Laser Therapy Gets Results on Lizard and Furry Friends

Two area veterinarians use laser therapy-a treatment favored by professional athletes-on dogs, cats and at least one lizard

Date published: 12/1/2010

Laser Therapy for DogsWhat do Lance Armstrong the bicyclist and Pita the lizard have in common?

Both rely on laser therapy to keep them moving.

There’s nothing unusual about athletes using laser therapy, according to websites on sports medicine. The treatment sends doses of deep-penetrating infrared light to cells , quickens the healing process and reduces swelling, according to National Library of Medicine studies.

Athletes can get back in the game quicker and decrease the wear and tear on their bodies. New York Knicks guard Allan Houston said the laser helps him maintain healthy joints so he can endure “a long pro season.”

But what possible use could lasers have among the feathered, furry and scaly?

The people at Hartwood Animal Hospital in Stafford County want to find out.

The veterinary office got an $18,000 system called the K-Laser in September and already have used the treatment on a dozen dogs and cats with achy hips, swollen ears and pains in the neck.

Hartwood is the second veterinary office in the area to have a laser. St. Francis Animal Hospital in Spotsylvania County has been using the laser for about three years, in combination with other therapies.

The laser is particularly useful for large, older dogs with arthritis, said Dr. Helen Jewett at Hartwood. Even small ones, such as Baby the dachshund, have been able to get around easier after laser, said Baby’s owner, Rita Maxson of Stafford.

“We saw a difference after her first treatment,” Maxson said, adding that Baby has back problems typical of her breed. She often cried in pain and tucked her tail between her legs when she tried to climb stairs.

“She walked out of here wagging her tail,” Maxson said, after treatments at Hartwood.

St. Francis uses the laser several times a week and finds it useful for animals with skin allergies and inflamed glands. The laser also helps bones heal faster, especially with greyhounds, which have spindly legs, said technician Beth Wilkinson.

Laser Therapy for LizardHartwood has done free work on about 10 pets who belong to staff members, to get a better idea of the laser’s possibilities. And they’ve included Pita the lizard and a rabbit with sneezing fits in the experimental studies.

“We know that machine is doing something for him,” said Patricia Galloway, a Stafford resident and the “mother” of the lizard getting all the attention.

Pita is a uromastyx, better known as a spiny-tailed lizard. About two years ago, Pita was sunning himself on the family deck, in a new cage.

When his owners went in for coffee, Pita slipped through the bars and fell 20 feet off the deck. A vet in Vienna who specialized in exotic pets said to put the lizard down. Its back legs were paralyzed, and its tail was out of commission.

Galloway brought him instead to Hartwood, where Jewett amputated the tail and put the lizard on antibiotics. Since then, Pita has dragged his back half around.

Jewett thought Pita would be a good candidate for the laser.

It has a wand that looks like a microphone and delivers a target-shaped beam of red light. It isn’t the same kind of cauterizing laser used to stop bleeding after surgery. It doesn’t lop off anything like lasers in the movies or cause any pain, Jewett said.

Its beam can burn dark-skinned pets if pointed in the same place too long, so technicians move it back and forth over the affected area.

After Pita got a few treatments, the lizard’s left leg started moving a little again. It has since returned to its normal position, while its right leg still dangles.

The laser has settings for dogs, cats and horses but none for other animals. Hartwood adjusts the strength of the beam depending on the weight of the animal.

Wilkinson at St. Francis said the laser treatments can be a hard sell to clients who consider them alternative therapies. Pet owners want proof that it works, she said, and because St. Francis uses it with other treatments, it can be hard to tell which tool did the work.

Hartwood had its skeptics, too.

“But then you see it work, and it’s fabulous,” said Randy Brooks, a wildlife rehabilitator who brings injured animals to the Hartwood practice.

And it helps cut down on the amount of medicine needed, said Beth O’Byrne, a vet assistant at Hartwood.

“The less that you have to put into an animal or a person, drug-wise, the better,” she said.

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