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The Use of Red Light Therapy for Pets

September 09, 2021 6 min read

Are there benefits for the furry, feathered and scaled when using red and infrared light?

 


Fur or feather, 
skin or scale, 
Pretty much anything that has a tail!
Big or small,
Young or old, 
The use of light therapy benefits us all!

There is no question that infrared and red technology is a wonderful therapy for people. Most of the studies out there are done with the intention of figuring out how it will benefit humans and whether it is safe. It's not an easy thing to talk about but pretty much all forms of medical research involves the use of animals in some form – infrared and red light technology included. For the animal lovers out there this hurts to know but one positive that can be taken away from this is that it can be seen that this technology is safe for animals also! If it wasn't safe for animals, it probably wouldn't have been approved for use on humans.


Beyond medical research, should red and infrared light be used on animals? Of course! It works safely and effectively so why not? It is known that 90% of people consider their pets as part of their family [1]. It is normal to want the best for family members and to help them when they are experiencing pain or disease, this includes pets.


Like humans, animals are prone to inflammation, injuries, wounds and pain. Any pet owner knows how stressful trips to the vet can be so keeping them to a minimum is a good idea. And that's just for the smaller animals. What about larger animals like horses and cows where small injuries can mean they are out of work for months. Those home visits are expensive! Many people are shifting towards non-invasive, holistic options for their own illness. It makes sense that animal owners are also open to alternative therapies for their beloved pets.


Red light therapy works on animals in much the same way that it works on humans.  Red and infrared light impacts positively on cellular mitochondria, where energy is generated [2]. These energised cells perform their normal functions faster and more effectively to encourage improved function, faster healing and recovery to promote better health.


Infrared and red light technology is definitely beneficial but the first step to using the technology is to have the animal assessed by a veterinarian, just to make sure there are no underlying issues that need to be addressed. Once the animal has been cleared, the next thing to consider is the ability of the light rays to penetrate where they need to. Are there scales? Is there thick fur? In those cases the device may need to be held closer to the surface for it to reach where it needs to. In some cases, the fur may be able to be parted so the skin can be seen. If it is a wound that is being treated the area will probably already be shaved which will allow better absorption of the light.


Smaller animals will need a shorter treatment time while larger animals are likely to benefit from a longer exposure to the light. Like humans, consistency of the use provides the most enhanced results and long-term benefits. Most animals appear comfortable around red and near-infrared light wavelengths, especially when it is provided by the person they love and trust - the extra special attention and some treats help! 


Arthritis in animals


Pets that have trouble getting up after lying down? Or do they seem stiff when walking around? They might be lifting their feet off the ground a little or they don't enjoy running around after toys as much as they used to. These are signs of joint problems, most commonly arthritis. Arthritis develops over time when the cartilage that normally protects and cushions the joint degenerates. When there is less cushioning between bones it causes friction, which causes pain and symptoms mentioned. The most common areas affected by arthritis in animals are hips, elbows, lower back, knees, and wrists. Veterinarians typically prescribe pharmaceutical anti-inflammatories similar to what is used by humans. 


Arthritis is the most common use of red and infrared light and this is true also for use on animals . It has been found that there is preservation of the cartilage and a decreased level of inflammation in the arthritic joints of even rabbits [6]! 


Hip dysplasia in animals


Another painful and common condition that occurs in animals, especially dogs, is hip dysplasia. This happens when there is an unbalanced growth of the hips in very young animals. If it is not addressed it will often lead to lameness and arthritis. It is a genetic disease that mostly affects larger breeds and is made worse by diet, environment, hormones, exercise and excess weight. A common treatment for hip dysplasia is surgery so using the red and infrared light can help to treat the pain in the lead up but also help the recovery after the surgery [3].


Other ways Infrared and red light can help animals


In the event that an animal needs to go through surgery where bone needs to be cut, studies show that using infrared and red light will improve and speed up the return to function [3]. 


