Discussions about laser therapy can be quite scientific and technical but basically, it is a therapy which utilises the energy of light to stimulate healing, reduce pain and inflammation, restore function and support immune function. It is a gentle drug-free therapy that when practised by a qualified professional is safe and very well tolerated by your pet.
Low-Level Laser Therapy [ LLLT] was pioneered by Endre Mester, a professor of surgery and his research provided evidence for the efficacy of laser in healing. He had observed improved hair growth and healing in tissue adjacent to his laser surgery but where only a low laser dose was received. Over the years the team at HolisticPet have noticed that hair grows faster in their post-operative patients in areas they have treated by laser for pain and healing.
The team at HolisticPet were the first veterinary practice in Northern Ireland to utilise laser therapy and have over a decade of experience in this area.
What is Low-Level Laser Therapy?
“LASER” stands for “light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation”. Therapeutically it can also be referred to as “cold laser” or LLLT - Low-level laser (light) therapy (LLLT).
The process involves the use of the energy of photons of light in the infrared and near-infrared region of the electromagnetic spectrum to modulate the biological activity of the body, a process known as photobiomodulation [PBM].
The photons of energy are absorbed by chromophores - the colour producing areas of molecules such as haemoglobin, melanin, water, proteins etc - and interact with the target cells via a non-thermal mechanism to cause either stimulation or inhibition of biochemical pathways. The light energy is utilised by the “battery” of cells called the mitochondrion to produce chemical energy for cell function in the form of a substance called ATP. This energy can then be used by the body in a number of ways.
- To stimulate healing and repair of tissues through growth factors; improved circulation; stimulation of stem cells; reduced oxidative stress; enhanced collagen production; improved healing of tendons, nerves and ligaments.
- To reduce pain and inflammation by influencing chemicals such as prostaglandins, cytokines, interleukins; by release of endorphins and serotonin from the brain; by affecting pain receptors and nerve transmission of pain; by impacting trigger points or acupuncture points.
- Improving immune function through lymphocytes and other blood factors.
The light used for laser is of one wavelength ie monochromatic, this is in contrast to white light which is made up of a combination of many different wavelengths; coherent, which means that all the photons or particles of light have the same waveform and frequency and the beam is also collimated meaning a narrow beam travelling in one direction. These properties ensure that you can focus the beam accurately on the exact area you wish to treat and that the laser will go through the skin without causing damage to it and with minimal side effects to the tissue being targeted. The probe is placed directly on the skin with the beam at right angles to the surface.
Power and Energy Density
Power is expressed in watts (W) or milliwatts[mW] One watt is one Joule of energy delivered per second, and the laser dose is typically expressed as Joules/cm2 – the dose of laser flowing through the surface unit.
Superficial conditions require 3-4 J/cm2 whereas deeper conditions need 6-10J/cm2 depending on the size of the dog.
Lasers used in veterinary medicine are usually either Low-Level Lasers /Class III B lasers which have a power less than 500mW or High Intensity Lasers/Class IV lasers which have power greater than 500mW. These classifications are safety classifications and not clinical classifications ie a Class IV laser poses a greater health and safety risk compared to a Class III laser.
Treatments with Class III B may take a little longer than with Class IV but are generally regarded as safer with less risk of burns to the patient and of eye injury to the operator or assistant if not protected. Basically Low Level Laser Therapy equipment provides light energy with minimal heating effect which reduces the risk of tissue damage compared to higher power Class IV lasers.
Many companies selling lasers suggest that more power means a greater response. However this is not always the case. Adequate power is essential to penetrate to the depth of tissue being treated but too much power can in fact inhibit pain and slow the healing process. This means the animal may overuse the tissue before it has healed and effectively injure it all over again. The animal will appear to improve and then relapse.
