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Dog Laser Therapy - How Laser Therapy Can Aid in Healing Dogs

How is laser therapy used to treat dogs?

Laser therapy is used in many different conditions to treat dogs, and basically, what we do is we shine the laser, which is a very focused light, to the dog's surface in that area that we are concerned about where they've had pain or an injury. The light is absorbed by the cells in those areas and the tiny mitochondria, which are the engines that produce energy inside the cells; they absorb that light and produce energy. So essentially, the cells in that tissue that we're trying to heal get more active and start functioning better and start healing that area.

Dr. Chris Valas
The Family Pet Hospital Laser and Wellness Center

Why should I consider laser therapy for my dog?

Many times, these dogs are in a lot of trouble, as they are in a lot of pain, and subsequently, we have them on a lot of medications. If your dog isn't getting better, they're going to need more and more medications. For example, an older dog with hip dysplasia and arthritis will be on a lot of anti-inflammatory medications, possibly things like gabapentin and tramadol, which are also pain medications. At a time and an age where their organ function is also declining, this is not the best idea for your dog.

Laser therapy can improve the quality of life. It can decrease the pain and subsequently also reduce the number of medications that you're using on your pet, giving those organs - like the kidneys and liver - a chance to recoup as well.

What are the different laser therapies, and when might the veterinarian recommend them for my dog?

There is only one major modality for therapeutic laser, and that is a low-level, frequency-specific laser. That's a lot to say, but what it means is it's not a laser that's going to burn or cut the tissue. Frequency specific means we're targeting specific cells in the area of injury. For instance, if a dog had an ACL tear or an anterior cruciate ligament tear in their knee, which is unfortunately quite common, we're targeting those ligament cells and the connective tissue cells. We're also targeting the muscle cells, joint cells, and inflammatory cells, and we're getting them all working together.

The key is that some lasers out there may be too high power, and those lasers can decrease inflammation and minimize pain. But if you get a low-level laser, you are affecting what we call biomodulation. What that means is we're changing tissues and making tissues heal. We're not just taking away the pain and inflammation and the medication but also changing the tissues for the better, helping them heal. That's what you're looking for. You're looking for a laser that can not only take away your dog's pain but also affect biomodulation and change the tissues for the better.

What conditions can laser therapy be used to treat in my dog?

We have several conditions that we can treat. The one that I treat the most is the anterior cruciate ligament tears because we see them all the time. We also see arthritic dogs, so more senior dogs. Those are also my favorite because these dogs are on a lot of pain medications. Many of them have to have blood work every two months to check the liver and kidney function. If you can take them off those meds, it is an unbelievably rewarding thing to do, and I have been able to do that in these older dogs—maybe not altogether, but we cut them down to a minimal amount that is not going to be harmful to their system.

We also help with things like bladder infections, chronic cystitis, and dermatology, like allergies. We see many dogs with horrible skin allergies. Again, we have excellent medications for that, but they are medications. They are drugs, so doing the alternative healing with nutritional products and laser can help.

Laser therapy can also help with disc injuries like a blown disc or bad back pain. Sometimes some of the brachycephalic dogs like Pugs and French Bulldogs, Boston Terriers have horrible neck issues. Those do well with laser therapy. It also helps chronic ear inflammation and other common conditions that may be causing pain, such as an acute injury. If a dog hurts themselves, but it's just a ligament injury, they don't need surgery, but they need anti-inflammatory medications. Laser therapy can get rid of that and bring him back to functioning instead of having them remain lame for a long time.

My other favorite is using it for post-op pain, so they wake up more comfortable. We do laser after all our surgeries in my practice. We also use the surgical laser in surgery, which helps with pain. On top of that, we will give them a laser treatment after surgery. Again, taking away that acute pain and getting the cells to work better is ideal because surgery is an injury of sorts. You actually cut and damage tissue. Now you need to repair it, and the body will repair because that's what the body does, but the laser will help those cells do it even better.

What can I expect from my dog's laser therapy appointment?

When we do laser therapy, we're usually doing about three to four different sets of frequency, and each of them takes about three minutes. So you're looking at anywhere between 15-20 minutes. If we're just doing the laser, usually we add the VAHM, so you're looking at about a 20-minute appointment most of the time.

Unfortunately, now with COVID, we have to bring the dog in the back and do it ourselves. But when COVID gets done, you will hopefully participate in this therapy. I like that because that way, owners see how relaxed and happy their dogs are doing. The dogs come in; they lay down. They get what I call their massage, the spa day, and they go back out with their tail way up and wagging. It's always a rewarding vet visit versus having to cut their nails and do shots. They like laser therapy a lot—much more than anything else that we do. But at this point, you would be waiting in your car or somewhere doing an errand for around 15-20 minutes while we do the treatment.

