We have been using laser at the Long Beach Animal Hospital for over 25 years for a wide variety of surgeries on a wide variety of surgery. Our laser is a carbon dioxide laser, not the Lasik laser used for eye surgery of the cornea.
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 the Long Beach Animal Hospital.
This is one of our student externs getting exposed to the laser when Dr. P gives personal training. She gets to write her name in a tongue depressor. Even though many of our students go to the best veterinary schools in the world, they do not get exposed to this advanced form of surgery.
The laser is a high precision instrument used only by trained surgeons with experience
It is carefully calibrated for each individual surgery
This video shows how we set up one for a dog neuter, and how the laser checks its circuits and calibrates itself
You get to wear these cool glasses when the laser is used
Dr.P has taught many surgeons how to use the laser. Here he is teaching one of our externs.
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 and give them a skill 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:
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.
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.
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.
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 after the surgery. 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 operative 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 scalpel blade to make a pre-scrotal or scrotal incision initially, and also throughout the procedure as we cut the covering over the testicle called the tunic.
When 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, as you will note from the following neuter photos.
The laser is being use to cut 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 animal:
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.
The urinary bladder 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 from 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 benefit 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 one year earlier by a referring veterinarian without the laser. As expected with this type of tumor, it 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.
We use the laser in reptile surgery also. Reptiles get tumors also. We give them a local anesthetic of lidocaine (novacaine) in many cases, and once the lidocaine is eliminating pain we start the procedure. In the following two examples the surgery took less than a minute to complete.
In the first example is the laser removal of tumor in the mouth of an iguana. In the second example a growth is removed from the jaw of a chameleon. We did not need sutures in both cases due to the laser’s precision and ability to control bleeding.
The arrow points to the tumor in the iguana
No sutures, no bleeding, no pain, and no inflammation
A growth on the rostral mandible of a chameleon
Within a few seconds of starting the procedure the surgery is almost finished
We rarely if ever perform declaws any more. Even when performed with the laser, and its ability to eliminate pain, the behavioral changes that might occur preclude us from recommending this option.
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.
You need to utilize other options before we will perform laser declaw. We will show you how to gently trim the nails or use Soft Paws
If this does not work you need to make an appointment to have your cat examined by one of our doctors. Only when we have determined if you have utilized other options, if your cat is mentally and physically ready for surgery, and if you have compelling reason, will we recommend laser declaw. Your cat will also need to have a pre-anesthetic blood panel performed.
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 might even be a cancerous toe due to a bone tumor or squamous cell carcinoma. 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, only tendons and ligaments are cut.
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 immediately after surgery. There is no need for a bandage.