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Cold laser therapy is a noninvasive procedure that uses light to stimulate cell regeneration and increase blood circulation. Cold laser therapy treats the surface of the skin, while hot laser treatments affect deeper tissues.
Hot laser treatments come with greater risk of cutting and/or burning caused by the increased intensity of laser beams.
Often called low-level laser therapy, cold laser therapy or Class IV laser therapy, by any name, is still a relatively new concept that is being used more recently to treat dogs with arthritis, tendon or soft tissue injuries and to promote wound healing.
Is laser therapy a medical procedure? Marc Newkirk, DVM at Newkirk Family Veterinarians in Egg Harbor Township, N.J., explains that it depends on the class of laser. "There are medical devices that are not available to anyone except a doctor, such as the Class IV Erchonia, which is what I use."
"I've been doing laser therapy for 15 years," says Dr. Newkirk, "The equipment is expensive, so you have to decide you are going to work with this therapy for the long haul."
Laser therapy can treat acute and chronic injuries, sprains and strains, arthritis, swelling due to back disc problems, and muscular-skeletal abnormalities. It also helps to regenerate nerve tissue after surgery.
Lasers are nothing more than a beam of light that travels at a certain frequency that allows the laser to generate heat and penetrate tissue. Some Class IV or cold lasers are programmable to a range of frequencies in order to treat many different types of problems in dogs.
Erin Troy, DVM, CCRP and certified canine rehab practitioner at Muller Veterinary Hospital/The Canine Rehabilitation Center in Walnut Creek, Calif., says, "We've been using laser therapy for seven or eight years now in healing, pain control and trigger point therapy."
Dr. Troy explains that this therapeutic procedure was used 40 years ago on humans before it was ever tried on dogs. That's interesting because as a number of consumer products are still tested on animals first before they are approved or prescribed for individuals.
Dogs find laser therapy relaxing and tend to enjoy the treatment.
"In our hospital, we use a room large enough for the dog to wander around, with a lot of a daylight," that streams in through the windows, says Dr. Troy. "We let the family hold the dog. There is a large mat for the dog to lie on or stand on, but most dogs will lie down when they receive treatment. Our dogs look forward to it because they feel better after their course of therapy."
Dr. Newkirk describes a typical laser therapy session as lasting between three to 20 minutes.
"Does the dog relax?," he says. "You get a release of endorphins, especially with the Erchonia laser. There are two beams and one of them gets shined on the brain and that creates a sense of well-being. Dogs like it, particularly at the point where they make that association between something that happened to them and something that feels good."
In a typical treatment session, the laser wand is applied to the area to be treated. "Depending on the area and the energy you are delivering, it can take up to 10 to 20 minutes," says Dr. Troy.
And, the good news about laser therapy for dogs is there's no need to shave or clip the area to be treated and the dog doesn't need to be sedated during the process. That means that treatment can be applied multiple times a day or a number of times per week.
Before treatment begins, the dog will be given a full physical along with X-rays if needed. Dr. Newkirk says, "You need a diagnosis. It could be a tumor or it could be a knee or hip problem."
If you have a dog with arthritis, according to Doctors Newkirk and Troy, you can expect to start laser treatment with two to three sessions per week, then decrease sessions to once a week, then once every two weeks.
"We base how many therapy sessions on the response of the animal," Dr. Newkirk says. "If the arthritis is more advanced, then more sessions would be needed."
Price points for laser therapy range from $25.00 to $45.00 per session at the Muller Veterinary Hospital in Walnut, California.
At Newkirk Family Veterinary, in Egg Harbor, N.J., sessions are packaged as a bundle on the first day the dog is evaluated. Then the dog comes in twice a week and half the time a technician will perform the treatment. Costs run around $80 a week for two visits.
After laser therapy, dog owners might see their dog go upstairs more often, play with a ball he's not picked up in months or go back to getting on the couch for his nightly snuggle with family members. And, when dogs have better mobility, medications can often be reduced.
Laser therapy won't cause your dog any unwanted side effects. The laser used for this type of treatment will not burn your dog's skin.
Not all veterinary practices have the facilities to offer laser treatment for your dog, as the laser equipment can be exceptionally pricy. Laser therapy treatment is becoming more popular. With increased popularity, the equipment will become more affordable and then more widely available.
"I would like to see this type of technology in every practice, just like prescription and injectable drugs. This should be one more way to manage our patients in the future," says Dr. Troy. "It's really not alternative therapy, but more of an integrative approach."
Laser therapy improves the quality of a dog's life as well as the life of its owner, because if your dog is happy, you are happy.
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