Red light therapy is a simple, noninvasive treatment for pets that is widely used by veterinarians to treat everything from acute pet injuries to chronic conditions like arthritis. In this article, we will explain everything you need to know about red light therapy for pets, answering questions like:
- What is red light therapy, and how is it used for animals?
- What are the health benefits of red light therapy for animals?
- How do you use red light therapy with your pet at home?
- Is red light therapy safe for pets?
What is Red Light Therapy and How is it Used for Animals?
Red light therapy is the practice of shining therapeutic red and near infrared (NIR) light on animals to improve their health and wellness. Red light therapy is noninvasive, chemical-free, and safe for pets with very few known risks of side effects. Other terms for red light therapy include photobiomodulation (PBM) and low-level laser therapy (LLLT).
Red light therapy has been studied and tested in hundreds of peer-reviewed clinical trials. In the last decade, red light therapy has become a popular treatment among veterinarians.  It is frequently used in animal rehabilitation settings for pain and inflammation reduction as well as wound care and healing.  It is also widely used by vets for arthritis treatment, pain relief, and injury healing. 
Many veterinarians still use low-level lasers to deliver red light therapy, but thanks to advances in LED technology, red light therapy crates like Glowbie are available that people can use with their pets at home. A Glowbie crate uses light emitting diode (LED) lights that deliver wavelengths of red light in the 660nm range and wavelengths of NIR light in the 850nm range. Most pets love using Glowbie, and with just a few sessions a week, you may see improvements in pet health such as increased energy and mobility and reduced pain and inflammation.
When and How was Red Light Therapy First Used for Animals?
Red light therapy was first used clinically with animals in the 1960s. In 1967, Dr. Endre Mester demonstrated that light therapy treatments can have beneficial effects for animals.  Dr. Mester observed that mice treated with wavelengths of red light grew new hair at a faster rate than untreated animals. Among animal owners, horse trainers were among the early adopters of red light therapy techniques, using red and NIR light to help horses recover from tendon and ligament injuries. 
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 PBM treatments. [1,4] To standardize red light therapy practice, professional organizations are now publishing guidelines for effective red light therapy treatments for dogs and cats. Today, red light therapy is one of the fastest growing treatment modalities in American veterinary practice. 
How does Red Light Therapy Work for Pets?
In simplest terms, red light therapy works for pets by helping animals make energy and regenerate tissues more efficiently at the cellular level. Mammals of all sizes need to take in food, water, oxygen, and light to produce energy and power their bodies. All mammals do this through the cellular respiration process, which creates adenosine triphosphate (ATP) energy.
When an animal is exposed to red and NIR light, those wavelengths are absorbed by the mitochondria in an animal’s cells. Red light therapy exposure can increase the number of mitochondria in a mammal’s cells  and also improve their function. [6,7] Photons of red light stimulate electrons in the mitochondria, helping to eliminate harmful nitric oxide (NO) that slows down the cellular respiration process. This ultimately helps an animal produce more ATP energy to power the body and its healing processes. [6,7]
Recent studies have shown that red light treatments also improve blood flow  and have positive effects on an animal’s inflammatory and immune response.  Red light is effective for pet injuries and wounds because it stimulates an animal’s body to produce more of the key building blocks of healing. Wavelengths of red and NIR light help a pet heal by prompting 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. 
You can read more about the science behind red light therapy for pets here.
What Types of Animals Use Red Light Therapy?
Red light therapy is beneficial for a wide variety of mammals, from humans to companion animals like dogs and cats. Mammals have very similar cellular respiration processes so red light therapy has similar effects on ATP energy production. Veterinarians most commonly use red light therapy on pets like dogs and cats, but light treatments have also been used on various rodents, ferrets, pigs, horses, and others. If you’re curious about treating your animal with red light therapy for a specific condition, check with a trusted veterinary health professional.
What are the Health Benefits of Red Light Therapy for Pets?
Veterinarians and pet owners use red light therapy to relieve pain and inflammation, heal injuries, and treat chronic conditions like arthritis.  Red light therapy can also be used proactively to help enhance an animal’s skin health and general well-being. Below, we break down the health benefits of red light therapy for animals and summarize the peer-reviewed clinical research. For a more in-depth look at the science and research behind these benefits, check out this article.
Healing and Recovering from Injuries, Wounds, and Surgeries
Red light therapy is widely used to help animals heal and recover from injuries and trauma in animal rehab settings.  In one of the earliest controlled trials among companion pets in 2012, a prospective study analyzed 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 was not treated post-surgery. Researchers concluded that the dogs treated with red light therapy were able to walk again after surgery faster and with less pain than the dogs that did not receive red light treatments.
