When Gretel injured her back, and was diagnosed with Intervertebral Disk Disease (IVDD), I wanted to get her on the road to healing as fast as I could. After the initial shock, I was like a steam train charging forward. During our first visit with the rehab vet, I explored absolutely every treatment I knew existed. I went armed with a list of about 10 things and made the vet explain every single one to me. One of the items at the top of my list was cold laser.
A dog that I walk has back issues. His Mom mentioned that she takes him in for cold laser therapy treatments and it’s really helped. When I mentioned this alternative therapy, Gretel’s rehab veterinarian wholeheartedly endorsed it. We started treatments only a few days after her injury and I’m convinced that it was key in her recovery.
In Gretel’s case, her injury was mild (Stage 2 IVDD). She didn’t have as far to recover as dogs who become paralyzed. However, she still had pain, nerve damage, and reduced feeling in her back legs. After a year of rehab therapy, I can happily report that she’s back to her old self – the happy, active hiker she was before the injury.
However, because IVDD is a disease, there is a chance that Gretel’s spine will fail again. I don’t think I need to treat her like glass but I do need to watch her for any signs of re-injury and do what I can to prevent or minimize any future episodes. Part of my prevention plan includes core strengthening and balance exercises. My plan also involves keeping any swelling to a minimum. I do this trough a combination of anti-inflammatories (my vet signed off on this) and going to the vet for a laser if there are any signs of trouble.
What is Cold Laser Therapy?
“Laser therapy is an FDA-cleared modality that reduces inflammation and that results in pain reduction. Laser therapy is effective in treating acute pain, chronic conditions, and post-operative pain.” – Carol, Fidose of Reality, from Diary of a Dog Undergoing Laser Treatment.
Cold laser, also known as low-level laser therapy (LLLT), is a noninvasive procedure that uses visible and near infrared (NIR) light to stimulate cell regeneration and increase blood circulation. Overall cellular function is increased, allowing for rapid absorption of nutrients, elimination of wastes, growth fof new cells and nerves.
Often, when people think of laser, they think of the burning rays like in movies. Or maybe they’ve heard of lasers being used for surgery to cut tissue. These could be called “hot lasers”. However, the wavelength (typically 600-950 nanometers (nm) depending on the condition being treated) and power of cold lasers is such that it doesn’t cause tissue warming. It will not burn your dog’s skin.
Can Cold Laser Treatments Benefit My Dog?
“Dogs that receive low-level laser treatment after initial surgery [for IVDD] are walking a full week earlier than patients that do not receive the treatment,” said Dr. Tom Schubert, a professor of small animal neurology at UF’s College of Veterinary Medicine (source).
Cold laser has only been used in the United States since 2002 but it’s been used widely in Europe and Asia for a long time. There are studies showing the benefits of cold laser for people but there are few studies of it’s use on animals. Of those, some say it is beneficial and others say it doesn’t really do anything. Because of this, it’s still considered “fringe”, or alternative, therapy among many veterinarians. It’s been gaining some mainstream acceptance though as more and more vets are seeing results.
Cold laser can be helpful for dogs trying to avoid surgery (using conservative treatment), dogs recovering from surgery, or active dogs that compete in sports.
Potential benefits of cold laser therapy for dogs include:
- Alleviating chronic or acute pain
- Reducing inflammation
- Reducing swelling
- Increasing circulation
- Speeding up healing and recovery
- Releasing endorphins, the body’s natural pain reliever
Common injuries that cold laser therapy is used to treat in dogs are:
- Joint injuries
- Ligament or tendon injuries
- Muscle sprains or strains
- Skin lesions or abrasions
- Post-trauma wounds
- Post-surgical incisions
- Musculoskeletal diseases (like IVDD)
- Nerve injury
As I said, the potential benefits aren’t universally accepted among veterinarians. Some are just generally skeptical because they think it’s the latest gimmick from the holistic veterinary community. However, Laser therapy has been used human medicine for a long time and produced results. It’s just now being applied to animal cases though so it seems “new”. Almost every pet parent I hear from that has tried cold laser said they thought it made an important difference for their dog.
For more check out the 10 common criticisms of cold laser therapy and read the evidence-based responses.
Where Can I Get Laser Treatment for my Dog and How Much Will It Cost?
There are really only two options of you want to try cold laser therapy for your dog – go to a veterinarian or rent/buy a laser for home use.