Just as humans can have a bad back caused by a “slipped disc” or a “bulging disc”, known as a disc herniation, so can animals. This herniation can cause quite a bit of pain, changes in movement or sensation and possible paraplegia. Surgery is a common treatment for this condition. When infrared light is used after the surgery during the recovery period, it has been found to decrease the time it takes for the animal to return to being able to walk again [4].


A very common problem with owning horses is that they often end up with wounds, often from scraping themselves on fencing. These wounds can look terrible and the normal treatment is to just keep it clean so it can heal in its own time which is hard on the horse and person caring for it. Using red light can speed up this healing time which can reduce the distress brought to both the horse and the concerned owner. Wounds treated with the red light were completely closed at day 80 whereas those not treated were not closed within this same time frame [5].


Most of the research is completed using dogs, cats and mice/rats, but what about those people who have snails, fish and birds? Or maybe the more unusual pets of worms, frogs or even just chickens! Oh and bees! Studies show that red light can actually help reverse the problems they experience when exposed to pesticides [2]. Colony collapse is a huge topic and has been related to pesticide exposure. What a novel approach this could be!


Studies have shown that fish and reptiles have experienced an improvement in skin conditions when exposed to these special light waves [2]. They also experience improved healing ability of a variety of wounds [2]. Others showed that various light spectrums have been used successfully to reduce inflammatory conditions of the spine and the stomach [2]. Frogs and toads have been shown to experience improved repair from muscle injury, enhanced blood supply and regeneration of nerve tissue using red light [2]. 


Hands up who is worried about their snail’s behaviour, memory and mental ability? Well guess what, red light will actually improve it [2]. Surely there are some naughty forgetful pet snails out there?


For those with chickens that are looking to increase their flock size, there are benefits for that too! Chicks hatch at a larger size and an increased average weight leading to better survival rate [2]. Chickens, in general, experience better health, productivity and behaviour when exposed to red light [2]. For birds in general, studies have shown that they experience improvement in a wide variety of conditions. These include deep wounds, feather disorders, skin condition, self-mutilation, arthritis, swelling, fractures, splayed legs, wing tip trauma, digestive disorders and renal disease [2]! 


So, it certainly seems that all life forms can respond to red and infrared light treatment in one way or another. For those who have already experienced the wonderful benefits of this technology, maybe it is time to give the furry, scaled or feathered members of the family a go at this wonderful device!


References


[1] McNicholas J., Gilbey A., Rennie A., Ahmedzai S., Dono J.A., Ormerod E., Pet ownership and human health: a brief review of evidence and issues, BMJ journals, November, 2005 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1289326/


[2] Hamblin M.R., Huang Y.Y., Heiskanen V., Non-mammalian Hosts and Photobiomodulation: Do All Life-forms Respond to Light?, Photochemistry and Photobiology journal, January, 2019, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6286699/


[3] Cleo P. Rogatko, Wendy I. Baltzer, Rachel Tennant, Preoperative low level laser therapy in dogs undergoing tibial plateau levelling osteotomy: A blinded, prospective, randomized clinical trial, Veterinary and Comparative Orthopaedics and Traumatology, December, 2017, https://www.thieme-connect.com/products/ejournals/abstract/10.3415/VCOT-15-12-0198


[4] Draper W.E., Schubert T.A., Clemmons R.M., Miles S.A., Low-level laser therapy reduces time to ambulation in dogs after hemilaminectomy: a preliminary study, Journal of Small Animal Practice, August, 2012, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22783835/


[5] Henry W. Jann, Kenneth Bartels, Jerry W. Ritchey, Mark Payton and John M. Bennett, Equine wound healing: influence of low level laser therapy on an equine metacarpal wound healing model, Journal of Photonics & Lasers in Medicine, May, 2012, 

https://www.erchonia.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/Jann_Equine-Wound-Healing-Influence-LLLT-Metacarpal-Wound-Healing_Photon-Lasers_Med_05_12-1.pdf


[6] Oshima Y., Coutts R.D., Badlani N.M., Healey R.M., Kubo T., Amiel D., Effect of light-emitting diode (LED) therapy on the development of osteoarthritis (OA) in a rabbit model, Biomedicine & Pharmacotherapy Journal, June, 2011,https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21658899/