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Red Light Therapy for Chronic Pet Conditions Like Arthritis and Myelopathy

Most pets start to experience chronic conditions like arthritis and degenerative myelopathy as they age. In this article, we’ll explain what pet arthritis and myelopathy are, why they happen, and how they are treated. We’ll also look at the clinical research on red light therapy, a noninvasive pet arthritis and spinal degeneration treatment that is widely used by veterinarians and pet owners.

What is Osteoarthritis and Why do Pets Get Arthritis?

Osteoarthritis is a degenerative joint disease that leads to pain, inflammation, and gradually reduced function and mobility. In pets, the disease is characterized by a gradual degeneration of the cartilage and soft tissue around the joints caused by continuous use and wear over an animal’s lifetime. The arthritis process limits the ability of the cartilage to repair damaged joints, resulting in a loss of  elasticity. As cartilage continues to break down over time, it causes friction between the bones in a joint, which causes chronic inflammation, thickening of soft tissues, and loss of joint mobility. [1]

The disease progresses slowly over the course of a pet’s life and worsens in old age. There is no cure for arthritis, but symptoms can be managed through treatments, exercises, and medications. Early diagnosis helps prevent damage and improves long-term outcomes for treated animals.

Symptoms of Arthritis in Pets

Arthritis is a gradual process of joint malfunction and chronic inflammation. These are the most common symptoms pets experience when they have arthritis:

  • Chronic inflammation 
  • Stiffness and swelling of joints
  • Chronic joint pain and soreness
  • Decreased mobility and function
  • Low energy and disinterest in activities
  • Lameness [1]
    Arthritis Common Dogs Red Light Therapy Treatments

    How Common is Arthritis in Pets?

    Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis in humans and in dogs. [1] It is common among all types of pets, but it is most prevalent in dogs, who spend a lifetime running, jumping, and using their joints. [1] Today, about 25% of all dogs in the U.S. are diagnosed with some form of arthritis. [1] Most active dogs will develop some form of arthritis as they age, as will many cats, horses, and other pets.

    Arthritis Treatments for Dogs and Cats

    There is no cure for arthritis, but numerous treatments are available to help animals feel less pain from the disease and maintain their mobility as long as possible. The goal of arthritis treatments is generally to minimize joint pain by reducing inflammation and slowing the progression of cartilage degeneration as a pet ages.

    The two main options for pets and their owners are therapies and medications. Below are some of the most commonly used treatments by veterinarians and pet owners:

    Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) medications for pet arthritis: Many animals are prescribed painkillers to limit the daily toll of the disease. These drugs do not address the underlying issues behind arthritis, they merely treat the side effects of pain and inflammation. NSAIDs come with risks for pets, however, like gastrointestinal problems including ulcers, vomiting, and abdominal pain. [2] Seven types of NSAIDs are commonly prescribed by vets for arthritis symptoms: acetylsalicylic acid, carprofen, deracoxib, etodolac, meloxicam, tepoxalin, and firocoxib. [1,2]

    Corticosteroids for pet arthritis: Some vets prescribe steroids to help reduce pain and inflammation associated with arthritis. They are highly effective at limiting pain, but prolonged use can cause numerous side effects. These include oral soreness, weight gains, osteoporosis, high blood sugar, cataracts, insomnia, and ulcers. Withdrawal from corticosteroids can also cause pets to become fatigued and have fevers. [3]

    Other Treatments for Arthritis in Pets

    In addition to NSAIDs and steroids, a wide range of other methods are used to help animals live with arthritis. These include the following pet arthritis treatments:

    • Insulin growth factor
    • Oral doxycycline
    • Sodium pentosan polysulfate
    • Glucosamine
    • Stem cell therapy  [1]

    Weight Management Helps Ward Off Pet Arthritis Symptoms

    Diet and exercise can play a major role in a pet’s quality of life with arthritis. Osteoarthritis is more common among obese cats and dogs; weight control programs and dietary changes can make a big difference by decreasing the mechanical stress on the animal’s joints. [4] Incorporating weight loss strategies into pet arthritis treatments has been shown to reduce the need for pain medications. [4] Low-impact exercises like walking or swimming can help dogs strengthen their joints and maintain their range of motion as they age.

    Vets Use Red Light Therapy Dog Cat Arthritis

    Red Light Therapy is a Safe, Effective Treatment for Dog and Cat Arthritis

    A recent veterinary survey found that 43% of vets report using red light therapy for canine arthritis patients. [5] Vets use red light therapy because it is a quick, simple treatment that is safe, noninvasive, and well-tolerated by pets. In peer-reviewed clinical research and veterinary practice around the world, red light therapy shows positive results for pain and inflammation relief, improved mobility, and increased energy in dogs, cats, and other pets.

    What is Red Light Therapy and How Does it Work for Pets?

    Red light therapy is the practice of delivering wavelengths of red and near infrared (NIR) light on animals to improve their health. If you’re new to red light therapy, you can start with this intro post that covers everything you need to know for 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. [6,7] Treating chronic conditions like arthritis is one of the most common uses for red light therapy.

    Red light therapy is a safe, low-risk treatment that works for animals by helping their bodies produce energy and regenerate cells more efficiently. 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 improves blood flow in small mammals. [8]

    You can learn more about how red light therapy works here.