The Arndt-Schultz curve shown below demonstrates how physiological processes respond to light. As the energy increases so does the stimulation of cells however the power reaches a certain point where additional energy has an inhibitory effect on the cells. So too much energy can arrest the healing process. With thanks to Omega laser for permission to use this graph. https://omegalaservet.co.uk
The critical parameter in laser therapy is actually the wavelength of light which is used and not the power of the laser. When a specific wavelength at the correct intensity is used at the exact anatomical location for a sufficient amount of time it can stimulate healing, reduce inflammation, decrease pain and improve function. Too high a wavelength may result in the light energy being absorbed by water in the body resulting in heat production and unwanted thermal effects.
Wavelengths in the visible or Red Light region from 600nm to 780nm generally do not penetrate below the skin and are usually stimulatory to cells and tissues. As a result, these wavelengths are generally used for wound healing or superficial conditions. Wavelengths in the Invisible or Infrared range over 780nm can penetrate deeper tissues and so tend to be used for pain management. The graph below shows how the different wavelengths are absorbed by the body.
Benefits of Laser Therapy for Dogs
At HolisticPet we use LLLT primarily for pain management and to encourage healing and recovery after surgery or injury. As part of a multimodal pain management program, laser can provide additional analgesia thereby reducing the amount of medication required by a patient. After an injury or surgery laser can reduce swelling and inflammation; improve circulation; support the immune system and enhance tendon, ligament and nerve healing. In patients with chronic pain eg dogs with arthritis, laser reduces pain receptor sensitivity and nerve conduction plus increases serotonin and endorphin release from the brain all helping to reduce the perception of pain.
Laser is not a magic wand which can cure every condition but common conditions of dogs and cats which may respond to the therapy include:-
- Acute and chronic pain
- To aid healing after surgery such as disc disease, cruciate repair or fracture fixation
- Sports injuries eg muscle, tendon or ligament injuries
- Swelling or oedema
- Myofascial pain
- Trigger points
- Lick granulomas
- Degenerative conditions such as osteoarthritis
The Process of Dog Laser Therapy
During The Appointment
At the first consultation, our vets will review the history provided by the referring primary vet and assess your pet’s needs. It’s essential to come to a diagnosis to ensure that the appropriate treatments are provided. If the laser is indicated as part of the multimodal pain management it will usually be carried out at the first appointment if time allows. If you are staying for the treatment you will be required to wear special protective goggles. Most dogs and cats find the application of LLLT very comfortable and so there's no need to sedate the patient. In addition, the hair doesn’t have to be shaved or clipped. Treatment takes about twenty minutes and is usually applied weekly but some surgical cases benefit from daily treatment. Some pets show a response after one treatment whereas others require 3 or 4 to experience the benefits.
Research has indicated that laser may be beneficial in nerve regeneration and this may be significant for dogs which have suffered nerve injury eg after disc disease or after nerve degeneration such as with degenerative myelopathy. Laser therapy is also indicated in the application of some regenerative therapies which are a subject of much research currently.
Why Choose Holistic Pet NI?
HolisticPet were the first veterinary practice in Northern Ireland to use laser therapy for pain management in pets. They have provided in-house training in laser for other practices and have lectured on the subject. Their vets have been trained by both Omega laser and Thor laser.
Are there any risks with laser therapy for pets?
Class 3b laser used by HolisticPet is a very safe therapy in professional hands. There is a potential risk to the eyes if exposed to the beam but this can be prevented by wearing goggles. Some vet practices use Class 4 laser which runs the risk of burning the patient and is more hazardous to the eyes but we don’t use this class of laser.
Is laser therapy painful for pets?
Laser is not painful at all and your pet may not even be aware it is being carried out.
Are there any side effects?
Not if used correctly
How much does laser therapy for dogs cost?
The price is included in our multimodal pain management program and the range is £35-£145 depending on which of the different therapeutic modalities are utilised for your pet.
How long do the benefits of laser therapy last?
That depends on the condition, some patients just need one course of treatment to achieve a complete cure but other more chronic conditions will need regular top-up treatments every 4-6 weeks.
Do you think that your pet might benefit from laser treatment? If so, call the most experienced team of veterinary professionals working in this field in Northern Ireland. HolisticPet - dedicated, educated, sympathetic.