How long will a laser therapy session last for my dog?

That's about 15 to 20 minutes.

How many laser therapy sessions will my dog need?

Again, that has to do more with the chronicity of the problem. If it's an acute problem, we're usually done in five to seven treatments. If it's a more chronic problem, and certainly if it's an ACL or back, we're probably looking at around 14 to 15 laser treatments. And like the veterinary orthopedic manipulation, we do spread these treatments out.

But when I have a horrible acute condition that I want to get going on, such as an ACL, which is the knee injury that I treat a lot, those dogs practically live here the first week. They have two treatments that are 90 minutes apart over the first three days. They're here for three hours the first three days. Then they have daily treatments for another three days. Then the following week, they have three treatments that week, then two treatments the next week. After that, they get the rest of the treatments along with veterinary orthopedic manipulation.

I think you've been hearing me mention veterinary orthopedic manipulation along with laser. The reason for that is because both of these treatments alone do exceptionally well, but when you add them together, it's like one plus one equals five. They're helping each other out. They're making each other more effective, as it were than if you were to use them alone. With more serious, more painful conditions, I frequently put them both together.

What are the risks of laser therapy?

Very little to none. We don't even have to wear goggles—that's how safe it is. We obviously can't shine it inside our eyes because that will harm us, but you can be in the room without any goggles. Certain lasers are higher-class lasers in which you need to wear goggles. Also, because it's a low-level laser and it's very safe, you're not going to get a skin burn.

The final question mark that everyone always asks is, what if my dog has cancer? No, we will not feed that cancer because we are doing laser therapy for, say, arthritis. We're going to make your dog more comfortable. They're going to be in less pain and need fewer medications, and you're improving the function of all the cells around the cancer.

You're using specific frequencies that are absorbed by specific cells. What that means is if you put a certain frequency into the laser, and you plug in these numbers, a cell that doesn't recognize that frequency is not going to absorb it, and it's not going to produce energy. We don't have any frequencies for cancer, so when we use the laser, the cancer cells don't know what to do with it. It would be like water on your body in the shower. It's just going to go right through, across it, and it's not going to react. But the rest of the cells will get back to work, and they're going to become stronger and work better. One of the side effects is you have a stronger, happier body and a stronger, happier animal overall. It's not going to cure the cancer. It's not going to change that, unfortunately. That condition is going to stay unless you're doing chemo, but it's not going to make it worse either.

How will I know if laser therapy is working for my dog?

Because you'll see it, most of the time, as this is one of those situations where the placebo effect is not possible. Perhaps some people can project onto their animals and say, "Well yeah, I think he's feeling better." But I think if you're paying for a service, you're going to be looking for results. You're going to either see that your animal is happier, walking better, getting up and down the couch better, going up and down the stairs better, and feeling overall happier—like grabbing his toy and bringing it to you before he was a lump on the log. All of those things are indications that your animal is happier, and that is what I'm here for. It's essentially why I became a veterinarian. I didn't become a veterinarian just to spay and neuter dogs, do surgery or give dogs pills. My ultimate goal is to create happier pets. You will see that, and if you don't see that, then laser isn't working. It's as simple as that. If you do not see a happier, much better functioning dog, then that condition that your pet has is not responding to the laser.

Fortunately, few conditions won't respond, but some of them don't. I'll tell you one of the things that I feel will decrease this success in a knee injury that I keep talking about is if there is a click. That's an audible sound in the knee—the dog flexes the knee, and there's like click, click, click, click. That's usually a pad between the two bones in the knee called the meniscus, and when that is ripped, it flaps like this in the joint, and it's super painful. Unfortunately, laser, VAHM, acupuncture—nothing is going to fix that. It's still going to be painful, and it's still inside the knee. Many of those dogs have to have that taken out because it's annoying, so there are certain things that we know that are going to decrease our chances of being successful, and when I see that, I usually tell you that it's not going to work. We can keep trying, but most likely, this dog will need to get someone to go into his knee arthroscopically or do full surgery to fix that. The key is if it's going to work for your dog, you're going to know it, and so am I.

Now that I mention it, one of the things that I found in dogs, in particular, that will make both veterinary orthopedic manipulation and laser less effective is hypothyroid disease. If your dog is fat, has a scruffy hair coat, or they have many chronic infections, I'm going to be suspicious of thyroid disease. I'm going to want to test before we start the veterinary orthopedic manipulation. Because if they have hypothyroidism, it probably won't take as well, so I want to make sure that's corrected before we start using your money to treat them with VAHM or laser.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (508) 231-1223, you can email us, or you can reach out on Facebook. But please do reach out, and we'll get back to you as soon as we can.

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