Laser cats – and dogs
Therapy laser gives Riverview new tool in fighting pain, other pet ailments

Laser cats – and dogs

Buddy, a 10-year old Great Dane mix from Dolores, gets a laser therapy treatment from Riverview Animal Hospital Vet Tech Marianne McClain. Buddy, a therapy dog, suffers from laryngeal paralysis and spinal problems. He and his owner make regular trips to Riverview for the therapy, a noninvasive option for treating pain and arthritis, among other ailments./Photo by Jennaye Derge

Jen Reeder - 09/01/2016

Buddy, a local Great Dane/Labrador retriever mix, has lived a remarkable life. The gentle giant spent years helping his owner, Toleda Cluff, teach dog obedience classes. Then, 3½ years ago, he suffered a stroke that left him without the use of one of his front legs. But it didn’t dampen his upbeat attitude, so Cluff had him certified as a therapy dog with the nonprofit Pet Partners, and he comforted and inspired children regaining mobility at a physical therapy clinic in Farmington. He also volunteered at the Dolores Public Library, working as a nonjudgmental listener for children working on their reading skills. 

“He’s been the most wonderful animal,” Cluff said. “He’s touched a lot of lives as a therapy dog.” 

Now that he’s 10, Buddy is struggling with more health issues. He’s developed laryngeal paralysis, which affects his ability to bark, and intervertebral disk disease, a painful narrowing of the space between the disks in his spine. Unfortunately, he also has liver issues that prevent him from being able to take pain medications. So each week, Cluff drives Buddy from her home near Dolores to Durango’s Riverview Animal Hospital for laser therapy treatments. 

“Our goal is to keep his quality of life as high as we can for as long as we can, like all of us who love our pets,” she said.  

Dr. Shannon Mazur, managing veterinarian at Riverview, said the practice invested in a class IV therapy laser this June to be able to “continue to provide state-of-the-art, multimodal medicine.” The laser’s purchase price was nearly $30,000. 

“The therapeutic laser is both a complementary and alternative option in treating pain, arthritis, acute and chronic wounds, hair loss and many other conditions,” Mazur said. “It works by reducing inflammation and increasing oxygenation to the tissues     to alleviate pain and speed up the  healing process. We have seen really great results already and are thrilled to be able to offer this for our furry friends.” 

Unlike surgical lasers that cut into tissue, therapy lasers, also called “cold lasers,” essentially help tissues heal more quickly by increasing the metabolic rate in cells. Another way to describe it, using a Star Wars metaphor, could be that a therapy laser puts the body’s cells into “hyperdrive.” 

Marianne McClain, a certified veterinary technician and canine rehabilitation practitioner at Riverview, said the most dramatic results have been in how much faster wounds heal when treated with a therapy laser. Riverview offers a $15 therapy laser treatment after any surgery, including spays and dental cleanings. 

“We find they heal a lot quicker and have less complications after surgery,” McClain said. “It brings a lot of circulation into the system.” 

She said the laser has also been particularly beneficial in treating animals with chronic pain from arthritis or other conditions. She often works with owners of senior dogs to help improve their pets’ mobility through massage, acupressure and muscle-strengthening exercises, and said laser therapy is a powerful new tool to complement these efforts – especially for pets with liver issues who can no longer take pain medication.

“If we can reduce the pain, we can keep them moving,” McClain said. “If they stop moving, that’s when the arthritis gets worse – the muscles atrophy. So the first goal is to take care of the pain.” 

The laser therapy treatments themselves are not painful; instead, they provide a warming sensation to the dog or cat. There’s no need to shave off any fur because the laser calibrates the correct dosage for an individual animal based on color of the skin, weight, hair coat length, area to be treated and medical issue. McClain said the 30-minute sessions are held downstairs at Riverview in a quiet room on a blanket, and owners can be present, so even initially nervous animals will relax and lie down for their laser therapy. 

“They love it. It’s pretty stress-free,” she said. 

Because therapy laser treatment is most effective with multiple visits – “treatments build on each other” – she said Riverview Animal Hospital offers a package of six sessions of laser therapy on one to two sites on the body for $204. Often, McClain will treat an animal for two completely different issues, like a cat who has painful arthritis in the spine as well as hair loss on the top of his head. She’s treated dogs with fractures, ligament tears, urinary tract infections and skin issues, and has been amazed by the results. A laser consultant from Companion, the company that manufactures the laser, is available to answer any usage questions that might arise when treating unusual cases. 

“It’s just been a great thing for our practice,” McClain said. “Every day we’re learning new things to do with it.”

It’s already had an impact on therapy dog Buddy. After just one treatment on his throat, he regained his ability to bark. And Cluff said after receiving his first laser treatment, Buddy was full of energy and “more like himself than he’d been in months.” It even helped resolve his incontinence issues. Cluff said these results make the 45-minute drive to Riverview for Buddy’s weekly treatments worthwhile.

“I’m grateful it’s another therapy Riverview has to offer its clients,” she said. “It’s sure been successful for us.” 


For more information, visit call Riverview Animal Hospital at 970-247-8545 or visit