Laser therapy giving old dogs a new lease on life

DENVER -- A medical breakthrough is giving older dogs a new lease on life and some pet owners say its nothing short of a miracle.

It's laser therapy.

Keely Sugden's dog Blue woke up one day morning unable to walk.

"He had been getting a little weak and he couldn't walk at all," Sugden said.

A neurologist gave Blue a steroid, but within weeks he was once again unable to walk and developed a wound that wasn't healing.

"The wound on his leg had opened up and gotten infected, and that's when I decided he's going to die of infection and he can't walk. I want to try something different," Sugden said.

Caroline Bartley is a veterinary chiropractioner at Active Health Chiropractic for People and Pets.

Bartley uses a technique called veterinary orthopedic manipulation.

"It induces a small amount of movement in the spine with a rapid amount of force," Bartley said.  "We do have a 90-93 percent success rate with this and we cannot harm the dogs. We cannot cause injury."

For more than a decade, Bartley has also specialized in low-level laser therapy.

"It goes right through a harness," Bartley said.

The treatment is often called cold laser therapy because it doesn't produce heat and that means no discomfort or need for restraints.

"It's about three minutes long unless we're doing a wound healing," Bartley said.

Blue came in for wound healing and pain relief because he couldn't stand or move any of his legs, but after two weeks of treatments, Blue turned a corner.

"He walked in the office and they cried. They were so happy," Sugden said.

Bartley's office is full of pictures and patients with similar stories. After years of trying to help her dog Jack, Laurie Bissell said she was skeptical, but not for long.

"He had constant shaking in this left shoulder, the whole shoulder and leg and no pressure on the leg at all," Bissell said.  "The first treatment he was able to put his leg down. He was able to walk for the first time in 11 years."

Bissell was so convinced she also became a patient. Active Health Chiropractic isn't just for pets.

"I would say it's probably about 50/50 at this point," Bartley said.

That includes the laser therapy. The Food and Drug Administration has approved these same lasers for use on people.

"It's used for wound healing. It's used for plantar fascitis, carpal tunnel, acute and chronic neck pain," Bartley said.

Roberta Sandoval had reason to be skeptical, but she also had a wound that wouldn't heal.

"I had been in and out of the hospital because of infections," she said. "I was kind of like, 'Oh, God, now I'm a dog. What are they going to do to me?' But that first feeling was so good that I didn't care."

Sandoval's s wound finally closed and now she returns for pain relief.

"My doctor is kind of in shock. He didn't believe it would work either," she said.

In recent years, low-level lasers are gaining more acceptance, but not from most health insurance.

"Especially the new insurance.  It doesn't really cover a lot of what I do because it is classified as preventative," Bartley said.

Sessions can cost anywhere from $25 to $75, but most are sold as part of a treatment package. So far, Sugden has spent less than $1,000 and Blue's appointments are now once every two weeks.

"It was going to be at least $3,000 for the MRI, plus like $10,000 for surgery, if it would even help," she said.

She said it's money well spent.

"Every day I wake up and he thumps his tail when I wake up. I'm so happy he's still here. I couldn't be happier," she said.