Laser Surgery and Our Pets

One of the newer developments in the world of veterinary medicine is laser surgery. The 21st century is going to see the use of this new procedure become more common, probably dramatically so in the next five to ten years.

What is laser surgery? "Laser" is an acronym for Light Activation by Stimulated Emission of Radiation. We use concentrated light sources as a surgical tool. Einstein developed the theory in the 1920s and it has taken this long to perfect the art, science and equipment to the point of being practical in veterinary medicine.

Many different types of lasers have had applications in both human and veterinary medicine, with CO2 (carbon dioxide) the most practical for treating dogs and cats. Simply stated, the energy created by the carbon dioxide laser is absorbed by the water of the tissues we are using it on (remember, our bodies are made up of nearly two-thirds water). It vaporizes this water, allowing us to remove the tissue that the laser has struck. The great thing is that, because the laser has virtually no effect on the surrounding tissues, we can easdily pinpoint the area on which we wish to operate.

In addition to being very accurate without disturbing healthy tissue, the laser has many other attributes:

- The laser never has to touch the tissue. This makes for much less tissue trauma.
- Bleeding is markedly reduced. This is always of great benefit in surgical situations.
- There is minimal swelling.
- Surgical time is greatly reduced.
- Pain is also markedly decreased.

The list of possible procedures that can benefit from the advent of the laser is growing every day. Veterinarians around the country are using it for some of the more commonplace procedures, as well as the more dramatic surgeries we encounter. Here is a short list of the types of procedures that may be familiar to you as a pet owner:

- Spays and neuters
- Declaws. This is one of the most frequent uses of the laser. The pain reduction is remarkable.
- Ear surgeries, especially for those dogs with chronic ear infections that require reconstructive-type surgeries.
- Eye and eyelid surgeries
- Oral surgery
- Lick granulomas
- Lump or tumor removals

It will be interesting to see how this list grows over the next five years.

Of course, technology comes at a price. Currently, laser equipment is not yet cost efficient for most small veterinary facilities. Thus it tends to be found in larger offices with multiple practitioners. Over the next decade you may see some of the smaller hospitals consolidate, so they can take advantage of these types of technological advances.

The equipment cost to the veterinarian ranges between $30,000 and $50,000, depending on how many accessories one chooses to add to the basic laser. And veterinarians are just learning how to charge the client for the use of such equipment. Generally, the cost of a procedure will be increased between $50 and $150, based on time usage and degree of difficulty. When you weigh the benefits to your pet, this is money well spent.

Laser surgery is one of the true technological advances that will revolutionize how we care for our pets in the new millenium. If your veterinarian speaks to you about laser surgery, you can be comfortable that he or she is current on the latest advances in veterinary medicine. If your veterinarian has not reached that point, it is no reflection on their level of competence. Currently, there are only about 400 veterinarians (out of approximately 45,000 small animal practitioners) using lasers on a regular basis. That's less than 1%. But that number will grow exponentially over the next few years, and we wanted to be sure you heard about it here first.

If you have any questions about laser surgery and whether it is right for your pet, email us.

As always, I'm happy to help your pets...and their people, too.

Dr. Larry


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