It looks like something out of Iron Man’s weapons lab. But a device that delivers lasers to pets to help them feel and move better is a real thing at VCA Blossom Hill Animal Hospital.

Therapeutic (or “low-level” or “cold”) laser has increased in usage over the past years in veterinary practices nationwide as a non-invasive way to reduce inflammation and pain, to help in rehabilitation, improve healing times after surgeries, and manage chronic conditions. The fancy science word for what’s happening when a veterinarian, veterinary technician or physical therapist points a concentrated beam of light at a pet’s ears, gums, wounds or joints for a few minutes at a time is “photobiomodulation.” That safe laser light seems to positively affect the outside skin as well as tissues beneath the skin.

Regular therapeutic laser treatments at VCA Blossom Hill Animal Hospital have made a big deal for Jax, an 8-1/2-year-old German Shepherd mix, whose owner Stacey Gregg says he was suffering before he started.

After adopting him as a puppy, Gregg saw Jax was super-energetic and active. Named, like some of his other dog siblings through the years with famous “J” criminal names—Jesse James, Josie Wales—Jax (a character on TV’s “Sons of Anarchy”) is a little too protective about the people in his life to be a good dog-park dog. So Gregg and her husband would take him from their house in San Jose, Calif., to Carmel (with access to the beach) and parks all the time. They’d play catch many nights with glow-in-the-dark balls for hours in the backyard. They plan their vacations around their dogs, looking for lakes and wild places for them to run and play.

Then, when Jax was about 2 years old, Gregg noticed that his back legs seemed a little stiff or painful. He’d sometimes have trouble getting around or seem slow to run and play.

“We noticed he couldn’t jump up into the truck, and I’d see him limping,” she says.

Gregg and her husband eased up on activities that would hurt Jax’s legs, but they were so devoted to getting him to the places he loved, they even bought a wheeled buggy so Jax could ride around with them at the beach.

It was time for a trip back to VCA Blossom Hill.

“He’s in a really good place now. This laser therapy has helped him back to that fun, energetic dog that we love so much.”

Jax gets a hip dysplasia diagnosis

According to Dr. Stacy Hare, VCA Blossom Hill’s medical director, the team used advanced diagnostics to diagnose Jax’s chronic intermittent lameness as hip dysplasia, a deformity of the hip that can lead to pain, osteoarthritis, and eventually lameness.

Dr. Hare says the case was complicated, because Jax was sensitive to some pain-relieving medicines, which led to some vomiting and diarrhea. Doctors prescribed glucosamine tablets (two in the morning, one at night), and they helped for a while, according to Gregg. Then Jax switched to gabapentin pills and even regular injectable drugs to help his joints. He even did pool exercise at home to keep him active while reducing stress on his joints. 

All the treatments have been helpful as part of a multimodal approach to pain and the joint disease, “but as the problem progressed, all the things stopped helping as much,” Gregg says.

Jax tries laser therapy

Then the team at VCA Blossom Hill called and told her about laser therapy.

“I immediately said yes,” she says. And those twice-weekly and now weekly appointments have changed Jax’s life.

“It’s non-invasive, and Jax was really responsive and seems to just bathe in the attention of the team at our appointments,” she says.

The handheld device emits a laser on a particular area for a short time, then is moved on through all the trouble spots (requiring Jax to roll over at least once). 

Dr. Hare’s team has used laser therapy for arthritis, wounds, anal gland infections and after tooth extractions. 

“We may next try it for neurologic or urinary conditions,” she says.

The veterinary team is careful to observe how Jax’s pain and mobility seems to react to the laser therapy, and they like to get Jax back in the hospital for for additional laser therapy treatments before the previous visit’s benefits wear off.

Gregg and her husband also try to avoid putting Jax in places where he does hard running, high jumping or other high-intensity activities. But he gets to enjoy the occasional beach trip, after-hours catch, and spending time playing with the people and dogs in the Gregg home.

“He’s in a really good place now,” she says. “This laser therapy has helped him back to that fun, energetic dog that we love so much.”