As a holistic veterinarian, I’m always on the lookout for alternative treatments that can give my patients the best possible results with little to no side effects.
One of the craziest (and best) things I’ve ever stumbled upon is an alternative treatment called photonic therapy (aka red light therapy).
This seemingly obscure therapy has been a major game-changer for me as a holistic veterinarian.
Let’s time travel back to 2003, when I was first introduced to an Australian vet by the name of Dr. Brian McLaren.
Dr. McLaren was here in Oklahoma City speaking at an event for the Central Oklahoma Veterinary Medical Association.
He was talking about all the benefits that red light therapy offered, and to be honest, I was extremely skeptical.
You see, red light therapy (at first glance) basically appears to be the practitioner shining a red flashlight onto areas a patient needs to heal, and then over the course of multiple treatments (in some instances just one) the patient miraculously starts to see positive results.
As far-fetched as this seemed, I try to be pretty open-minded and was intrigued by the claims that were being made, so I invited Dr. McLaren to spend the following Thursday afternoon at my clinic.
“We’ll see just how legit you really are, won’t we buster?!”, I thought to myself.
The next thing I knew, I’d purchased one of his devices (called a “torch”) and was using it the following day on a patient before surgery.
To my surprise, the dog didn’t bleed at all, and the surgery that I’d performed is typically a surgery that involves a lot of bleeding.
Needless to say, I spent a great deal of time diving into mastering the basics of what this was all about.
Essentially, what red light therapy does, is stimulate “acupoints” that are typically treated with acupuncture.
So basically, you get a lot of the benefits that come along with acupuncture, without having to stick pets with acupuncture needles.
(Which as you can imagine, doesn’t always go over well with our furry friends.)
There’s a very specific type of light that has to be used for this to work properly though.
(That’s right, you can’t make this work at home with a laser pointer.)
That’s another thing that makes this therapy very safe too, since using a laser light could actually damage the eyes if a pet were to look into it.
Simply put, what the red light “torch” does, is penetrate the skin by interacting with collagen (which is just underneath the skin).
Collagen has a very unique molecular structure, to where if pressure or heat are applied to it, it will store and then release an electrical charge.
That charge is then transmitted to the brain, which releases chemicals that travel via the bloodstream to parts of the body that are in need of healing.
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There are many cases where I've been able to prevent dogs from having ACL surgery by simply treating them with red light therapy for several months.
Back in 2015, his German Shepherd (Diva) had an MRI at another vet clinic and they confirmed there was significant ACL damage (as she's a very active dog).
All the advice they were getting from their veterinarian at the time (and all the other folks they were talking with) was to have Diva get ACL surgery.
Angel's wife was determined to find another way to help Diva without having to consider a risky surgery.
So, she did some research and found out about my experience with red light therapy as an alternative form of treatment.
We worked with Diva weekly for about 4 - 6 months of weekly sessions (you do have to be patient with red light therapy).
To this day, Diva's at 100%, and every time I see her she's very excited to play fetch and has zero issues with agility.
NOTE: There are instances where I'll refer out to a board-certified surgeon if the ACL problem is too severe. However, I've only had to do this a handful of times in my 15+ years of working with red light therapy.
A great deal of my knowledge on holistic healing I credit to Dr. McLaren, who was not only an amazing vet, but also a well-trained acupuncturist.
To give you a little background on how he came to learn about all of this, he started out attending the University of Queensland in Australia and also became a professor there.
During that time, China owed Australia a lot of money for agricultural products and food they’d purchased.
Rather than paying cash, they asked if they could barter to settle the bill.
So, professors from the University of Beijing came over to Australia and taught classical acupuncture at the University of Queensland.
Dr. McLaren attended all those classes and became a highly trained acupuncturist.
Everything he learned, he later applied to patients when he went into private practice as a veterinarian.
Something very important he discovered in his practice, is that the specific frequency of red light could be used in a way that was even more effective than traditional acupuncture needles.
(This was made possible due to the wide availability of LED lights in the late 1990s.)
After my initial year of training with Dr. McLaren learning the basics of red light therapy, I studied with him in-depth for an additional 4 years (learning as much as I possibly could before he returned to Australia).
I now use red light therapy daily in my veterinary practice.
Here are some examples of instances where I use it:
Before and after surgeries (as it controls pain and reduces inflammation + bleeding).
To treat shock and swelling following trauma.
As a treatment for intervertebral disc disease.
As an alternative to surgery for dogs with ACL damage (which is not only more affordable, but also non-invasive -- removing the risks that comes along with surgery).
I’ve also treated a few hundred dogs that were paralyzed (and many of them are now walking).
(To sum things up, there are very few conditions I wouldn’t consider using red light therapy for.)
“How many treatments are required?” you might be asking yourself.
Well, there are a great deal variables, but let’s discuss:
In general, I tell clients I need to treat 1 - 2 times a week for a total of eight treatments.
As mentioned earlier though, sometimes one treatment is all that’s needed.
Naysayers who are skeptical (hello, old me!) tend to jump on this and ask:
"If it’s such a great therapy, why doesn’t just one treatment fix the problem?"
My answer is always:
“Generally the problem we’re treating has been going on anywhere from days to years, so it may take a few weeks of treatment to effectively treat the issue at hand.”
I also mention to naysayers that when I prescribe conventional Western medicine for pets, it typically needs to be taken 2 - 3 times daily.
So essentially, I’m treating the pet multiple times a day (for days or weeks) when I prescribe conventional medications, which is exactly the same way I approach treatment with red light therapy.
It truly was a challenge for me to embrace this alternative treatment back in 2003.
I was a classically trained Western medicine veterinarian and although I’d heard of other vets using acupuncture, I really didn’t feel there was a place for it in the veterinary field.
As often happens though, I ended up embracing something new that I previously thought was wrong.
Chinese physicians and veterinarians spend a lot of time and effort trying to keep their patients healthy by using herbs and acupuncture.
In their eyes, if the patient gets sick -- they’ve failed.
I approach all the dogs and cats at my practice with this same philosophy after having gone through all my training with Dr. McLaren over the years.
One parting tip I’d like to leave you with (as a way to start applying this philosophy at home) is to address your pet’s diet.
This is the single most important (and easy) way to prevent health issues from developing.
Below, I've added a signup form where you can download my free pet nutrition cheat sheet (in the event you haven't already).
This is a simple 5-step PDF that will cut through all the noise of researching pet nutrition online and give you the foundations for taking proper care of your beloved dog or cat companions TODAY.
I hope you find it helpful and please feel free to share this post with a friend or family member (so they can learn all about red light therapy and sign up for the cheat sheet as well).
Until next time,
Dr. Terry R. Wood