Laser therapy is a safe, non-invasive method for addressing numerous health conditions, including several orthopedic issues in pets. Our Groves Veterinary Clinic team commonly uses orthopedic laser therapy to help keep pets more comfortable. Read on to see if your pet is a candidate.

What is laser therapy for pets?

Laser is an acronym for light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation. Laser therapy uses focused light to stimulate a process called photobiomodulation (PBM) that involves protons entering tissues and interacting with the cytochrome C complex inside mitochondria. This interaction triggers biological events that lead to increased cellular metabolism, decreasing pain, and accelerating healing. The process includes:

  • Stimulating cytochrome C — The cytochrome C complex, which is located in the cell mitochondria’s inner membrane, plays a vital role in the electron transport chain responsible for propelling cellular metabolism. This complex is the primary target for the PBM process. 
  • Increasing energy production — When cytochrome C oxidase (COX) absorbs light, the electron transport chain is stimulated, increasing adenosine triphosphate (ATP) production inside the mitochondria. When tissue is injured, ATP production inside the cell is disturbed, which slows down cell metabolism as a protective mechanism. PBM helps restore the oxidative process to help maintain normal cellular function.
  • Increasing nitric oxide activity — Nitric oxide is a potent vasodilator, allowing blood, nutrients, and oxygen to travel throughout the body effectively and efficiently. PBM causes increased free nitric oxide production. 
  • Modulating reactive oxygen species (ROS) — ROS are generated during mitochondrial oxidative metabolism and when cells are stressed. Excess ROS levels cause oxidative stress, but these molecules also play an important role in cell proliferation and survival. PBM increases ROS in normal cells while reducing ROS in oxidatively stressed cells. 
  • Restoring cellular energy balance — PBM helps to restore normal cellular function and prevent cell death. This helps reduce inflammation and swelling and facilitates the tissue repair process. 

What orthopedic conditions in pets benefit from laser therapy?

Laser therapy offers healing and pain relief for acute injuries and chronic conditions, and can be used to treat muscle, tendon, ligament, connective tissue, bone, and skin. Laser therapy is most commonly used in conjunction with other treatment modalities to improve the pet’s outcome. Orthopedic conditions that can benefit from laser therapy include:

  • Osteoarthritis (OA) — About 25% of dogs are affected by OA. Nearly 40% of cats have clinical OA signs, and 90% of cats older than age 12 have radiographic evidence of the condition. OA is debilitating and can cause significant pain and decreased mobility for your pet, negatively impacting their quality of life (QOL). Studies performed on animals and humans have shown that laser therapy can reduce joint swelling, increase blood flow to the joint, reduce pain, and improve QOL.
  • Ligament injuries — Ligaments are flexible, fibrous connective tissue that originates and inserts on a bone, and are frequently responsible for joint stabilization. Ligament injuries, such as cranial cruciate ligament rupture, are common in pets and often require surgery to stabilize the joint. Laser therapy can help the healing process, and studies have demonstrated that using a laser on ligamentous injuries can improve tensile strength and stiffness.
  • Tendon injuries — Tendons are flexible but inelastic fibrous collagen tissue that attaches muscle to bone. Tendon injuries, such as supraspinatus tendinopathy, calcaneal tendon avulsion, bicipital tenosynovitis, and Achilles tendon injuries, can benefit from laser therapy, which improves collagen organization in the tendon to facilitate healing. 
  • Muscular injuries — Muscle strains, such as iliopsoas injuries, can benefit from laser therapy. Studies have demonstrated that laser therapy accelerates healing in traumatized skeletal muscle injuries. 
  • Bone fractures — Laser therapy accelerates fracture healing and enhances callus formation. 
  • Post surgical wounds — After orthopedic surgeries, laser therapy can help the incision heal appropriately. 
  • Pain control — Laser therapy modulates the inflammatory response and influences pain receptors to help a pet suffering from orthopedic pain. 

Frequently asked questions about pet laser therapy

Many pet owners have concerns about laser therapy for their pets, and our veterinary team wants to help with answers to the questions we most commonly hear.

  • What can I expect at my pet’s laser therapy session? — You and your pet will need to wear protective goggles during the session, because looking at the laser beam can cause retinal damage. Your pet will sit or lie comfortably while our veterinary team performs the procedure. We place the laser over the affected area, but we do not need to shave your pet’s fur. Most sessions take about 10 to 30 minutes. 
  • What are laser therapy’s side effects? — Laser therapy is a safe, noninvasive treatment that is pain free and has minimal to no side effects. 
  • How frequently will my pet need treatment? — Treatment frequency depends on your pet’s specific condition. Chronic conditions can be treated monthly, whereas surgical incisions may benefit from daily treatment. 
  • When will I see results? — Laser therapy benefits are cumulative, but improvement is usually observed after the second or third session. 

Laser therapy is safe and effective for treating many orthopedic conditions in pets. If your pet is suffering from arthritis or another painful orthopedic issue, contact our Groves Veterinary Clinic team, so we can determine if laser therapy can help alleviate their pain.