Read My Thorough Research on Buying a Cold Laser for Your Dog
At the Vet
Most of Gretel’s treatments were performed at her rehab veterinarians’s office. The cold laser at a veterinarian’s office is often higher-powered that what you can purchase for home use. You can also be sure it’s done right because the person administering the treatments has been trained to do so. Because a veterinarian’s laser unit can be expensive ($10,000 or more), and you are paying a veterinarian for their time, treatments are not cheap.
Gretel received treatments 2 times per week in the beginning. I was told she needed it at least once a week to be effective. If I could have afforded it, she could have had 3. Treatments at my vet are about $50 each. That meant I paid $100 per week, or $400 a month, for her treatments. If I had just done one a week then it would have been $200 for the month. If I had done all 3, it would have been $600.
So, how much does cold laser treatments for your dog cost? Initially, somewhere between $200 – $600 a month. Once a dog is past the initial treatment period – which varies but is typically 1-2 months – and results are achieved, they can go into a maintenance routine. This maintenance routine will be determined by the veterinarian but is usually 1 treatment every 2-4 weeks, or approximately $100-$300 for 3 months.
Another option, if you are convinced that the laser will work for your dog, is to rent or purchase a laser for home use. There are definitely some issues with going this route but there is also the potential advantage of lower cost (especially if you also plan to use it on yourself), convenience, and comfort for your pet.
Having a laser you can use at home on your dog can save you time driving back and forth to the vet and in the waiting room. Even if your vet is close, it will probably save you 1 hour per treatment. If you travel a lot like us, you may not even have access to a vet that can provide treatments on the road. It’s also more convenient for a pet who tends to get stressed at the vet (or in the car). You can give them treatments in the comfort of your own home is less than 30 minutes (most home treatments take 5-15 minutes).
It can also end up being cheaper. I’ve actually looked into purchasing a unit for home use. If I get one I plan to use it on me too. I will likely buy the MyPetLaser or something similar. After tax, this unit would be around $3,000. That sounds super expensive, right? Well, let’s say I want to give Gretel regular maintenance laser treatments year round. If I give them to her every 2 weeks, at $50 each, that’s $1,300 a year. Since her condition is chronic, I will want to do this for the rest of her life. In 2.5 years, the unit will have paid for itself. I plan to use it for Chester too so it will actually pay for itself in half the time.
Note: If you want to rent MyPetLaser to try it out, contact Dr. Youkey at Laser-riffic.com. She gave me a discount on laser rental so I could try it and tell you what I thought. Her service, and willingness to answer every little question I had, was top-notch. If you already know you want one, you can use the code LONGBACKS to get $125 off of the retail price of the laser.
The primary drawback is that the information out there about cold lasers for home use is confusing. I’ve found a lot of great information online but, although I have a science degree, it’s still hard to wrap my head around. There is a lot to understand. To further complicate matters, there are companies out there who are just trying to make a quick buck off of this trend. Everyone will tell you why their laser is better than the others and it all sounds pretty convincing. If you are going to buy a laser for home use, you will have to do a ton of research and hope you’re getting the right one.
The other drawback is that you have to know how to use it effectively. Although you can’t burn your dog with the laser, many come with different settings to treat different ailments. It’s not always easy to understand which setting should be used for which condition. You also need to make sure you are applying it to the specific area that needs treatment. Since many muscle and joint injuries are under the skin, they are not easily seen. You’ll probably have to visit your vet once or twice after purchasing the laser so they can show you how to use it properly.
The Bottom Line
The bottom line is, I think cold laser does have potential to help a dog avoid surgery or heal from surgery or an injury. Some studies have shown it to be effective. Many veterinarians are now convinced that it works and offer the service in their clinic. When I wrote about Gretel’s IVDD diagnosis, a couple of dozen people at least said that they tried laser for their dog and felt that it made a significant difference.
It’s not guaranteed to work though. The only real way one would know is to try it and see. Because the treatments are not cheap, and often many are needed to see a difference, deciding to try it or not is a personal judgement call you have to make. Since cold Laser therapy offers a non-intrusive option to acupuncture and surgery, and provides a non-addicting treatment that eliminates the complications of long-term drug treatment programs (side effects), it’s worth taking a chance for some people.
Have you used cold laser therapy for your dog? What did you think?