Advances in human medicine seem to occur on a daily basis as research and new technology bring new possibilities and hope of healing. And veterinary medicine and surgery continues to follow closely behind. Within the past twenty years, new technologies in diagnostics and surgical techniques have made it possible to greatly extend a family pet or animal athlete's life and competitive career. But while these new technologies bring hope, they often come with a high price. And some veterinarians and pet owners are concerned that "hi-tech" with its high cost has taken away from the "hi-touch" that has been a cornerstone of what many deem "the compassionate profession."
Advances in diagnostics such as ultrasound, echocardiography, and even MRI's are becoming more and more accessible in veterinary medicine and detect disease processes much earlier. This means that illnesses such as cancer that once carried a grim prognosis for pets are now considered treatable and often with a good outcome. Tendon and bone problems that once spelled the end of a career for equine and canine athletes can be diagnosed much sooner, often before the animal has any pain, so that treatment begins before devastating trauma occurs.
For more than 30 years, human doctors have used various types of surgical lasers to help people heal faster and with less pain. Lasers are now used routinely to help correct eyesight, remove skin blemishes, and even destroy unwanted hair. But, it has only been within the past 10 years that veterinary medicine has started to utilize this same technology to provide a similar level of comfort for their patients.
Using a laser during surgery instead of a scalpel blade provides many advantages to the surgeon. First, due to the precise nature of lasers, the veterinarian is able finely tune the amount of tissue that is affected by the surgery, thereby reducing the damage to any of the surrounding area. Second, lasers will actually help to control bleeding by sealing off the tiny capillaries and vessels that may leak and ooze during normal surgeries. Third, lasers help to reduce the amount of swelling that is associated with any sort of surgery. By avoiding bruising and tearing of body tissue, lasers help the veterinarian to minimize inflammation. Fourth, since lasers vaporize cells, any latent bacteria that might want to start an infection will also be vaporized, helping to minimize potential post-operative infections. And finally, lasers reduce the amount of pain involved in surgeries by actually sealing the ends of nerves in the affected tissues. This stops the propagation of the pain impulse and will actually help the pet to heal faster!
By far, one of the most common uses of the surgical laser in the veterinary hospital is to perform declawing of cats. Although this elective surgery has many proponents and opponents, almost everyone would agree that the advent of using the laser for declawing procedures has helped minimize the trauma associated with the surgery. As mentioned above, lasers will actually seal small nerves, keeping them from transmitting painful impulses. Cats that have been declawed with a laser are often running and playing within hours of surgery. In contrast, older techniques of declawing cats have potentially kept a cat uncomfortable for several days afterwards.