    Many professionals use low-level laser devices to shine red and NIR light on animals. Previously, only vets had access to light therapy for animals. Today, thanks to advances in LED technology, pet owners are also able to treat animals at home with LED-based red light therapy crates from Glowbie. This allows dogs and cats and other pets to benefit from red light therapy in the comfort of home, without the stressful vet visits.

    Clinical Research Shows Red Light Therapy Relieves Pain and Improves Mobility for Pets with Arthritis

    A 2020 study analyzed dogs with osteoarthritis and arthritis-related pain and inflammation. [9] The dogs were given red light therapy treatments for six weeks and evaluated for pain and function. A majority of the dogs treated with red light experienced “significantly reduced” pain after just one treatment. The dogs also showed rapid improvements in their mobility after their first red light treatments. [9]

    Research Red Light Therapy Improve Pet Mobility

    Red Light Therapy Helps Dogs Take Less Pain Medication

    The veterinary researchers running the above study were able to reduce the pain medication doses for 76% of the dogs after just two weeks. The contrast in this study was quite clear: red light therapy was more effective at relieving dogs’ arthritis pain than NSAID painkiller medications. The researchers concluded that red light can improve the quality of life for dogs with arthritis and chronic pain. [9] 

    A 2018 study examined dogs with elbow arthritis. [10] After six weeks of elbow treatments, the dogs in the red light therapy group showed significant improvements in pain and dependence on drugs. The dogs treated with red light also showed marked improvements in mobility and physical function, with significantly reduced lameness compared to the control group. Dogs whose elbow arthritis was treated with red light therapy also showed reduced pain scores, with 82% able to reduce their doses of painkiller drugs. [10]

    See all the pet health benefits of red light therapy on this page.

    Red Light Therapy for Spinal Pain and Managing Degenerative Myelopathy

    In addition to arthritis, many companion animals experience chronic spinal degeneration as they age. This is often caused by degenerative myelopathy, a progressive disease of the spinal cord in older dogs and animals that manifests between about 8 and 14 years of age. It is associated with a loss of coordination in the hind limbs, causing unsteady walking that progresses to difficulty standing and eventually paralysis. Unlike arthritis, degenerative myelopathy is not characterized by frequent pain and inflammation. 

    Veterinarians are using red light therapy to treat spinal pain and spinal degeneration in pets. [11] In a recently published study, dogs treated with red light showed significantly slower degenerative myelopathy disease progression and overall longer survival times. [11] This initial research is breeding optimism among vets and pet owners that a noninvasive tool like red light therapy can help dogs and other animals with degenerative myelopathy maintain a higher quality of life for longer.

    Proven Research Health Benefits Red Light Therapy Dogs Cats

    Conclusion: Red Light Therapy is a Safe, Effective Treatment for Pet Arthritis and Spinal Pain

    Arthritis and spinal degeneration are common chronic conditions in pets like dogs and cats. Veterinarians and pet owners widely use red light therapy to treat such conditions using Glowbie red light therapy kennels. In clinical research, red light therapy demonstrates that it can help pets minimize the chronic pain and inflammation that comes with aging and arthritis. This helps animals take fewer medications and maintain mobility and range of motion so they can age gracefully and live longer, more active lives.

    Did you know red light therapy is also used by vets as a treatment for acute injuries, wounds, and pain? Check out this post to learn more about the healing and recovery benefits of red light therapy for pets. Or check out this post for answers to FAQs about red light and pet health.


    [1] Bland, Stephanie. Canine osteoarthritis and treatments: a review. Veterinary Science Development. 2015, July 17.

    [2]  Lin H, Shin F, Hou, et al. Digital imaging measuring of hip joint range of motion in dogs. Taiwan Veterinary Journal. 39: 110-8, 2013. 

    [3] Fields, T. Steroid side effects: how to reduce corticosteroid side effects. Hospital for Special Surgery Journal: 2009.

    [4] Suszynski M. Understanding primary and secondary osteoarthritis. 2014.

    [5] Barger BK, Bisges AM, Fox DB, Torres B. Low-Level Laser Therapy for Osteoarthritis Treatment in Dogs at Missouri Veterinary Practice. J Am Anim Hosp Assoc. 2020 May/Jun;56(3):139-145.

    [6] Godine RL. Low level laser therapy (LLLT) in veterinary medicine. Photomed Laser Surg. 2014 Jan;32(1):1-2.

    [7] Pryor B, Millis DL. Therapeutic laser in veterinary medicine. Vet Clin North Am Small Anim Pract. 2015 Jan;45(1):45-56. 

    [8] Hamblin M. Mechanisms and applications of the anti-inflammatory effects of photobiomodulation. AIMS Biophysics. 2017 May.

    [9] Barale L, Monticelli P, Raviola M, Adami C. Preliminary clinical experience of low-level laser therapy for the treatment of canine osteoarthritis-associated pain: A retrospective investigation on 17 dogs. Open Vet J. 2020 Apr

    [10] Looney AL, Huntingford JL, Blaeser LL, Mann S. A randomized blind placebo-controlled trial investigating the effects of photobiomodulation therapy (PBMT) on canine elbow osteoarthritis. Can Vet J. 2018 Sep;59(9):959-966.

    [11] Gross DM. Introduction to therapeutic lasers in a rehabilitation setting. Top Companion Anim Med. 2014 Jun;29(2):49-53.