Pet Connection by Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker

FIRE THE LASER

PETS WITH PAIN OR INFLAMMATION MAY BENEFIT FROM LOW-LEVEL LASER THERAPY

Swee' Pea is an 18-year-old border collie/Australian shepherd cross who holds nine Guinness world records for stunts such as walking up and down a flight of stairs backward while balancing a glass of water on her nose. As you can imagine, a dog that old -- even one who undergoes stretching and other exercises daily to keep her fit -- still has aches and pains in her hips, back and shoulders. Her veterinarian, Laurie McCauley, medical director at TOPS Veterinary Rehab in Grayslake, Illinois, uses low-level laser therapy to help Swee' Pea stay comfortable.

Sometimes known as cold laser or class IV laser, the therapy works by altering or stimulating cellular function. The light energy penetrates to a certain depth -- depending on the wavelength and energy applied -- and affects cells and blood vessels in certain ways, such as by blocking a nerve's ability to send a pain signal to the brain, increasing blood flow or decreasing swelling. It may also significantly speed wound healing.

That was the experience for Graham, a greyhound, whose injured tail was amputated. Cold laser helped the area to heal quickly, says his owner, Marcia Herman of Anderson, South Carolina.

Other pet owners have found it to be helpful for pain relief. In Queen Creek, Arizona, Aussie/chow mix Cheiss receives laser treatments for pain from hip dysplasia. Owner Stacy Mantle says it has allowed her to decrease the amount of pain medication he requires. Jake, a cavalier King Charles spaniel, received cold laser treatment for an ACL injury. His owner, Cathy Remoll Torres of San Diego, says the treatment helped him to avoid surgery.

In my own practice, I've used the class IV laser a number of ways. It can help to relieve pain, redness and swelling at surgical incision sites; reduce inflammation related to hot spots, inflamed ears and lick granulomas; and soothe arthritic joints.

Dogs who have spay surgery with laser treatment have little redness, drastically reduced swelling and no discomfort. A severely arthritic dog treated with a laser was able to break the shackles of pain and stiffness and start moving normally again. That's so satisfying for me and for the pet owner.

Veterinarians and pet owners like laser treatment for a number of reasons:

-- It's noninvasive.

-- When used correctly, it doesn't have any side effects.

-- It can be used weekly or monthly for pets with chronic pain, giving them better quality of life.

-- In cases of severe pain caused by surgery or trauma, laser treatment can be used twice a day for a few days and then daily to diminish pain and speed healing.

Cold laser has limitations. It can be harmful for pets with cancer, and it shouldn't be directed at the retina of the eye or over tattoos, or areas of active bleeding. Cost varies depending on the type of machine used and whether a veterinarian or technician is administering the treatment.

In human medicine, science hasn't yet reached consensus on the effectiveness of laser therapy or the best ways to use it. Health insurance plans for people often don't cover it, considering it an experimental therapy. Our dogs and cats are luckier because some pet health insurance plans do cover it.

What is really exciting is the potential of laser therapy to help pets be less fearful during veterinary visits by using laser to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system. I've witnessed it working this way in dogs, cats and horses.

In the end, helping fearful patients become fearless in the hospital is where veterinary medicine might end up using these the most.

Q&A

Feline social skills

develop early

Q: My old cat died recently, and I want to get a kitten. I'd really like one who's outgoing and friendly. Do you have any tips on making the right choice? -- via Facebook

A: Kittens are interesting because their socialization period begins when they're 2 weeks old and ends at 7 weeks. Everything that happens to a kitten during that critical period has a bearing on how his purr-sonality develops.

Socialization helps to inoculate a kitten against shyness in the same way that vaccinations help to inoculate him against disease. To become social, smart, confident and curious (everything a cat should be), kittens need to have lots of positive early experiences.

You want a kitten who has been gently handled by many different people (kids, too), has met friendly adult cats and dogs, and is used to hearing household noises like doorbells and garbage disposers. He should be used to riding in a car, even if it's just up and down the street for a few minutes. Kittens with this background are more adaptable and intelligent and are less likely to pitch a hissy fit when they encounter anything different. Think of it as "kitty-garten."

Your best bet is a kitten raised in a home who has stayed with mom and littermates until he's at least 12 weeks old. Kittens who stay with mom for 12 to 16 weeks usually have better social skills.

If you're choosing an older kitten and you're not sure of his background, look for one who approaches you readily, gives you a head butt, and rolls over for a belly rub. This is the one who won't run for cover at the sound of the doorbell and will enjoy meet-and-greets with your friends.

Most important, continue to develop your cat's social skills through playtime, training and good experiences at the veterinarian. That will help him stay young at heart his whole life long. -- Dr. Marty Becker and Kim Campbell Thornton

Do you have a pet question? Send it to askpetconnection@gmail.com or visit Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker.

THE BUZZ

Reptiles need

rescue, too

-- You are probably all too familiar with the plight of dogs and cats in shelters, but did you know that reptiles can also be in need of adoption? They are often challenging to care for and may be given up to rescue groups or shelters when people are no longer able to house or feed them properly. Others are seized by law enforcement agents from wildlife smugglers or other criminals. If you're considering acquiring a reptile, a rescue group or shelter can be a source not only of information but also of a potential slithery sidekick.

-- Cats love to be high -- and we're not talking about catnip. They are incredibly athletic, able to jump several times their own height and land gracefully and accurately on an area not much bigger than a half sheet of paper. That high-jump ability comes from their powerful thigh muscles, which constrict tightly, then let go like a catapult. A person with the leg strength and power of a cat could jump from the ground to the top of a house -- but his thighs would be as big around as his waist.

-- Last month, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick signed what has become known as the "Puppy Doe Law," which increases the penalties for animal cruelty and requires veterinarians to report suspected animal abuse. The legislation, which had bipartisan support, was filed in response to a case in which a 2-year-old female pit bull was so badly abused that she had to be euthanized. The Protecting Animal Welfare and Society (PAWS) Act increases the maximum prison sentence for one count of animal cruelty from five years to seven years and doubles the maximum fine, from $5,000 to $10,000. Repeat offenders can earn a maximum prison sentence of 10 years and a $10,000 fine. -- Dr. Marty Becker and Kim Campbell Thornton

ABOUT PET CONNECTION

Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by "The Dr. Oz Show" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Kim Campbell Thornton. They are affiliated with Vetstreet.com and are the authors of many best-selling pet-care books. Joining them is dog trainer and behavior consultant Mikkel Becker. Dr. Becker can be found at Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker. Kim Campbell Thornton is at Facebook.com/KimCampbellThornton and on Twitter at kkcthornton. Mikkel Becker is at Facebook.com/MikkelBecker and on Twitter at MikkelBecker.

CAPTIONS AND CREDITS

Caption 01: Both pets and people wear goggles to protect their eyes during laser treatments, which can be used to treat conditions as varied as anal sac infections or periodontal disease. Position: Main Story

Caption 02: Seven is a jungle carpet python who was adopted from the Chicago Herpetological Society. Position: Pet Buzz/Item 1