There’s no doubt about it – surgery is scary! Especially when our furry friends have to go through it. But newer technologies in veterinary medicine, like CO2 laser surgery, can make surgery and recovery a walk in the park. Veterinary laser surgery can have significant advantages over traditional surgical methods using scalpels. But first, what exactly is a laser?
LASER is an acronym for “Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission Radiation.” A surgical laser is a device that generates a beam of light energy at a certain wavelength. No scalpels – just a beam of light! The most commonly used veterinary surgical laser is the CO2 laser.
“Cutting” edge: how laser surgery works
It might sound science-fiction, but surgical lasers can actually “cut” skin! How? The wavelength of the laser beam energy is absorbed into the water found in skin and other soft tissue cells. When this energy is absorbed, the water inside the cells is vaporized, resulting in “cutting” of the tissues.
Laser surgery allows extreme surgical precision, because the surgeon can control the extent to which the laser beam is absorbed. The laser is often superior to traditional scalpels for many procedures, especially those involving tissue with many small blood vessels or in areas close to delicate organs or structures.
Three (Fido-approved!) advantages of laser surgery
There are three reported major benefits of laser surgery over traditional stainless steel for many veterinary patients:
- Decreased post-operative pain: the laser seals nerve endings as it cuts. It also seals lymphatic vessels, creating less swelling. This helps reduce pain impulses from the surgery site.
- Reduced bleeding and blood loss: the laser cauterizes blood vessels as it vaporizes the tissues – meaning the incision is sealed by burning. Less bleeding can improve the veterinarian’s ability to clearly see the surgical field.
- Quicker recovery time: less swelling and pain means quicker recovery times after laser surgery in pets. There’s also a reduced risk of infection because most bacteria are destroyed in the hot, sterile laser’s path.
Sign me up! When laser surgery is an option
Laser surgery can be done on almost any soft tissue. Routine procedures, like as spaying and neutering, are now commonly done with surgical lasers at many veterinary practices. The laser is also used for skin tumor removal, many cancer surgeries and eyelid, ear, nose and mouth surgeries. If your pet has to go under the knife, ask your veterinarian if CO2 laser surgery is an option.
Traditional surgery using stainless steel blades will always have a place in veterinary surgery because it is well-established and proven, low-cost and versatile. Skilled veterinary surgeons can have the same, or better, results using scalpels instead of a laser. I’ve always approached veterinary laser surgery as adjunctive to traditional techniques.
There are certain procedures, such as those involving oral tumors, that I exclusively rely on laser. Other procedures, including spays and neuters, I offer as an alternative for pet parents interested in newer techniques. CO2 laser units are quite expensive to purchase and maintain, and not all veterinarians will choose to invest in this technology. There continues to be debate within both the human and veterinary surgical communities on which technique is better. My answer is the best procedure is whatever the surgeon is most comfortable with.