The changes in medicine that have occurred over our lifetime are staggering. As a child I can remember watching TV's "Star Trek" and seeing Dr. McCoy wave his tricorder over patients to scan and heal them in record time. Who would have thought such things were possible at that time?
However, today's new technologies allow us to accelerate healing time and relieve pain and inflammation in both humans and our companion animals.
Laser technology has been around for many years and is being applied to assist our pets with healing.
LASER is actually an acronym (light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation). This "radiation," however, is not the dangerous X-ray form, but rather it is a monochromatic form of red or infrared light that is used on a variety of tissues to speed natural healing and decrease pain and inflammation. Higher power lasers are used in surgery to cut tissues, and the most highly powered units can cut steel.
For the purposes of this article we will discuss the low-power lasers (6-10 watts) at a wavelength of 980 nanometers that are safe and effective aids to the healing process.
Laser light at certain wavelengths can be absorbed into the mitochondria, the energy factories inside the cells. These photons, or units of light are absorbed by injured or unhealthy tissues and cause a release of ATP (or energy) by the mitochondria. This effect can speed healing times dramatically, and it can also decrease scar tissue and increase the tensile strength of the wound.
For example, several months ago we treated "Lucy," an older dog who had a deep laceration on her side that required dead tissue to be removed and fluids drained. Immediately after the surgery we used the laser on the wound to accelerate healing. Three days later, the edges of the skin had completely healed, and the dead space in the wound was closed. In this instance, wound healing time was cut in half with laser therapy.
Lasers also can provide pain relief. The laser stimulates the release of endorphins and restores muscles to their relaxed/resting state. Laser treatment is most effective for an acute injury, such as a muscle strain or spasm. Last week we treated "Olive," a cute mixed-breed dog for a back muscle strain, and she responded well to her very first session.
Laser therapy, however, is not intended to eliminate conventional surgery or medical treatments. Conditions such as a ruptured cruciate ligament (knee injury) or a herniated disc still are best treated with surgery.
In addition, proper veterinary diagnosis and medical management of pain and inflammation are still necessary in conjunction with laser therapy, so that the patient remains comfortable. Speak with your veterinarian about what options may be available for your pet's condition.
With chronic problems such as arthritis or degenerative joint disease, multiple laser treatments are necessary to provide relief. Laser therapy will not reverse the joint damage caused by arthritis, but it may provide palliative relief for aging animals with chronic pain.
Other complementary therapies may also be helpful, includingveterinary-supervised chiropractic adjustment and/or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medicines and nutraceuticals.
Dogs or cats with chronic conditions require at least six treatments with the laser over a two-week period, followed by an occasional follow-up treatment. Dogs and cats remain awake and totally relaxed for the treatments, which can take 1-30 minutes, depending on the condition and area treated.
Skin inflammatory conditions such as dermatitis (hot spot) and external ear infections can be treated this way. Patients often obtain immediate relief of skin pain and itch after a laser treatment.
Cats with feline lower urinary tract disease may also obtain relief.
In addition, therapeutic lasers also help to reduce edema (swelling in the body's tissues) caused by injury (or surgery). Again this therapy can be used after surgery or an injury.
The 21st century is an exciting time to be practicing veterinary medicine and applying modern technologies to provide our patients with the best in both standard and complementary care. Medical lasers are yet another tool for us as veterinarians to help our companion animals heal faster and with less pain.
Just what will scientists think of next?
Linda Mathias is a veterinarian at Point Breeze Veterinary Clinic. The intent of this column is to educate pet owners. Consultation with a veterinarian is necessary to diagnose and treat individual pets. If you have a question you'd like addressed in Pet Points, email firstname.lastname@example.org . Please include your name and municipality or neighborhood.