What is Cold Laser Therapy?
Cold laser therapy can be an effective treatment for reducing inflammation and pain and promoting healing in dogs. And it’s not just for dogs—cold laser is used on other animals and humans. It goes by several names, including low-level laser therapy (LLLT), red-light therapy, and photobiomodulation therapy (PBMT).
Cold laser therapy uses beams of light (photons) to increase blood circulation and to stimulate cell generation. This physiological change at a cellular level can help to replenish adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the molecule in cells that carries energy. This, in turn, helps to reduce pain and inflammation.
In simple terms, the cold laser provides a “jump-start” for healing at a cellular level. They are “colder” and shorter in length than the laser beams you might think of that can cut through objects. As a result, they are therapeutic and safe to use.
Some advantages of cold laser therapy include that it is not invasive, so benefits are seen without surgery. It’s also drug-free, and there is no pain with its use. Because of this, cold laser therapy is effective, especially when used with other treatment modalities, like physical rehab.
After a treatment, dogs usually have less swelling and pain, which provides an increase in range of motion and mobility. Cold laser has been found to promote healing effectively and the benefits increase with regular use.
What Medical Conditions Can Cold Laser Help?
Cold laser therapy can be used effectively for many medical issues. Some typical uses in my rehab practice include:
- Reducing osteoarthritic pain from hip dysplasia
- Wound healing—post-surgical or soft-tissue trauma
- Improving nerve function and nerve regeneration
- Supporting degenerative disc disease
- Healing muscle, joint, or ligament injuries
- Reducing the formation of scar tissue
- Improving infections
When used correctly, there are no known risks or side effects of cold laser therapy. You should use a reputable veterinarian to ensure that it is used appropriately. It is also important to wear protective eyeglasses and not shine the laser directly in the dog’s or owner’s eyes or it could potentially burn the retinas and impact vision.
There are a few situations when cold laser should not be used. Because it stimulates cell growth, it should not be used at the site of a tumor or in a dog with metastatic cancer that has spread to multiple areas as it could accelerate cancer growth. Additionally, it should not be used over the uterus of a pregnant dog.
What to Expect During a Session
You and your dog will get your special protective glasses to wear during the entire time the laser is used. There is seriously nothing cuter than a dog wearing Doggles©️.
I hold the laser in my hand and aim the light directly at the dog in the area I want to treat. (In the case of a wound, I would position it above). Treatments usually last between ten and twenty minutes.
Your dog may be a little unsure initially as there can be a slight tingling sensation from the laser. Usually, though, the dogs settle right down and often will nap during the session. You can sit right next to your dog and pet them during the treatment.
If you have any interest, please ask me what it feels like. I’m happy to demonstrate.
How Many Treatments Will My Dog Need?
The recommended number and frequency with cold laser therapy treatments will depend on your dog’s needs. If your dog has an acute condition, like post-surgery, we may discuss weekly treatments for a few months. For chronic conditions like osteoarthritis, your dog may benefit from prolonged weekly treatments (or the frequency you can do). As your dog heals, depending on the medical issue, treatments may be spaced out further based on the level of healing and pain.
Many dogs show improvement after the first visit, though the speed and level will vary by the dog. For some, it may take a few visits. I have seen cases where a dog shows marked improvement after leaving my gym, and other times, it can be much more subtle.
Does Pet Insurance Cover Cold-Laser Therapy?
One question many people have is whether pet insurance covers cold-laser therapy. And the answer is generally speaking, yes. Since cold laser is used for dogs with a medical issue, most pet insurance policies will cover it. However, you do need to check the specific terms of your policy to make sure.
At Arizona Veterinary Physical Rehabilitation, cold-laser therapy is included in multi-visit packages. So, if your pet insurance does cover the physical rehab visits (and most do), then cold laser would be covered. Physical rehab is typically covered by pet insurance, but again, check your policy to make sure you understand the coverage.
Cold laser therapy can be a helpful and effective way to improve your dog’s mobility, reduce pain, and decrease inflammation. It’s especially useful when used in combination with other therapies, which is why I offer it in my practice. If you’re interested in learning more, please ask and I’m happy to discuss if it may be helpful for your dog.