Photobiomodulation: The Next Step in Gold-Standard Veterinary Medicine

A Caring Vet now offers photobiomodulation treatments! Another phrase for this is laser therapy. We are very excited to see how we are better able to serve you and make your pets healthier with this new treatment. Photobiomodulation promotes healing, and can be used for a variety of conditions. We will explain the highlights, as well as the technicalities in this article.

What is photobiomodulation?

Photobiomodulation is a therapeutic laser, in short. It uses different wavelengths and pulse frequencies that promote healing and regeneration. In practice, it is a small machine that emits light from a hand piece that is moved over an affected area.

What can photobiomodulation treat?

Almost every condition can be helped with this instrument. Because it promotes healing, any healing process can be assisted for a faster recovery with this treatment.

Overall, the laser helps in six general ways:

  • As an anti-inflammatory
  • For pain control (analgesia)
  • Increased blood flow (vascular activity)
  • Improvement of nerve function
  • Increased enzyme production for the transport of oxygen (increased metabolic activity)
  • Improvement of wounds and soft tissues (through biostimulation)

Specifically, it can help conditions such as:

  • Heal surgical wounds
  • Treat musculoskeletal pain, both acute and chronic (including arthritis!)
  • Regenerate and heal soft-tissue injuries
  • Regenerate and heal soft tissue infections
  • Heal indolent ulcers
  • Treat lick granulomas
  • Treat perianal infections
  • Recover bone fractures after surgical intervention
  • Heal areas of dental extractions or infections
  • Treat complicated ear infections
  • Treat toenail injury, infection, or fungus

Is it painful?

Not at all. The laser has built-in fail safes that make sure it never heats up too much. It is slightly warm and most pets do not mind the laser at all. During the first treatment, they may become slightly anxious because of the red light emitted and beeps the machine makes.

However, after the first treatment, many pets cooperate better for future treatments because they learn it does not hurt and will help them feel better!

Does it hurt their eyes?

No. Pets are given goggles during their treatment as a safety precaution, but they would need direct, prolonged exposure of the laser directly into their cornea to have a chance of damage. For this reason, staff also wear goggles during photobiomodulation treatment.

Is it safe?

Yes! Photobiomodulation is FDA-approved.

How often should it be done?

That depends on the condition we are treating. If it is acute, such as a wound or infection, we may recommend coming for daily treatments for a few days in a row or until it is healed. If it is a chronic condition, such as arthritis, it is recommended to do it once a week, up to three times per week if the condition is serious. Some laser therapies only require one laser treatment, such as the one we do after a surgery on the incision to promote quick healing.

How long does it take?

Depending on the size of the area and what we are treating, it takes 1-5 minutes after everything is set up and calibrated. If we are doing multiple treatments, such as both knees or multiple wounds, that time would be per area being treated.

Is there anything it cannot treat?

Because it promotes cell regeneration, it is currently not recommended to use on cancers or tumors because we do not want the existing cancer cells to regenerate.

What if my pet is aggressive?

Most animals are ok with photobiomodulation since it is not painful. However, if we cannot touch the laser directly to the patient, we can focus the laser and hold it above the area without contact, though this is not the preferred method.

Does it work on exotic pets (not a cat or dog)?

Yes! In fact, there are settings made specifically for our exotic patients. All are welcome to benefit.

How do I get started?

In order to start photobiomodulation treatments, we need an initial exam with a doctor to set up a treatment plan. After that, you and your pet can come in for technician appointments so a trained technician can administer the treatment as directed by your doctor. We offer single therapy sessions, as well as package deals for chronic issues. If you are planning to have a surgery with us and want photobiomodulation to be part of your pet’s treatment that day, let us know and we can accommodate you.

What if I want to know the science?

We love science!! Here is how the laser works:

When setting up the laser, there are many options to select through including species, size, general treatment goal, specific condition being treated, color of the animal, what handpiece tip is being used, and size of the area being treated. All of these have an impact on the wavelengths used, how long they are used, and the pulse frequency used. There are specific, reliable, automatic settings that result from this information that is inputted; however, there can be manual adjustments made so we are able to tailor treatment more specifically to the patient if needed.

There are 4 wavelengths of light used, all with their own purpose. The only visible wavelength used is 660 nanometers, which is why the light emitted appears red to our eyes (that is the wavelength for the color red). The 660 nm wavelength is perfectly absorbed by the melanin in our skin, guaranteeing energy concentration in superficial tissue layers. It inhibits bacterial growth and promotes cellular growth, thus making ideal conditions for wound healing.

The next wavelength is 800 nm. The enzyme Cytochrome C oxidase is best activated at this wavelength. This enzyme helps determine how much ATP (energy) is produced in cellular respiration, so encouraging absorption can help your cells be more efficient in producing the energy needed for healing the affected area.

The third wavelength is 905 nm. This wavelength is absorbed by Cytochrome C oxidase, haemoglobin, water, and melanin. Oxygen is released in varying amounts in the blood, and the faster it is released the more needs to be transported to the cells in order to help the healing process. When this wavelength is absorbed, more oxygen becomes available for the cells.

The last wavelength is 970 nm. This wavelength targets the water that makes up the majority of our cells and warms it up, creating a temperature gradient. Creating localized heat points can help microcirculation, allowing blood to circulate more efficiently and thus the tradeoff of oxygen and nutrients and catabolic products to occur more rapidly. This is ideal for deep tissue layers.

Pulse frequency can range from low for analgesic purposes to high for biostimulation. The lowest pulse is a continuous wave, which is where the energy is released in a constant peak power. The second is modulated. The fastest is superpulse. The pulses happen so fast, up to 20,000 times per second, that you cannot see them. The light emitted from the hand piece does flash during treatment as a sign that it is on, but does not correspond to pulse frequency. This does not mean that continuous is the weakest just because it is slower- the amount of energy released is not correlated with the frequency it is delivered.

Our laser is non-ionizing so it will not damage cells. Because the laser is diffuse and the tip is not sapphire, our laser does not have the capability to cut through or cauterize tissue like surgical electrocautery. In order to precisely deliver wavelengths of light as intended, there is a fiber optic cable connecting the machine to the smart handpiece, a wifi connection for automatic updates, distal active photonics modulations to send back the 10-15% of light energy normally lost to reflexion, and tracking of practitioner’s hand motion. Where previous lasers used a phased approach, our laser simultaneously delivers multiple wavelengths, increasing efficacy and decreasing treatment times significantly. We also have the ability to save specialized treatments for patients under their name, to make sure we set it up in exactly the same way for future treatments. Lastly, there is a USB port to download excel spreadsheets detailing the treatment performed so we can save it to patient’s files and share with specialists if needed.

If you have any further questions about photobiomodulation, please use the following links for scholarly articles, or set up a consult with one of our doctors to see if it is the right choice for you and your pet.