An introduction to lasers in the veterinary world

Vet Laser Surgery

Technology is becoming more and more important in our ability to treat animals with more care and advanced techniques. Something that has been accepted rather quickly is the use of lasers however there are several different types available.

Lasers basically work on simple physic principles and emit a beam of light of different wave lengths (such as visible or infrared or colored light) and powers which are set to interact with different types of tissues. By adjusting the wavelength you can affect different types of tissue so can target skin, muscles, bone or blood vessels.

There are two ways to categorise lasers by their purpose – you can either get therapeutic lasers or alternatively the surgical lasers. With the therapeutic laser these are most often known as Low Level Laser Therapy and are generally class 4 laser products. These are often used in rehabilitation to improve wound healing or reduce pain both of which are shown to have a greater outcome.

Therapeutic lasers come with different power abilities which affect how deep the laser will go within the body. Also something that can be changed is the pattern of the wave of the light in different pulses to stimulate the cells in different ways. Often a course of treatment is used over a period of time to help with healing and pain with some significant reduction in rehabilitation time after things like spinal surgery.

Surgical lasers are generally a lot stronger and are used by surgeons instead of scalpels to cut tissue both in open surgery and through minimally invasive surgery with an endoscope. These generally act on the water inside the cells. There are 3 different types of surgical lasers which are:

CO2 (Carbon Dioxide) laser – this allows a surgeon to cut or vaporise tissues whilst minimising the bleeding that occurs. This happens because as the water in cells of the blood vessel walls is removed from the cell it shrinks and so the size of the vessel decreases to stop blood passing through it.

Nd:YAG (Neodymium:yttrium-aluminum-garnet) lasers are extremely powerful that have very deep penetration which allows surgeons to target parts of the body not so accessible. These are often used in endoscopic surgery and are commonly used in human on tumours of the stomach and digestive system.

Argon laser – this laser has relatively limited penetration of around 1mm and is often used for eye surgery or for superficial skin disorders. These lasers have a special use where light sensitive dyes can be injected into a tumour and the laser specifically targets the cells containing these dyes to remove specific tumour cells.

The ability to use lasers within veterinary surgery now gives us many new possibilities for attempting to reduce the risk in what are classed as risky surgeries now. It has always been known that control of bleeding is essential to surgery and reducing this does show potential for better outcomes.

However the downside of surgical lasers at least is that when working with tumours they can be turned to particles in the air that can be breathed in by the surgical team so good personal protection and removal of the “smoke” from the laser is essential.