Improved Post-Surgery Recovery for Dogs
Veterinary researchers at Mississippi State University performed a study on dachshund dogs to assess if red light therapy helped them heal faster after surgery.  The team demonstrated that the incision scars on dachshunds healed significantly faster after red light treatments. Their surveys also showed that the dogs’ skin showed significantly improved cosmetic appearance in the weeks after surgery.
Healing from Tendon and Ligament Injuries
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 led to the conclusion that red light therapy reduces pain and improves healing for horses with acute injuries. A separate 2019 study on horse lameness also found that red light therapy treatments improved ligament conditions, and it helped injured horses return to sporting activities sooner and with less pain. 
Reducing a Pet’s Pain and Need for Pain Medication
Veterinarians use red light therapy treatments as a drug-free pain relief tool.  One peer-reviewed study looked at red light therapy as a pain relief method for cats with tongue and mouth injuries.  Researchers found that red and NIR light can have an analgesic effect, reducing the pain experienced by cats with injuries.
A 2018 study examining dogs with elbow arthritis determined that the dogs treated with red light therapy showed reduced pain scores, with 82% able to reduce their doses of pain-relieving medications.  In a similar 2020 study on dogs with osteoarthritis and arthritis-related pain, dogs were given red light therapy treatments for six weeks.  The veterinary researchers were able to reduce the pain medication doses for 76% of the dogs after just two weeks. The results of these studies were quite clear: red light therapy was more effective than medication alone at relieving dogs’ arthritis pain. The researchers concluded that red light can improve the quality of life for dogs with chronic pain associated with arthritis.
Learn more about how red light therapy helps pets heal from wounds and injuries.
Chronic Conditions Like Osteoarthritis and Arthritis Pain
One of the most common and effective uses for red light therapy is treating aging pets with osteoarthritis and joint pain. A recent survey of American veterinarians found that 43% of vets are using red light therapy for canine arthritis patients.  This percentage is likely to grow as more pet owners and vets become aware of the benefits of red light treatments for older dogs and cats with arthritis and joint concerns.
A previously mentioned 2018 study examined dogs with elbow arthritis, comparing a group treated with red light therapy to an untreated 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 pain-relieving medications. Dogs whose elbow arthritis was treated with red light therapy showed greater mobility and reduced lameness compared to the control group. Similarly, a 2020 study examined dogs with osteoarthritis and arthritis-related pain and inflammation.  Researchers administered red light therapy treatments for six weeks, and the dogs were 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.
Read more about red light therapy as a pet arthritis and chronic pain treatment here.
Treating Dog Skin Issues
Many breeds of dogs experience recurrent skin and inflammation issues around the paws, especially smooth, short-coated dogs like English bulldogs, dachshunds, Great Danes, and boxers.  In a 2016 study, researchers looked at dogs with pododermatitis issues and assessed whether red light therapy treatments could help heal the skin lesions. They discovered 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 no adverse side effects were reported. 
Healthier Dogs and Cats with Proactive Red Light Therapy
More vets and pet owners are using red light therapy proactively with animals to improve general health and wellness. Potential benefits for animals regularly using red light therapy include: healthier bones and joints, better sleep, stronger cognitive health, and improved skin and coat.
Are Leading Veterinarians Using Red Light Therapy to Enhance Animal Health?
Veterinary medicine has embraced red light therapy as a safe, effective, and simple way to enhance the health of companion animals.  Today, veterinary health professionals are using both low-level lasers and LED-based red lights as treatments for acute injuries, as a therapy for chronic conditions, and as a proactive health and wellness aid.
Check out how Dr. Ronald Hirschberg uses red light therapy in his practice.
You can also see why Dr. Chip Godine relies on his red light therapy for his clients, too.
How to Use Red Light Therapy with Your Pet at Home?
Veterinarians treating animals with red light therapy predominantly use low-level laser devices that are designed specifically for clinical use. These are large, expensive devices that are inaccessible to most pet owners. Today, thanks to advances in LED technology, pet owners can treat animals at home with a Glowbie crate. These red light therapy crates fit into your home and allow you to treat your pet consistently, 3-4 times per week, for optimal health results. Consistent use is a major factor in how effective red light therapy will be for an animal.
Is Red Tight Therapy Safe for Pets?
Yes, red light therapy is a safe, low-risk treatment 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.” 
Devices like Glowbie kennels that use LEDs to deliver light are especially well-tolerated and present minimal risks. 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 while pregnant. For animals with active cancers, it’s best to discuss with a trusted veterinarian provider before use.
Conclusion: Red Light Therapy is a Safe, Effective Treatment for Pets
Red light therapy is a safe, effective treatment for pets widely used by veterinarians and studied by clinical researchers. Red light therapy can help animals reduce pain and inflammation as well as improve healing after injuries and surgeries. It is also an effective treatment for chronic conditions like arthritis. The Glowbie crate is the first at-home red light therapy product available to pets and pet owners.
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