Red light therapy is one of the fastest growing treatments used by veterinarians today.  It is also a safe, noninvasive, and simple treatment to do at home with your pet. But how does red light therapy actually work in pets? In this article, we’ll break down the science and research and explain how red light therapy works for animals like dogs, cats, and other mammals.
What is Red Light Therapy and How do Dogs and Cats Use it?
Red light therapy is the practice of delivering concentrated wavelengths of red and near infrared (NIR) light to the skin and cells of animals to improve their health. Red light therapy 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] Check out this article for a complete primer on red light therapy for pets.
Red light therapy is widely used in animal rehabilitation settings for pain relief, inflammation reduction, and wound healing.  It is also used by vets for arthritis treatment and post-surgical recovery.  Many veterinary professionals use low-level laser devices to deliver red and NIR light on animals. Previously, only vets had access to this type of light therapy technology. Thanks to light emitting diode (LED) engineering advances, pet owners today are also able to treat animals at home with Glowbie’s red light therapy crates.
How Does Red Light Therapy Work in Dogs and Cats?
Red light treatments are used by thousands of practicing veterinarians, and red light therapy for pets is backed by a body of peer-reviewed clinical research. The treatments are quick, simple, and well-tolerated by pets like dogs and cats. With a Glowbie crate, a veterinary-grade panel of LEDs integrated within the crate delivers an optimized dose of red and NIR wavelengths to your pet. We recommend treatments of 15-20 minutes approximately three times per week.
In simplest terms, red light therapy works by enhancing an animal’s energy-making capabilities at the cellular level. Mammals of all sizes need to take in food, water, and oxygen to produce energy and power their bodies. All mammals do this through the cellular respiration process, which produces adenosine triphosphate (ATP) energy in the cells. Delivering red and NIR light to an animal helps improve their ATP production at the cellular level. This can produce a wide array of systemic health benefits like pain and inflammation relief and improved healing and mobility.
Red Light Therapy Works by Helping Animals Make More Cellular Energy
When therapeutic red and NIR light is shined on a dog or cat (or any other mammal), those wavelengths are absorbed by the mitochondria, the powerhouses of the cells. Red light therapy exposure can increase the number of mitochondria in a mammal’s cells  and also improve cellular function.  Photons of light also stimulate the electrons in the mitochondria, helping to eliminate excess nitric oxide (NO) that can slow down the cellular respiration process. This ultimately helps an animal produce more ATP energy to power the body and enhance its healing. 
Red Light Treatments Help Animals Produce More Skin Cells, Bone Cells, and Collagen
Red light treatments are effective treatments for pet injuries and wounds because they stimulate an animal’s body to produce the key building blocks of healing. Wavelengths of red and NIR light prompt an animal’s body to produce growth factors involved in the formation of new skin cells, fibroblasts, and collagen.  Red light therapy treatments have also been shown to increase the total number of osteocytes, crucial bone cells needed to recover from fractures and other trauma. 
Red Light Therapy Works by Reducing Inflammation and Improving Blood Flow in Animals
Another reason red light therapy treatments are effective for pets is their anti-inflammatory effect. Clinical research on red and NIR light has shown that treatments can help to reduce oxidative stress and lower inflammation. [7,8] Chronic inflammation and pain are two of the most common veterinary concerns, especially for older animals. Many vets are using red light therapy to treat arthritis and inflammation because of its demonstrated anti-inflammatory effects.  Red light therapy treatments have also been shown to improve blood flow, which is critical for injury healing and recovery. [7,9]
What are the Health Benefits of Red Light Therapy for Pets?
Pet owners and veterinary professionals 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 include:
- 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.  Check out this article to learn more about red light for animal healing and recovery.
- 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.  This article gives a dedicated look at red light therapy for pet arthritis and chronic pain.
- General wellness and longevity benefits: Vets and pet owners also treat animals proactively to improve energy, mood, sleep, longevity, and skin issues.
This article gives a more detailed look at all of the health benefits of red light therapy for pets and the clinical research that supports it.
Is Red Light Therapy Safe for Pets?
Red light therapy is a safe, low-risk treatment option for pets. Numerous peer-reviewed studies and trials have demonstrated that animals tolerate red light therapy treatments well with few side effects. A review of red light therapy used for chronic joint disorders concluded that treatments are “drug free and relatively side-effect free and seem to work where pharmaceuticals do not.” 
Products like Glowbie crates that deliver veterinary-grade wavelengths of red and NIR light are especially well-tolerated and present minimal risks to pets. As with any treatment option, however, pet owners should consider a few precautions before choosing red light therapy. Animals with specific light and photosensitivity issues should not use red light therapy. It is not recommended to treat animals that experience seizures. For animals with active cancers, it’s best to discuss with a trusted veterinary provider before use.
Conclusion: Red Light Therapy Works by Helping Pets Make Energy
Red light therapy is a safe, effective treatment for pets that is widely used by veterinarians.  Thanks to recent advances in LED technology, pet owners are now able to treat their animals at home with Glowbie crates.
Red light therapy treatments work at a cellular level, stimulating an animal’s mitochondria to produce ATP energy more efficiently. Red light therapy also reduces inflammation and oxidative stress and helps to improve blood flow. When an animal has less inflammation and produces more energy, a wide range of systemic health benefits are possible. Common animal health benefits of red light therapy include pain reduction, improved injury healing, greater mobility with conditions like arthritis, and improved aging and longevity.
 Godine RL. Low level laser therapy (LLLT) in veterinary medicine. Photomed Laser Surg. 2014 Jan;32(1):1-2.
 Pryor B, Millis DL. Therapeutic laser in veterinary medicine. Vet Clin North Am Small Anim Pract. 2015 Jan;45(1):45-56.
 Gross DM. Introduction to therapeutic lasers in a rehabilitation setting. Top Companion Anim Med. 2014 Jun;29(2):49-53.
 Karu T. Primary and Secondary Mechanisms of Action of Visible to Near-IR Radiation on Cells. Journal of Photochemistry Photobiology. 1999 Mar.
 Ferraresi C, Kaippert B, et al. Low-level Laser (Light) Therapy Increases Mitochondrial Membrane Potential and ATP Synthesis in C2C12 Myotubes with a Peak Response at 3-6 h. Photochemistry and Photobiology. 2015 Mar.
 Escudero JSB, Perez MGB, de Oliveira Rosso MP, Buchaim DV, Pomini KT, Campos LMG, Audi M, Buchaim RL. Photobiomodulation therapy (PBMT) in bone repair: A systematic review. Injury. 2019 Nov;50(11):1853-1867.
 Hamblin M. Mechanisms and applications of the anti-inflammatory effects of photobiomodulation. AIMS Biophysics. 2017 May.
 Servetto N, Cremonezzi D, et al. Evaluation of inflammatory biomarkers associated with oxidative stress and histological assessment of low-level laser therapy in experimental myopathy. Lasers in Surgery and Medicine. 2010 Aug
 Mak MC, Cheing GL. Immediate effects of monochromatic infrared energy on microcirculation in healthy subjects. Photomed Laser Surg. 2012.
 Bjordal, J.M., et al., A systematic review of low level laser therapy with location-specific doses for pain from chronic joint disorders. Aust J Physiother, 2003.