As human medicine advances by leaps and bounds, veterinary medicine advances with it. For instance, laser therapy, a noninvasive treatment technique, is proving a helpful tool in the treatment of inflammatory diseases such as spondylitis in pets. The analgesic, vasodilatory and anti-inflammatory effects of infrared laser therapy are making the form of treatment complementary to conventional veterinary medicinal techniques.
Spondylitis is an affliction of the intervertebral discs of the spine. It is generally caused by a fungal or bacterial infection. Staphylococcal infections are the most common cause; older male dogs seem to be most affected. Respiratory tract infections as well as infections of the oral cavity or heart muscle can lead to this debilitation, but urinary tract infections are most common. Weight loss, depression, fever, back pain and, ultimately, neurological symptoms of paralysis occur.
Because spondylitis originates through infection, the bacterial or fungal cause must be detected through blood work or urinalysis, or, more successfully, through microbial culture. Antibiotics or antifungal treatments may be prescribed for a period of six weeks to six months depending on the severity of the bone infection. Laser therapy is not a substitute for dealing with these underlying causes.
Low-level laser therapy utilizes infrared light pulsing at 5000 Hz with a power output of 30 mW to alter cellular function. It can serve both acute and chronic veterinary cases, and is administered at varying intervals as determined by the veterinarian. The protocol's reduction of tissue damage and inflammation is not debated; however, the mechanism for action is not fully understood. The laser is still considered an experimental treatment, and usefulness against canine spondylitis varies on a case-by-case basis.
Eradicating the underlying cause and enforcing restricted activity may be enough to reverse the damage caused by spondylitis; however, severely affected pups may require myelography, a radiographic technique that's often used to locate the affected vertebrae. Utilizing an injectable contrasting reagent, it allows the veterinarian to determine the severity of damage and helps determine whether low-level therapy will significantly reduce inflammation or if disk decompression surgery is necessary. Dogs experiencing full limb paralysis often require laminectomy or ventral slot surgery, depending on lesion location. However, low-level laser therapy to the damaged area has been shown to reduce inflammation and promote healing when used in conjunction with rest, and if needed additional pain medication or steroids.
Low-level laser therapy was not considered a standalone treatment at the time of publication, but it may reduce recovery time and increase chances of a full reversal of paralysis. An added benefit in older dogs, who may have compromised livers and kidneys, is that it allows you to avoid using nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs that can exacerbate these existing conditions.
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