Colorado State University Study Looks at Laser Light Therapy to Help Rattlesnake-Bitten Dogs

Can light from a laser help dogs bitten by rattlesnakes? A study by Colorado State University veterinarians and partners at the Fort Collins Veterinary Emergency and Rehabilitation Hospital is looking into the possibility that using laser therapy may decrease the length of time a dog stays in a veterinary clinic after a snake bite, as well as lower the impact of snake venom in the dog’s body.

Rattlesnake venom causes pain, swelling and a low blood platelet count, which can prevent blood from clotting. Laser therapy, also known as low-level light therapy, speeds the cellular repair process and metabolism within cells, may reduce pain and swelling from bites and help impacted tissue heal more quickly.

The study, headed by Dr. Narda Robinson, will look at the response of 40 dogs being treated for bites at the university’s Veterinary Teaching Hospital or the local veterinary emergency hospital.

“If research shows that the therapy helps, it could be provided to animals as a low-cost, safe and effective treatment that could significantly reduce long-term damage and suffering,” said Robinson, a veterinarian at CSU and lead researcher on the project. “At this time, the only specific treatment for snake venom is antivenom. It’s expensive, and its effectiveness decreases as time passes between the bite and treatment.”

Dogs are commonly bit in the face, which can balloon with swelling. Snakebites also may cause hemorrhaging and often cause the tissue around the bite to die. Damaged tissue can include the tongue, lips and nasal cavities, and, coupled with swelling, make it very difficult to breathe, drink and eat.

In some cases, snakebites can lead to heart dysfunction, nervous system disorders, acute kidney failure and death.

Dogs in the study will receive either the light therapy or a placebo during the study every 12 to 24 hours after they are admitted for up to four treatments. Veterinarians will monitor and compare the dog’s level of pain, swelling, ability to eat and interest in food, and pain medicine requirements, along with other tests such as platelet counts.

“Laser therapy has been used for treatment of carpal tunnel syndrome, wound healing and to reduce swelling in humans,” said Dr. Scott Chamberlin, another researcher on the study. “While anecdotal evidence for research indicates that laser therapy helps dogs, including those with snakebites, this is a chance to evaluate the changes scientifically and objectively. Rigorous research such as this allows veterinarians at CSU and elsewhere make the most beneficial and cost-effective recommendations that aid our patients in their recovery.”

Preliminary research shows that, when used in humans, light therapy generates a cascade of events in tissue that includes speeding up cell metabolism and increases in the energy supply for cells, while also speeding cell division, activating stem cells, adapting the immune response, and stimulating the formation of new blood vessels.

Laser light therapy is FDA-approved for treatment in humans.