We have been using the carbon dioxide laser at the Long Beach Animal Hospital for almost 20 years. We are one of only a handful of animal hospitals in California that have this capability. It is a highly advanced and technical piece of equipment that we never dreamed about having while we were training to be veterinarians. Its one of the ways we offer state-of-the-art care at Long Beach Animal Hospital.
Dr. Ridgeway is using the laser on a guinea pig for eye surgery. He is using magnifying glasses due to the small size of his patient. Small patients cannot tolerate blood loss, so the laser has been a tremendous tool for surgery in animals that only have a few drops of blood in them to begin with.
Here he is teaching one of our externs on the use of laser in a tortoise. Veterinary students do not get exposed to the laser routinely while in veterinary school, which is one of the reasons they do an externship at our hospital. Our goal is to impart all of our knowledge to them as they start their careers.
A carbon dioxide laser emits a high energy beam of infrared (invisible to the human eye) radiation in the form of light waves that has many veterinary applications. If you would like to learn more about the mechanics of lasers in general, including safety procedures, how they work, and why we use the carbon dioxide laser as opposed to other lasers, click here.
Graphic photos on this page.
There are several advantages to the CO2 laser surgery:
1. Pain Reduction
Your pet will experience significantly less post operative pain in almost every instance. As a matter of fact, the pain reduction is so great that we perform declaws on cats only with a laser beam. This reduction in pain is a result of the unique characteristics of the laser beam as it cuts nerve endings, preventing the raw ends that are characteristic of scalpel blades.
2. Swelling Reduction
Whenever an incision is made in tissue with either a scalpel blade or scissors inflammation is started in the affected tissue. This inflammation is a result of interaction with the circulatory and lymphatic systems. Because the laser beam effectively cauterizes the lymphatic system there is much less post operative swelling. This makes your pet much more comfortable while it is convalescing from surgery.
3. Control of Infection
The laser beam operates at a temperature of over 200 degrees Fahrenheit. This makes it highly effective at killing bacteria that have the potential to cause an infection. This is particularly important in areas where it is difficult to prevent bacteria from contaminating the surgical site. Examples include abscesses and cat declaws.
4. Minimal Surgical Bleeding
When an incision is made with a scalpel blade small blood vessels are cut in the skin and the layer of tissue just under the skin. These blood vessels can ooze throughout the surgery and even postoperatively. Traditionally they are taken care of by clamping them with hemostats, cauterizing, or holding gauze sponges on them until they stop. All of these procedures take time, which means the surgery takes longer and there is more post operatively swelling. The laser beam is a highly effective coagulator of small blood vessels. Less bleeding during surgery means less anesthetic time and faster recovery time.
Even though lasers are used effectively in many surgical procedures they are not used in every surgery. They are especially useful in oral surgery, neuters, growth removals, and amputations of small extremities. We also use it in small animals, especially birds, because of the laser’s great effectiveness at minimizing bleeding.
The following sections give specific examples of the use of the carbon dioxide laser in our hospital.
The laser is particularly advantageous in this surgery. Prior to using the laser we used a scalper blade to make the scrotal incision and and throughout the whole procedure. We using the scalpel like this the scrotum would swell over several days post operatively as small blood vessels oozed. This was obviously very uncomfortable in such a sensitive area. The laser has eliminated this completely.
The laser is being use to but through the outer layer of the testicle, called the tunica vaginalis
The testicle is exposed, along with the epididymis and blood supply. Notice the lack of bleeding.
We neuter a wide variety of animals. If you click on our Disease List section and scroll down to laser you can see the procedure.
Bladder stones are not uncommon in animals. The bladder is usually inflamed and highly vascular, causing significant bleeding when we incise the bladder to remove a stone. The laser has revolutionized this surgery. This is a very sensitive internal organ, and anytime we can make an incision in such an organ without any bleeding the healing period is much faster and less painful.
Here is the initial incision in a cat with no bleeding from the bladder
This is a dog with the stone being removed from the bladder after the laser incision
Our bladder stone page has much more detail, including a movie of removing bladder stones for a dog. We also have pages that show removal of bladder stones in Iguanas and tortoises (you don’t want to miss this tortoise bladder stone page)!
Feline Mammary Tumor
These tend to be malignant and highly vascular, causing substantial time during surgery controlling bleeding, along with considerable bruising after surgery. The laser has revolutionized this surgery.
In the video note how diseased the subcutaneous tissue looks and the total lack of bleeding in this highly vascular area. Also notice as milk is excreted from the gland as the surgery progresses
Our web site has a detailed page on mammary tumors in animals.
Rat Mammary Tumor
Rats get a mammary tumor under the skin very commonly. The laser is huge when it comes to removing them with minimal bleeding, which is important in a small animal.
Click here to see the full surgery
A tumor that can be encountered in dogs and cats is called sqamous cell carcinoma. These pictures are of a dog that had one on its left jaw, called the mandible. The only way to completely cure this tumor is to remove the jaw on that side, a surgery called a hemimandibulectomy. In this case the owner decided against it, and will have the growth removed as much as possible with the laser, following up with radiation therapy.
The tumor is identified by the white arrow. It had been removed 1 year earlier, but as expected with this type of tumor, has recurred. This time the surgery will be with the laser for maximum comfort for Jackey.
The post operative appearance immediately after it has been removed by the laser. Minimal bleeding and swelling are apparent.
We were able to suture gum tissue over the defect left by the surgery. It is hard to tell in this picture that any surgery was performed at all.
This tumor is in a Tegu
No sutures, no bleeding, no pain, and no inflammation
This is a particularly prevalent request for people that want to keep their cats indoors. Prior to a declaw we advise keeping the nails trimmed short or the administration of Soft Paws on the nails, along with a scratching post. One of our nurses will gladly give you a demonstration of these options.
If this does not work you need to make an appointment to have your cat examined by one of our doctors and determine if it is a candidate for the surgery.
Prior to the introduction of the carbon dioxide laser all declaws were done with a scalpel blade. It is a very precise surgical procedure that our doctors have performed thousands of times. Unfortunately, the post operative period was painful, the feet were bandaged, and most cats had to stay in the hospital for several days. On older cats this surgery was even harder on the pet.
The advent of declaws with the laser surgery has substantially minimized these drawbacks. There is usually no bleeding during the surgery so a tourniquet is no longer used. Most of them can even go home the day of surgery but we prefer to keep them for observation for 1-2 days. Most cats have so little pain or discomfort they are jumping and running before nature has had time to complete the healing process. Always restrict their activity at home for the first few days to prevent this problem.
This cat’s nails have grown into its pads due to the owner’s inability to care for it properly. This is a painful situation and makes him a candidate for a front declaw.
Sometimes the problem is even more severe, and the severely infected toe (on the right) needs amputation. This is where the laser shines
The following pictures are from an actual declaw that we performed at our hospital.
The nail is gently pulled forward prior to surgery to open up the area behind the nail where the incision with the laser will be. Bone is not cut during the procedure at any time.
The laser beam (it is invisible to the naked eye) has started the incision at the top of the toe. It will cut through skin and tendons along with ligaments in between the digits. The nail, with its attached bone (called phalanx 3), is removed.
The surgery is complete with no bleeding, swelling, or trauma to any bone. The top arrow in this picture points to the bone at the joint of the 2nd knuckle. The bottom arrow points to the intact pad that has not been touched either. A drop of surgical tissue glue will be put on the pad to cover the end of the bone.
The foot just after surgery. There is no need for a bandage