Veterinarians use laser therapy to benefit pets in several ways, including promoting healing and reducing pain and inflammation. Our team at Stone Ridge Veterinary Medical Center – Conroe wants to provide information about this treatment technique, so you can decide if your pet is a candidate.

What is laser therapy in pets?

Laser is an acronym for light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation, created by activating electrons to an excited state. Photons are released, forming a light beam, once the electrons move from the excited state to a ground state. Tissues can absorb this light, creating photothermal and photochemical reactions that create a therapeutic benefit. For rehabilitation purposes, low-level laser therapy (LLLT) is typically used to modulate cellular functions. Certain laser light properties distinguish the beam from other light forms, such as sunlight. These properties include:

  • Monochromatic — Light from a laser is emitted in a single wavelength, unlike natural light, which is emitted in varying wavelengths. This property allows the beam to target specific tissue for a specific use.
  • Coherence — Laser light photons travel in the same phase and direction, allowing skin penetration to treat a small area of the body.
  • Collimation — Laser light does not diverge once emitted, minimizing unwanted effects to other tissues, such as heating and damaging the skin.

How are lasers classified, and which ones are used on pets?

Lasers are classified depending on their wavelength, and their maximum output in power or energy. Four classes have been identified.

  • Class 1 — This class includes lasers used in everyday life, such as bar code scanners, which are extremely mild and safe.
  • Class 2 — These lasers are in the visible light spectrum, and include laser pointers and some therapeutic lasers. These lasers can damage the eyes, if pointed at them for prolonged periods.
  • Class 3 — These are commonly used as therapeutic lasers in pets, and are further subdivided:
  • Class 3B — These lasers are either continuous in the visible to infrared spectrum, or pulsed in the visible light spectrum.
  • Class 3R — These lasers are continuous in the visible light spectrum, and have less power than Class 3B lasers.
  • Class 4 — These are the strongest lasers, and are mostly used during surgical procedures. 

How does laser therapy work in pets?

Lasers interact with tissues in several ways. If photon reflection occurs at the epidermis, no clinical effect is appreciated, and tissue damage could occur. If photon scattering occurs, the photon’s energy is reduced. If photon transmission occurs, they pass through the tissue without being absorbed, and have no clinical effect.

However, therapeutic benefits are seen when the photons are absorbed by the target tissue. The exact mechanism that allows laser therapy to benefit pets is unclear, but adenosine triphosphate (ATP) is believed to be involved. Photons absorbed through cellular pathways produce ATP, in a process similar to photosynthesis in plants. Light is absorbed and converted to ATP by reducing carbon dioxide to useful organic compounds, such as glucose. ATP’s beneficial roles include:

  • Neurotransmitter — ATP’s action at nerve synapses causes pain modulation.
  • Cellular metabolism enhancement — ATP alters cellular metabolism, resulting in accelerated tissue repair and cell growth.
  • Anti-inflammatory — ATP stimulates stem cells, and decreases enzymes that cause inflammation.

What can laser therapy treat in pets?

Laser therapy causes endorphin release, increased blood flow, muscle relaxation, decreased inflammation, and increased healing, and can benefit many veterinary medical conditions. 

  • Chronic arthritis — Laser therapy benefits for joint disease include reduced pain, joint inflammation, and swelling and edema; increased joint mobility and function, and collagen production; and decreased need for pain medications.
  • Tendon and ligament injuries — When used to treat soft tissue injuries, laser therapy reduces healing time, and increases collagen synthesis, and the tensile strength of healing tissues.
  • Surgical incisions — When used to treat surgical incisions, laser therapy reduces healing time, and increases cosmetic healing.
  • Traumatic wounds — When used to treat traumatic wounds, laser therapy reduces inflammation, and healing time.
  • Pain management — When used to manage pain, laser therapy reduces inflammation, causes endorphin release, and acts on pain receptors.

Laser therapy is especially useful for pets who have organ disease, such as liver or kidney failure, and who cannot take medications, and for older pets who have diminished organ function. Since few approved pain-control medications are available for cats, laser therapy is a great option for them.

What should I expect during my pet’s laser therapy session?

During a session, your pet lies on a padded surface on a table or the floor, depending on their size. A handheld laser wand is slowly moved back and forth over the treatment sites, which most pets tolerate extremely well. Everyone in the room, including your pet, will need to wear goggles to protect their eyes while the laser is in use. Sessions typically last about 15 to 30 minutes, with the number and frequency of sessions depending on the injury. Chronic issues may need weekly treatment, while surgical incisions and open wounds usually respond better to daily treatment. 

Laser therapy is a non-invasive, safe treatment that can be beneficial to pets suffering from numerous conditions. If you think your pet could benefit from laser therapy, contact our team at Stone Ridge Veterinary Medical Center – Conroe, so we can help improve their quality of life.