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Light Therapy in Veterinary Practice: A Conversation With Dr. Richard "Chip" Godine

Dr. Richard "Chip" Godine, DVM, has been a small animal veterinarian for 35 years and currently practices at Ruckersville Animal Hospital near Charlottesville, Virginia.

When Dr. Godine injured his shoulder in 2006, his family doctor encouraged him to try photobiomodulation (PBM), also known as light therapy or phototherapy. He found tremendous pain relief and inflammation reduction from PBM therapy, even though he still required surgery due to the extent of his injury.

Fascinated by the improvements he experienced in his shoulder, Dr. Godine attended a three-day seminar in Toronto about the science of light therapy. While he hadn't yet heard of others using photobiomodulation in veterinary medicine, he felt the principles of light therapy were applicable to animal treatment. So, Dr. Godine purchased equipment and began using PBM therapy in his practice.

Today, Dr. Godine is actively involved in the North American Association of Photobiomodulation Therapy (NAALT) and even served as its president for seven years.

The Glowbie editorial team recently spoke with Dr. Godine, who also serves on our clinical advisory team. The following is a detailed summary of our conversation.

Light Therapy in Clinical Veterinary Practice

Photobiomodulation is a noninvasive technology that can accelerate injury healing, whether musculoskeletal or neurological in nature. Light therapy can reduce inflammation, alleviate pain, and often decrease the need for pharmacological treatments.

Chronic use of medications like NSAIDs or steroids takes its toll on the liver, kidneys, and other body systems. PBM therapy has no such side effects and is also much more affordable.

Since beginning the use of photobiomodulation in his veterinary practice, Dr. Godine has seen dramatic turnarounds in many patients. He frequently applies this treatment for:

  • Chronic kidney disease.
  • Arthritis.
  • Ruptured discs causing paresis or paralysis.
  • Degenerative spinal cord diseases.
  • Degenerative disc disease.
  • Certain cancers.

Light Therapy for Intervertebral Disc Disease

Some of the most incredible results Dr. Godine has experienced in his clinical practice have been in treating intervertebral disc disease (IVDD). He says that IVDD can lead to paralysis in dogs and cats, rendering them unable to use their back legs or control their bladders or bowel movements. Even their ability to sense deep pain goes away.

Typically, the gold standard of treatment for paralysis caused by IVDD has been decompressive surgery, an invasive procedure that removes the disc material compressing the spinal nerve. This surgery, however, is quite expensive, and many pet owners aren't able to afford $5,000 for their pet's back surgery.

As an alternative to surgery, Dr. Godine has treated many animals with light therapy. He estimates that 95% of his treated patients have recovered and can functionally walk again.

Red Light Therapy Helps Dogs Cats Heal

Light Therapy for Dementia

Another striking result came in treating a dog with severe, progressive dementia. Dr. Godine applied phototherapy to the dog's head and was able to completely reverse the disease. He documented the process on film and has shown it at several conferences.

Light Therapy for Nasal Tumors

Dogs with nose tumors can sometimes experience neurological problems. While photobiomodulation may not be able to reverse their disease overall, Dr. Godine has used it to shrink nose tumors, allowing dogs to enjoy their last weeks and months free of neurological deficits.

Light Therapy for Arthritis

Dr. Godine notes that dogs frequently experience elbow, hip, and knee arthritis. He has found that red light therapy can be very helpful in treating arthritis because it decreases swelling in the tissue surrounding the joint capsule and shrinks thickened connective tissue. It also increases blood flow to the joint and decreases lymphatic drainage. All of this helps arthritic dogs to move more comfortably.

Light Therapy for Post-Surgical Wounds

Dr. Godine's practice regularly uses light therapy for surgical patients, as well. They treat every incision with PBM after surgery, and if the procedure is orthopedic in nature, they apply phototherapy before, directly after, and several days after the surgery. Dr. Godine finds it greatly helps with the comfort of the patient and the speed of wound healing.

