Cold laser therapy is a noninvasive procedure that uses light to stimulate cell regeneration and increase blood circulation. Although it has been used in humans for decades, cold laser therapy is a relatively new treatment option for dogs and cats.
A laser is a beam of light that travels at a frequency high enough to generate heat and penetrate tissue; it can be an effective alternative to surgery or medication for certain problems like arthritis. “The laser helps to encourage repair of damaged or weak tissue and reduces inflammation,” says Sarah Smith, Certified Rehabilitation Practitioner at the OSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital. “It is a good option for pets with arthritis, tendon or soft tissue injuries, or post-surgery pain and stiffness.”
At the OSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital, laser therapy is just one of the tools used in the small animal rehabilitation unit. In the treatment room are colorful balls and toys, a row of pet swim-gear, a pet-sized swimming pool and an underwater treadmill. To one side is a big, cushy mat where Smith reclines with patients receiving laser therapy.
One of her regular patients is Levi, a 12-year-old Shepard mix. When Levi was 8 years old he was diagnosed with bone cancer and his left hind leg was amputated. Although dogs adapt to three legs fairly well, Levi’s age and arthritis made walking more of a challenge for him. “He had developed a pogo-stick hop,” says Smith. That method of movement was hard on his body so Dr. Wendy Baltzer prescribed a plan of rehabilitation to modify his walk.
“He spent several months on the underwater treadmill to encourage him into a rolling walk,” says Smith. Then he began laser therapy for the arthritis in his right hip. “It helps lubricate the cartilage,” says Smith, “and encourages scar tissue which helps pad his joint.”
Levi is very relaxed as Smith applies the laser wand to his hip. He has been receiving this treatment for several years and comes about once a month.
Each laser treatment takes 10 minutes or so and has no unwanted side effects. In fact, animals seem to enjoy the therapy. Results may not be immediate, but after a few treatments, the reduction in pain and increased mobility will usually last for several weeks.