Red light therapy is a simple, noninvasive treatment for pets that is widely used by veterinarians and pet owners. What is red light therapy used for? In this article we’ll explain the animal health benefits of red light therapy, like pain relief, reduced inflammation, increased mobility, and longevity.
What is Red Light Therapy and How Does it Work?
Red light therapy is the practice of delivering wavelengths of red and near infrared (NIR) light to the skin and cells of animals to improve their health. If you’re new to red light for pets, this article gives a good primer on everything you need to know. Red light treatments are quick, simple, and well-tolerated by pets. Veterinarians have been using various forms of red light therapy since the 1990s, but it has become far more common in the last decade, with roughly 20% of clinics using some type of red light treatments. [1,2]
Many vets use low-level laser devices to shine red and NIR light on animals. With recent advancements in LED technology, pet owners are also able to treat animals at home with LED-based red light therapy crates from Glowbie. This has made red light therapy more affordable and accessible for pet owners in recent years.
Red light therapy works for animals because it helps their bodies produce more energy. Specifically, red light is absorbed in the mitochondria, where it helps pets make more adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the crucial energy that all mammals need to power themselves and their immune systems. Red and NIR light also helps reduce oxidative stress and inflammation and improve blood flow. [3,4] You can learn more about how red light therapy works here.
Health Benefits of Red Light Therapy for Pets
Red light therapy is one of the fastest growing treatments used by veterinarians in the U.S.  Vets use red and NIR light to treat pets for a wide variety of conditions and benefits, from acute injuries to chronic conditions. The three major benefit categories of red light therapy for pets are as follows:
- Healing and recovering from acute injuries: Vets use red light therapy to help pets heal from acute injuries, wounds, and surgeries with less pain, inflammation, and need for drugs. 
- Treating chronic conditions like arthritis: Red light therapy is a popular arthritis and chronic pain treatment for pets that improves mobility and overall bodily function. 
- General wellness and longevity: Vets and pet owners also treat animals proactively to improve energy, mood, sleep, longevity, and skin issues.
Below, we break down each of these benefit categories and examine the clinical research on pet health and red light therapy.
Red Light Therapy Helps Pets Heal and Recover from Acute Injuries and Strain
Red light therapy has become a popular modality in animal rehabilitation settings where it is used for pain and inflammation reduction, wound care, and the healing of acute injuries like fractures and soft tissue damage.  Animal rehab professionals use red light treatments because they help pets heal from injuries faster with less pain and swelling along the way.
If your pet is struggling with an injury or facing a surgical procedure, at-home red light therapy is a great way to help them recover in comfort, with a reduced need for pain medication. One peer-reviewed study looked at red light therapy as a pain relief method for cats with acute injuries.  Researchers demonstrated that red and NIR light had a significant analgesic effect, reducing pain experienced by cats and improving healing outcomes for their injuries. 
Research Shows Animals Heal from Injuries Faster with Red Light Therapy
Red light therapy is a safe, effective treatment for wounds and soft tissue injuries in pets. Clinical research on red light and animal health has shown that cats, dogs, horses, and exotic pets all respond well to red light treatments with improved recovery outcomes. A recent clinical review of treatments for exotic pets singled out red light therapy as a significant technological advance for wound healing and wound management.  More and more vets are using red and NIR light because it helps pets heal faster from surgeries with less pain.
A recent study on horses looked at whether red light therapy treatments could improve the healing and recovery of tendon and ligament injuries.  Compared to the control group, horses treated with red light showed significant improvements in pain levels with far less swelling and lameness. This prompted researchers to conclude that red light therapy reduces pain and improves healing for horses with acute injuries.  A separate study on horse lameness also found that red light therapy treatments improved ligament conditions, helpinginjured horses return to sporting activities sooner and with less pain. 
Improving Post-Surgery Recovery for Pets with Red Light Therapy
Red light therapy has shown great effectiveness for pets recovering from surgery. Vets use red light treatments after surgery to reduce swelling and inflammation around incisions and decrease post-surgical pain. Red light treatments used in the days and weeks after a surgery can also help a pet recover and gain back their mobility faster.
- Walking again sooner after surgery: In 2012, a prospective study examined 36 dogs that underwent spinal surgery for intervertebral disk herniation.  One group of dogs was treated with red light therapy for five days after surgery, while the control group did not receive any treatments. Researchers concluded that the dogs treated with red light therapy were able to walk again sooner, and with less pain, than the dogs that received no red light treatments. 
- Faster healing with red light: Researchers at Mississippi State University recently performed a novel study on dachshund dogs to determine if red light therapy helps animals heal faster after surgery.  The veterinary researchers showed that the incision scars on the dachshunds healed significantly faster after red light treatments versus a control group. Researchers recommended red light therapy as a low-risk strategy for helping pets heal from wounds and scars after medical procedures. 
