Can a laser save a dog?
Laser therapy offers revolutionary benefits to dogs with spinal cord injuries
By Sarah Carey
The use of lasers in veterinary medicine is not new, but UF veterinarians say they are now using the procedure postoperatively with great success in dogs with paralysis caused by intervertebral disc disease.
“Dogs that receive low-level laser treatment after initial surgery are walking a full week earlier than patients that do not receive the treatment,” said Tom Schubert, D.V.M., a professor of small animal neurology at UF’s College of Veterinary Medicine. “This means less hospital time for the patients, and less stress for patients and their owners.
“The results were so profound that we’re doing this procedure now on all dogs that come to us with this condition.”
Clinicians at UF’s Small Animal Hospital began using the procedure routinely after results from a yearlong study showed the laser’s effectiveness in patients with intervertebral disc disease, which is the most common cause of endogenous spinal cord injury. Schubert and Bill Draper, D.V.M., a small animal neurology resident, presented their study results at the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine’s annual meeting in Denver.
The study is the first to compare dogs with intervertebral disc disease treated postoperatively with lasers to dogs not treated with lasers, Schubert said. He called the results “revolutionary.”
Thirty-four dogs were included in the study, with 17 in the treatment group and 17 in the control group. The overwhelming majority of the dogs — 75 percent — were dachshunds, a breed genetically prone to intervertebral disc disease.
All dogs included in the study came to the UF Small Animal Hospital unable to walk, and some had lost the ability to experience the sensation of deep pain in their back legs. In addition, all of the dogs had their diagnoses confirmed through either MRI or CT scanning, and all underwent decompressive surgery after their diagnoses, Schubert said.
After receiving training and becoming certified in the laser’s use, Schubert asked the laser manufacturer, Thor Photomedicine Ltd., to loan the equipment to the UF Veterinary Hospitals for the study’s duration. After the study was completed, UF purchased the equipment.
“We are currently seeing two to three patients a week with intervertebral disc disease and we are routinely treating all of them with the laser,” Schubert said.
The idea of studying the laser’s effectiveness to treat spinal injury came to Schubert after he heard a former colleague give a presentation on the effectiveness of laser treatment on animals receiving physical therapy.
The laser used in the study was a Class 3B, of the near infrared range.
“In humans, this wavelength has been shown to speed healing of conditions such as muscle pain and superficial wounds,” Shubert said. “In animals, it has been shown to prevent nervous tissue scarring, to promote nerve sprouting and to help heal bruised spinal cords in rats.”