Laser therapy brings relief to Iowa City pets


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By all accounts, Levi is old — 14 years is a long time for a dog. In fact, he’s two years older than he should be.

But thanks to a little red laser, Levi will be able to resume to relatively normal activities for an older dog.

“I thought I was going to have to euthanize him two years ago,” said Kristene Lake, Levi’s owner.

The Best Friends Veterinary Care clinic opened its doors to four-legged patients Monday.

Common to many elderly animals, Levi is riddled with arthritis. However, because of other medical conditions, he is unable to safely take inflammatory medicine — leaving him in great pain.

“We had to look at alternatives,” said Lake.

The alternative was found in Class IV Deep Tissue Laser Therapy. Laser therapy is used to reduce pain, inflammation, and help speed the healing process. A beam of light, similar to a laser pointer but much stronger, penetrates tissue and creates a biological reaction called “photo-bio-modulation.”

Used correctly, laser therapy is completely safe.

“It’s safe and painless if you use it correctly,” said Lake, who is also a veterinary technician.

For the animal, the process is easy. All they feel is a soothing warmth — Levi falls asleep to the massage. Depending on the setting, the therapy can last as little as four minutes.

However, not everyone is convinced of the healing power of laser therapy.

“The problem is there is a lack of controlled studies,” said Jan Hawkins, an associate professor of large-animal surgery at Purdue University. “There’s really not a tremendous amount of proof.”

He noted, though, that he doesn’t believe there is any harm.

Kim Vercande, the veterinarian of the Best Friends Veterinary Care in Iowa City, installed a laser-therapy machine at her new clinic, where Levi will continue to receive laser therapy. She agreed the only danger lies with improper use.

“The main concern is if you don’t use it properly you can cause a burn,” she said.

The burn would be similar to sunburn. The key is to keep the laser moving, have training, and understand what is being treated, Vercande said.

“Everyone who uses it should go through a training process,” she said.

Laser therapy was used on humans long before it was used on animals, Lake said.

“Everything is slower to come to the animal world,” she added.

Vercande said laser therapy for animals is quite new to the Iowa City area, but she hopes to help many locally loved pets with the red light.

“I’m excited about the new therapy and being able to treat pain without medications,” she said.

Similar to Levi’s case, not all animals can handle medications. Often, there are side effects, or, for feline friends, there are simply fewer good options. Vercande is hopeful that if used correctly, laser therapy can enable a reduced dependency on medications, if not completely replace them.

“You may be able to get them completely off the medications,” she said.

Luckily for Levi, the laser has been incredibly helpful.

“It’s made a huge difference,” Lake said. “He’s getting by just on the laser.”

There is a hefty price tag, though; the laser unit cost between $20,000 and $30,000.

For those seeking treatment, the cost varies greatly.

“It depends on the nature of the condition,” veterinary assistant Ellen Bradburn said.

Bradburn said each treatment could cost around $45, depending on how often and what is being treated.

Levi might feel it’s worth it, though.

“He’s a pretty important part of my life,” Lake said.

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