Cold laser therapy can make your pet feel better, but we don’t know why

Q: Our Golden Retriever Amy recently had to have cruciate ligament surgery on her right leg, but now the left leg is having the same problems and we really don’t want to do surgery again. We’re thinking of having laser treatments on her knee instead. Does it really work?

A: This laser has nothing to do with cosmetics. It’s all about making pets feel better in ways you’re likely to notice right away. What’s more, it’s especially good for patients who seem untreatable by conventional means. All you do is have them sit there quietly while you apply a non-painful laser to the surface of the skin. It’s almost magical.

khuly (2).JPG
Dr. Patty Khuly has a veterinary practice at Sunset Animal Clinic in South Miami.

But does it really work?

Cold laser therapy (also known as low-level laser, class IV laser, photobiomodulation, and just plain “laser therapy”) seems to work, though we’re not sure exactly how. Unlike surgical and cosmetic lasers, it doesn’t heat the tissue discernibly (hence the term “cold laser”). We think it reduces inflammation by infusing affected body tissues with light. This red and near-infrared light elicits a reaction that we believe forces damaged cells to regenerate.

If it’s so wonderful, you ask, why doesn’t every pet owner already know about it? And why doesn’t every veterinarian already have one?

A few reasons:

  • As I mentioned, it’s a very expensive piece of equipment. For most veterinarians, it’s hard to justify investing Porsche-level sums with our limited funds.

  • That pricing trickles down to you, of course. And when you, as a cash-strapped pet owner, see that you’re spending a bundle every session, you might think twice.

  • The pain-relieving benefits are only temporary. Sometimes weeks, but more often for days, and in some patients only for a few hours (or not at all). So even if it does work, you can be sure that you’ll be coming back for more of the same pricey service.

  • Many veterinarians remain unconvinced. Why can’t we explain exactly how this works? And where’s the body of literature behind it?

To be sure, the scientific community is split on the efficacy of lasers and most think it does little in the long term. Despite a high safety index (not a lot can go wrong here), there’s not a whole lot of evidence showing that laser therapy rivals weight loss, NSAIDs, or even fatty acids when it comes to sustained pain reduction. Nonetheless, the fact that lasers can lead to immediate comfort is undeniably compelling.

Dr. Patty Khuly has a veterinary practice at Sunset Animal Clinic in South Miami. Her website is Send questions to