Red Light for Pain Relief and Improved Mobility for Chronic Conditions Like Arthritis
As animals age, they often develop mobility limitations and pain from chronic conditions like arthritis and spinal degeneration. Red light therapy is used by vets and pet owners to help their animals age more gracefully with less pain. One of the most well-established benefits of red light therapy is a significant anti-inflammatory effect.  Treatments are also known to improve blood flow, helping to repair damaged tissues and minimize mobility limitations. [3,4] With regular red light treatments, older animals can live a higher quality of life, even with chronic conditions.
Red Light Therapy for Pets with Arthritis
Osteoarthritis is a degenerative joint disease characterized by pain, inflammation, and gradually reduced function and mobility. Arthritis is common among all types of pets as they age, but it is especially common among dogs due to how much they run and jump.  Today, about 25% of all dogs in the U.S. are diagnosed with some form of arthritis. 
Red light therapy is a popular pet arthritis treatment that helps animals feel less pain and stiffness. In a recent survey, 43% of vets said they were using red light therapy for canine arthritis patients.  The clinical research supports this.
A 2020 study analyzed red light therapy for dogs with arthritis-related pain.  The dogs were treated with red and NIR light for 6 weeks, with most of them experiencing pain relief almost immediately. Pain levels were “significantly reduced” after just one treatment with red light. The dogs also showed rapid improvements in their mobility after their first red light treatments. 
Red Light Helps Dogs Feel Less Pain and Require Fewer Drugs
Thanks to these improvements, the vets running the aforementioned study were able to reduce the pain medication doses for 76% of the dogs.  In this trial, using noninvasive red light treatments was a far more effective arthritis pain reliever than using drugs. The researchers concluded that red light can improve the quality of life for dogs with arthritis and chronic pain. 
A 2018 study examined dogs with elbow arthritis, comparing a cohort treated with red light therapy to a control group.  After six weeks of elbow treatments, the dogs in the red light therapy group showed significant improvements in pain and less dependence on drugs. Dogs whose elbow arthritis was treated with red light therapy showed greater mobility and reduced lameness compared to the control group. Dogs treated with red light for elbow arthritis also showed reduced pain scores, with 82% able to decrease their doses of painkiller drugs. 
General Health and Wellness Benefits of Red Light Therapy
Red light therapy is also used proactively by pet owners and vets for general health and wellness benefits like energy, mood, sleep, mobility, and longevity. The core mechanism of red light therapy - enhanced ATP energy production - can produce a wide range of systemic health benefits for pets that use it consistently. Most pets enjoy basking in the light of a treatment, with many pet owners reporting acute boosts in energy, mood, and interest in play after a red light session.
More and more vets are recommending preventive red light therapy treatments to help animals age gracefully and live longer with better mobility. One specific area where treatments are showing promise is with skin and hair issues that plague many breeds of dogs.
Improving Pet Skin and Hair Issues with Red Light Therapy
Red light therapy has shown great results for pet skin concerns, like the healing of blemishes and scars. In the aforementioned study on dachshund dogs, researchers noted that with red light treatments, the dogs’ skin showed significantly improved cosmetic appearance in the weeks after surgery. 
Many breeds of dog experience problems with skin and inflammation issues around their paws, especially short-coated dogs like English bulldogs, dachshunds, Great Danes, and boxers. 
In a 2016 study, researchers examined dogs with pododermatitis who did red light therapy treatments. Researchers found that the dogs treated with red light showed significantly better healing than non-treated dogs between the 4th and 20th days after a lesion developed. They also found that over 50% of the dogs who received red light therapy for their pododermatitis did not experience any recurrence of lesions, and there were no adverse side effects reported. 
Red Light Therapy is Safe with Few Side Effects
In addition to all the health benefits mentioned above, one of the biggest advantages of red light therapy is that it is simple, safe, and low-risk with few, if any, side effects. In study after study, animals tolerate red light treatments well with no adverse effects; however, a few risks and precautions exist that pet owners should take with their companion animals.
Animals with specific light and photosensitivity issues should not use red light therapy. It is not recommended to treat animals that experience seizures. It is also generally recommended to avoid direct red light therapy exposure with pregnant mammals. For animals with active cancers or specific medical conditions, it is best to consult a trusted veterinary provider before use. You can read more about red light therapy safety here.
Conclusion: Red Light Therapy is a Safe and Clinically-Proven Modality for Pets with Numerous Health Benefits
Red light therapy is a safe, effective treatment for pets that provides a wide range of health benefits. Vets and pet owners use red light therapy to help animals heal from injuries and surgeries. Red light is an effective treatment for chronic pet conditions like arthritis, helping older animals with pain, inflammation, and mobility. It is also used for general wellness benefits like improvements in energy, mood, sleep, and hair and skin issues.
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