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Laser Treatment for Dogs: Vet Explained Therapy, Pros, Cons & FAQ

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By Dr. Iulia Mihai

laser treatment on a dog's leg

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Written by

Dr. Iulia Mihai

DVM MSc (Veterinarian)

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Laser treatment has been used successfully for decades in human medicine to treat various conditions. In veterinary medicine, this therapy is relatively new but has been successful in treating pain and inflammation, as well as burns or other skin injuries.

It is a non-invasive treatment method that does not induce pain or require drugs or surgery. Laser therapy for dogs can be performed as a single treatment or in combination with other treatments.

In this article, you will learn what laser treatment for dogs is, how it works, what conditions it can improve or treat, how many types of laser therapy there are, and most importantly, if this type of treatment really works.

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How Does Laser Treatment Work?

Laser treatment (cold laser therapy or low-level laser therapy) is a type of therapy that uses a very narrow beam of light with different wavelengths depending on the targeted tissues. The term “laser” stands for Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation. This type of light penetrates the tissues deeply and promotes a chain of cellular chemical reactions known as photobiostimulation.

Laser therapy for dogs does not cause pain and is non-invasive.

Common treatment for the following conditions:
  • Pain
  • Inflammation
  • Edema
  • Superficial lesions

The laser emission stimulates blood and lymphatic circulation, having rapid effects on inflammation. Secondary to the reduction of inflammation, the pain will also be reduced.

Laser therapy for dogs has the following benefits:
  • Restores tissues
  • Helps with the formation of scar tissue
  • Accelerates the healing process
  • Reduces inflammation
  • Reduces pain
  • Reduces inflammation and edema
  • Improves blood circulation
  • Accelerates the healing process
  • Repairs superficial skin lesions
  • Helps to regenerate the affected tissues
  • Can have an analgesic role

The wavelengths used in veterinary medicine vary depending on the type and depth of the affected tissue. For example, longer wavelengths are used for deep tissues, while short ones are used at the skin level.

The most used laser devices for dogs are those with red or near-infrared light that emit longer wavelengths. Other types of lasers that are used for treating various conditions in dogs are those with violet, green, or blue light.

a black dog receiving laser treatment
Image Credit: msgrafixx, Shutterstock

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What Are the Different Types of Laser Treatment for Dogs?

There are four classes of lasers,1 numbered as follows: 1, 1M, 2, 2M, 3R, 3B, and 4, or I, II, IIIa, IIIb, and IV. Lasers are classified according to their power, which is measured in milliwatts (mW). Class I lasers have the lowest power (≤ 0.5 mW), and class IV lasers have the highest power (≥ 500 mW).

In veterinary medicine, class IIIa lasers are mostly used.2 However, some class II and class IV lasers can also be used for therapeutic purposes. Class IV lasers include two types: high-power lasers (≥ 500 mW – surgical and military lasers) and low-power lasers, which can be used for the deep tissues of pets (nerves, ligaments, tendons, joints, and muscles).

Besides class I and II lasers, all others require eye protection because they can cause retinal burns.

Where Is It Used?

Laser therapy for dogs has many applications in veterinary medicine. It is used successfully in the treatment of pain and inflammation caused by musculoskeletal conditions.

Musculoskeletal conditions treated by laser therapy:

Laser treatment for dogs can also be used successfully in other diseases with different origins.

Other diseases laser therapy can treat:
  • Limb edema due to stasis or trauma (sprains and dislocations)
  • Wounds, ulcers, burns, and other superficial skin conditions
  • Gingivitis and stomatitis
  • Ear and anal infections
  • Postoperative pain

Although it has rapid effects on inflammation by stimulating blood and lymphatic flow, one session might not be enough for major improvements.

a young vet checking a maltese dog
Image Credit: Creativa Images, Shutterstock

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Advantages of Laser Treatment for Dogs

Lasers have been used for decades to treat various conditions. Its first medical application in humans was reported in 1962. Over time, this type of therapy has demonstrated its effectiveness both in humans and pets. In veterinary medicine, laser therapy is used most often in dogs and presents a multitude of advantages.

Advantages of laser therapy for dogs:
  • It is a non-invasive therapy method, which means it does not cause tissue damage.
  • It can be used successfully as such or in combination with other therapeutic methods (surgery and/or medication) because it does not interact with them.
  • It has no known adverse effects.
  • It can be applied to dogs of any age and breed.
  • The treatment time is usually only a few minutes.
  • It can reduce inflammation and pain in a few sessions.
  • It can be applied easily, not being painful or toxic for dogs.

Disadvantages of Laser Treatment for Dogs

The disadvantages of laser therapy for dogs are very few to non-existent.

Disadvantages of laser therapy for dogs:
  • This treatment method can become expensive when multiple therapy sessions are needed—for example, when your dog suffers from chronic pain or extensive wounds.
  • Dogs with old lesions may feel some discomfort after the first laser therapy sessions.

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How Does a Laser Session Work?

Unlike some cats, dogs will usually not need sedation, but there may be cases where sedation may be necessary.

The technician or veterinarian will hold the laser device over the painful or inflamed area of your dog. Depending on the extent of the wounds or the severity of the condition, the treatment can last between 3 and 10 minutes on the area to be treated. In some situations, the laser treatment can last up to 30 minutes.

Most of the time, several sessions are needed to see results, especially in chronic conditions. The number of sessions will be established by the veterinarian depending on the severity of your dog’s condition. Usually, acute medical conditions can be resolved in a single session.

In some cases, the vet may recommend laser therapy after surgery to facilitate healing.

How to Recognize Pain in Dogs

The clinical signs of pain in dogs can vary from individual to individual, and many times their owners do not realize their pet is in pain or discomfort unless they show certain signs.

Sometimes behavioral changes that indicate the presence of pain can be too subtle. With the exception of the most severe circumstances (when the signs are obvious), the signs of pain can be “masked” by normal behavior. For example, dogs can wag their tails and be happy to see you even if they are in pain.

Obvious clinical signs of pain include:
  • Lameness
  • Difficulty getting up or going to bed
  • Yelping
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Tremors
  • Abnormal posture

Signs such as lethargy, decreased appetite, lack of activity, lack of grooming, and weight loss are not specific to pain but may indicate a medical problem your dog has that requires diagnosis.

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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Can Laser Therapy Help My Dog Walk Again?

Laser therapy for dogs can have positive effects on pets that cannot walk. With appropriate drug treatment and laser therapy, some dogs regained some mobility and function of their legs, even if they were paralyzed. Laser therapy increases blood flow and helps reduce inflammation and pain, including neuropathic pain.

How Will My Dog Feel During Laser Treatment?

During a laser therapy session, most dogs relax and may even fall asleep. This therapy is not painful and does not cause tissue damage. In some cases, the treated tissues can heat up but dogs typically like it and will feel relaxed.

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Laser therapy for dogs is a treatment method that does not cause tissue damage or pain and is not toxic to pets. It can be used on its own or in combination with other treatments to promote healing. Laser treatment can also be recommended after a surgical intervention to facilitate tissue healing.

It has many applications in veterinary medicine but is mostly used in musculoskeletal conditions. Laser therapy can also be used for skin lesions (including burns), ear infections, or gingivitis.

Featured Image Credit: msgrafixx, Shutterstock

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