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What is the Difference Between Laser Therapy and Red Light Therapy?

Whether your pet is recovering from a surgical procedure or coping with chronic joint issues, you can’t help but feel their pain.

Light therapy, also called photobiomodulation (PBM), is a promising treatment that has been shown to speed healing and relieve pain in cats and dogs. As veterinary scientists learn more about the potential uses and benefits of different modalities of PBM, here are a few things pet parents should know about this noninvasive procedure. 

laser therapy catHow do laser and red light therapies work for pets?

Both laser and red light therapy use different wavelengths of light, ranging from visible red light to infrared light that we cannot see, to stimulate electrons in the mitochondria of pets’ cells. This increase in cell activity results in faster healing, better blood flow, and decreased inflammation. 

The main difference between laser therapy and general red light therapy is that the Class IV lasers used in veterinary and human medical offices offer stronger and significantly more targeted treatment. Clinical models of these low-level laser devices (LLLDs), like the K-Laser, harness specific wavelengths of light that don’t produce heat. These “cold lasers” hone in on specific treatment areas—even deep in the body, like hip joints—and ensure that cats and dogs remain comfortable throughout the procedure. 

What does laser therapy treat?

Because light therapy encourages cell activity, it’s great for promoting new skin growth, collagen production,  bone healing, and reducing inflammation. 

Veterinarians have seen great results in dogs and cats with conditions like:

Is laser therapy painful?laser therapy dog

Photobiomodulation is noninvasive and well-tolerated by both cats and dogs. Targeted cold lasers don’t become hot to the touch, so most pets are completely unphased by treatment. 

Additionally, laser therapy can provide alternative pain relief for pets with liver, kidney, or stomach problems that make it difficult for them to tolerate veterinary NSAIDs. 

How many treatments are needed?

In general, the benefits of laser therapy build over time. Some pets will experience improvements right away, while others may require several sessions to see results. 

Your veterinarian can supervise treatments to determine the optimal regimen for your pet’s specific needs.  

Can you do red light therapy for dogs and cats at home?

While there are products pet parents can purchase to administer red light therapy at home, there are important risks to consider. 

At-home red light therapies typically use less-targeted LED light to stimulate cell activity. These light-emitting panels, wraps, and crates may pose a potential cancer threat, as some experts are concerned they can cause existing malignant cells to multiply, though research is ongoing. There is also some thought the other way, that a body supported by PBM can better fight cancer cells. The jury is still out on this one. With an absence of data, we have to advise caution. Additionally, many of these products haven’t been evaluated and approved by the FDA.

Class IV Lasers and Your Vet

In a clinical setting, Class IV lasers have been shown to be very safe, painless, and effective. Your vet can zero in on specific treatment areas and monitor your pet’s progress to ensure your furbaby is getting the maximum benefits to improve their quality of life. 

Talk to your vet to establish the best treatment plan for your pet to relieve pain, heal injuries, and rebound quickly from planned procedures.