a big difference in the care of older canines. Aging dogs are prone to arthritis, stiffness and other painful conditions just like we are as we age. Pain medications and anti-inflammatory drugs can have some very serious side effects on dogs, and long-term use of these medications is not ideal. Laser therapy is a safe, drug-free alternative to treat many common conditions, including arthritis.
Older dogs can display pain in different ways and often compensate for the pain by favoring one side while walking. Pet owners will often note reluctance by their pet to climb stairs or hesitancy to jump in the car. These symptoms need to be addressed as soon as possible, as this behavior can lead to increasing problems.
When started early, laser therapy treatments will start the healing process, reducing possible long-term problems, which may require the use of pain medications or even a major surgery like a joint replacement. Treating conditions early is the key. Pain can limit physical activity, which affects behavior, weight and general well-being. Weight gain will exacerbate any joint problem much faster.
By relieving the pain, your dog will remain active, alert and stay a healthy and happy member of your family. Lasers are now playing a greater role in providing this relief.
It is often hard to locate the exact source of musculoskeletal pain in older canines. The pain can be associated with impairment of several joints or even the entire back. In these cases, laser therapy is a great treatment option since multiple areas can be treated in a short period of time. If your dog is having problems walking or getting up from a lying position, he may have hip problems. It is not uncommon that he will also be experiencing pain in the legs and the back.
The therapeutic laser can be applied to all affected areas in order to increase blood flow and reduce the pain as well as the inflammation. As a result, the surrounding muscle will be less stiff, pain will be reduced and the dog’s range of motion improve.
What Will Happen When Your Dog Gets Treated?
Treatments are often performed by the veterinary technician. Treatments may be done on an examination table or as the dog is comfortably lying on the floor. Some practices even have a spa-like environment where your dog will lie on a sofa or plush bed. The treatment times will vary based on the size of the dog and the condition being treated. Typical treatments will take five to ten minutes for an average-size dog. For a more superficial condition such as a post-surgical incision or a wound, the treatment times will be very short, one or two minutes. For a deeper condition like hip dysplasia or an arthritic condition, longer treatment times are needed. The weight and the body condition will also determine how long a treatment will take. Since the laser will need to penetrate more tissue on a larger dog, the laser will either need to be used at a higher power or a longer treatment time. There is no need for sedation or clipping of the dog’s fur. The treatment is very soothing and most animals will relax once the treatment is started.
It is common for dogs to fall asleep during laser therapy. Some laser treatments will be done with the laser probe in contact with the skin. This will allow for excellent light penetration as well as a comforting or massage-like sensation for the dog. These treatments are also available for you, if you are feeling a little jealous (see your doctor). Your dog will feel a soothing warmth as part of the treatment. Eye protection will be worn by the laser operator and anyone in close proximity to the laser probe. The eyes of the animal will be directed away from the treatment area or covered with a towel or eyewear. The clinician will move the probe over the area of treatment to assure the laser is being delivered to the area which needs improvement. It is common that multiple joints will be treated during one laser treatment session.
What Can You Expect After Your Dog Has Been Treated?
You may notice your dog a little more comfortable after just one session with considerable differences being seen after about three treatments. Typically, laser therapy will be scheduled every other day for the initial treatments of more chronic conditions. Most conditions will need, on average, six total treatments to get a healing response. For chronic conditions, eight to twelve treatments may be needed, with the possibility of ongoing maintenance treatments on a monthly basis. Chronic conditions which have persisted for a long period of time can be challenging to treat, but hang in there. If progress is being seen, stick with the treatment recommended by your veterinarian as this new technology can make a significant difference in the health of your dog.
As discussed previously, the earlier treatment can be started, the better the outcome. Once conditions become chronic, results will take longer and medication may be needed in conjunction with the laser therapy.
How Much Will It Cost?
The costs of laser therapy sessions are based on the type of condition being treated. For a post-surgical treatment the price may be added into the overall cost of the surgery, or as an additional charge of $20 to $40. Longer treatments for an arthritic case will cost more, and depend on the length of treatment time. The average price per session is around $55. Many practices will offer laser therapy packages which may include multiple sessions for one fee.
If your dog is experiencing pain or discomfort, you should consult your veterinarian as soon as possible. Once your pet is diagnosed, laser therapy is a great treatment option due to the ease of treatment and the lack of side effects. The use of this proven technology can reduce or even eliminate the need for potentially harmful medications. Therapeutic laser treatments can help manage the joint pain that sets in as your dog gets older, keeping your companion moving, which is an important part of healthy aging. You should ask your veterinarian if therapeutic laser treatments can be beneficial for your furry friend.
Written by Dr. Brian Pryor, founder and the Chief Executive Officer of LiteCure, LLC. This is an excerpt from the book Your Dog’s Golden Years by Jennifer Kachnic
Photo Credit Jennifer Kachnic
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