Light Therapy for Skin Conditions

Although Dr. Godine doesn't regularly use photobiomodulation for many skin conditions in his veterinary practice, he does use it for canine "hot spots," or "acute pyotraumatic dermatitis." These occur when trauma interferes with the skin barrier and allows a staph infection to set in.

In such cases, Dr. Godine uses red light therapy to help decrease hot spot inflammation and itching, calming the tissues in the area of injury.

Red Light Therapy Skin Conditions

The Safety and Effectiveness of Photomedicine

One of the reasons Dr. Godine favors photomedicine is its safety. Many studies have shown this treatment to be almost entirely without side effects.

Some people have concerns that light therapy might cause damage to the eyes, since sustained exposure to lasers can cause retinal damage. But two factors mitigate this potential problem.

First, Dr. Godine notes that retinal damage from a laser takes more than just a passing beam, meaning the laser has to shine into the eye for a prolonged period to cause injury.

Second, while light therapy can use lasers, it can also employ light-emitting diodes (LEDs), which have an excellent safety profile, which is one of the reasons we created the Glowbie crate with LEDs rather than lasers.

Dr. Godine realizes that some veterinarians think cancer should be a contraindication for photobiomodulation. They postulate that because light therapy encourages cells to produce adenosine triphosphate (ATP) for energy, light therapy will stimulate cancer cells similarly and should be discouraged.

Dr. Godine disagrees, however, and believes that PBM is, in fact, helpful in the cases of most cancers. He thinks phototherapy treatments can shrink tumors, decrease inflammation around tumors, and help control pain. He views light therapy as a palliative, though not a curative, treatment for cancers.

The Importance of Photomedicine

Dr. Godine states that when veterinarians use light therapy in small animals according to appropriate protocols, they can expect 90% or more effective outcomes.

He also shares his thoughts on why this therapy can have such broad applications for so many diseases.

With all disease processes, he says, there's an interference with the body's mechanism to heal itself. Light therapy simply stimulates the body's natural healing abilities. As such, it can produce systemic benefits, such as stem cell proliferation, white blood cell stimulation, ATP production, and inflammation reduction. It can also open up lymph nodes and lymphatic channels to reduce edema.

Photobiomodulation can also provide specific benefits to certain areas and organs. Chronic kidney disease, for example, is extremely common in both dogs and cats and is frequently fatal for both. But light therapy applied over the kidneys, as well as the lymph nodes and bone marrow in the area, can result in chronic kidney disease patients living much longer, healthier lives.

In Dr. Godine's patients, he has seen improved appetites, reduced vomiting, diminished levels of uremic toxins in the blood, and increased energy and life expectancy.

Vets Believe Red Light Therapy Safe Dogs Cats

Trends in Light Therapy

Dr. Godine has seen a sharp increase in the number of veterinary practices that use light therapy, increasing especially rapidly from about 2010. Now, over half the practices just in his area offer this groundbreaking modality to their patients.

Light therapy textbooks are now available, and veterinary schools are beginning to teach courses on photomedicine. While it's not a major focus in veterinary training, newer graduates will be aware of the treatment as they start their careers.

Why Dr. Godine is Excited About the Glowbie Crate

Dr. Godine is especially excited about the release of the Glowbie crate for two reasons. First, he's happy with the product's excellent safety profile. Second, he's excited about the opportunities it provides for in-home care.

Dr. Godine believes photobiomodulation could be even more effective if performed more frequently. A full-body, home-use device like the Glowbie crate removes the barrier of having to load pets into a car for an in-clinic visit every time they need treatment.

Dr. Godine likes that the Glowbie crate provides light therapy to a pet's entire body to stimulate whole-body, systemic effects. White blood cells, the lymphatic system, stem cells, bone marrow, and more all stand to benefit. He also believes the Glowbie crate could be very beneficial to animals with stiff, arthritic joints, as well as to animals experiencing organ failure, especially of the kidneys and possibly the liver.

Glowbie would like to thank Dr. Godine both for speaking with us and for his work in forwarding the use of photobiomodulation in the veterinary world.

We're so happy to have him on our clinical advisory team helping to facilitate this cutting-edge therapy for pet owners.