Pet owners are passionate about finding ways to help relieve pain in their older, arthritic dogs or lessen the discomfort of a pet after surgery. Veterinarians are now using a high-tech solution that just might surprise you. Photobiomodulation is the fancy word that describes how a laser is used to stimulate cells in an animal's body. Unlike a surgical laser that uses a high-energy output, lasers used to heal and relieve pain use a lower wattage. The actual mechanism theorizes that the laser light stimulates the cells to increase production of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the molecule that helps provide energy for cellular function. The added energy seems to encourage the healing process and reduce inflammation.

Even though using lasers in this way is relatively new, the first notation of its potential was seen more than 40 years ago. A Hungarian scientist testing laser effects on skin cancers saw that hair grew back more rapidly on the backs of shaved mice when a laser was applied. Fast forward four decades and low-level lasers have been used for everything from combating hair loss to tattoo removal. Even the Food and Drug Administration has approved the use of therapy lasers in human medicine, although it is still considered experimental. And, most insurance companies won't cover any kind of laser therapy.

By applying a low-level laser light to areas such as painful hips, veterinarians are reporting dramatic improvements and better quality of life for their patients. Some pets have even fallen asleep during their treatments. Veterinarians using lasers say that the feeling is probably similar to one you would get from a professional massage ... deep relaxation. The only potential side effect is blindness, thus veterinary staff wear special glasses as does the patient, or we put a towel over the eyes.

Beyond alleviating pain, the laser therapy sessions offer hope to owners who previously might have considered euthanasia in order to relieve their pets' distress.

The devices appear to have potential for pet injuries as well. At Companion Therapy Laser, a laser treatment was used on a case involving a two-year old pit bull who suffered burns over 60 percent of his body. By using the laser on the burns, the veterinary hospital saw a quicker recovery and much less discomfort from the pup. Skin conditions, such as lick granulomas and even contaminated wounds like those received from car accidents, are being healed in much less time than conventional treatment methods.

The company's website which is informative about the class-four therapy lasers is www.litecure.com/companion/. Thus far, our experiences with the cases we have treated have been positive. I have used our laser on a few of my joints, such as knees and have had similar positive results.

Many applications require a single treatment such as post-op skin incisions or an acute sprain or strain. More chronic candidates such as degenerative joint disease, arthritic conditions, disc disease and lick granulomas typically require a series of six to 10 treatments over a two- to three-week period. In some cases chronic medications such as NSAIDS (non steroidal anti-inflammatory), can be decreased after a positive response.

Therapy laser is one of the new treatment options available for pain and inflammation in pets and works in conjunction with current modes of treatment such as physical therapy, NSAIDS and other pain medications, weight loss, acupuncture and the like.

One aspect at this stage in my career is the ability to learn about and use the new technology available to the veterinary profession. In particular, I get great satisfaction in the ability to enhance our pets' lives especially as they age.

Dr. Darren Woodson has practiced veterinary medicine in the Farmington area for more than 28 years and has a passion for educating pet owners. If you have a question you would like him to address, email dwoodson@valleyvetpet.com. Please understand Dr. Woodson will choose the questions that are most relevant to our readers.