Tripping the Light Fantastic: Laser Therapy for a Dog’s Pain

Tripper is a 12-year-old male German short-haired Pointer. He is very lucky to have found an amazing home and loving owners who will not give up on him. Tripper became a patient at Oakview in 2011. He developed severe back problems while under our care, which led to a long road of testing, surgeries, and therapies. The past year, he has really earned his frequent flyer miles, visiting us three times a week for laser and physical therapy.

It all began in February of 2014. Tripper presented to us because his back legs were bothering him, and the day  of his appointment he could not stand. Dr. Hankison performed a physical exam to look for pain, test reflexes and evaluate neurological function. We sedated him and took x-rays of his joints and spine. Throughout the lumbar-thoracic spine (upper and lower back), there was loss of disc space indicating IVDH (intervertebral disc herniation). This is where the cushioning discs that lie between the vertebrae of the spine either burst or bulge out into the spinal cord space. The disc was pressing on the nerves running through the spinal cord causing Tripper’s pain and paralysis.

Back x-rays - Oakview Vet Plover Stevens Point WI

Dr. Hankison prescribed multiple pain relievers, a muscle relaxer, and companion laser therapy to help with the pain and inflammation. Tripper was on strict instructions to rest and heal. After the first laser treatment, the owners felt there was improvement. By the end of that month, we were using laser therapy routinely twice weekly. With this protocol, we were able to decrease the amount of pain medications Tripper needed.

Often, pain medications can often be decreased by using laser therapy.

After a few weeks, Tripper had not regained any function of his rear limbs. Dr. Hankison reevaluated him. His pain was under control, but he still had difficulty walking and moving around normally.  He had received seven laser treatments of his thoracic and lumbar spine. Mobility was not improving as expected, so Dr. Hankison referred Tripper to UW Madison Vet Clinic’s Neurology department.

At UW Madison, Tripper had an MRI to further evaluate his spine. The MRI was consistent with an intervertebral disc herniation which unfortunately tends to get progressively worse. After discussing the findings with his owners, surgery seemed to be the best option for Tripper.

Tripper’s Back Surgery

Tripper was anesthetized the next day and had a hemilaminectomy surgery, where the disc material that had ruptured was removed in order to relieve the pressure from the spinal cord. We all knew that Tripper had a long road of recovery ahead of him, but no one ever gave up. After surgery, he underwent physical therapy and came to us numerous times a week for laser treatments.
Tripper did very well after surgery, and although he did not return back to normal, he did show signs of improvement. He could place his feet correctly without knuckling over and was able to bear his own weight. The laser treatments that Tripper received after his surgery definitely helped speed the healing process.

Tripper - Oakview Vet Plover Stevens Point WI

More Problems for Tripper

For almost 3 years, Tripper just enjoyed the life of a spoiled dog. But, in May of 2017, he started limping on his right front limb. His owners had learned from experience that delays in treating spinal cord issues decrease chances of recovery, so they immediately brought him in for an exam. Dr. Hankison localized his pain to the extension of his right shoulder. The initial plan was medication and rest, but Tripper started to have even more troubles.

First, he started having trouble getting up after laying down. Tripper seemed to be knuckling both hind legs again (not being able to keep his paws from flipping upside down). Also, as Tripper urinated outside, he would frequently fall over. The owners used a sling at home to help him keep balance but knew there was something seriously wrong and took another trip back to UW Madison.

Another MRI was preformed and which showed multiple areas with intervertebral disc herniation. Tripper was taken back to surgery once more.

After his second hemilaminectomy in 2017, Tripper did not regain much function of his back legs. We continued physical therapy and laser treatments multiple times a week. All this helped him heal and gave him improvements in mobility.

At this point, Tripper’s owners were using a padded sling to help him get around. Then, they got him his own wheelchair. He was pretty excited to be able to run again on his own!

Tripper no longer has much feeling in his hind limbs or tail. His front legs have had to take over much of the work, so he still gets laser therapy three times a week for the past year, but now for his front legs and shoulders. Trippers’ dad says, “I am not sure how we would cope with three times weekly physical therapy sessions without the laser therapy for his front legs.” Even though Tripper has reached a plateau in his progress, we still continue the physical therapy and the laser treatments. It keeps his muscles strong and reduces pain and stress to his front end.

Tripper is still in bright spirits even after all he has been through. He is always happy to walk in the door and spend the day with us!

Christina - Oakview Vet Plover Stevens Point WI
Christina and Tripper

Tripper’s dad, Greg wanted to share a few words:

“It’s been a long road of recovery for Trip following his latest back surgery and the weekly physical therapy in addition with the laser treatments so substantially make a difference in his comfort levels. Having the laser treatment available to treat all the other areas of Trippers body that take up the slack and work so hard during the physical therapy is quite beneficial. I think Trip’s situation is somewhat unique. He overcompensates with his front legs for the feeling deficits in his rear. Doing this daily simply has put a strain on his front legs. I know Trip feels the difference after getting his front end lasered. I can easily see the difference if we skipped a few laser therapy sessions after his physical therapy. “
“I’ll admit, I was a bit skeptical a few years ago when we first heard of the laser treatment. But as you all know, we’ve used the laser treatments for both post-surgery recovery and now the more recuperative physical therapy related sessions. I was wrong to be skeptical about laser treatments. Sure they’re not cure all, but I’ve seen the results, and I miss seeing the results when we skip sessions. I know Tripper feels better following the laser treatment. Really, that’s the bottom line.”

While laser treatment is not a cure, it is a very helpful tool to manage pain and encourage healing. It helps to attack pain from as many angles as possible, so the combination of medication, physical therapy, laser therapy, and good old TLC is what has helped Tripper to have a good quality of life even with his paralysis. We applaud his mom and dad for going the extra mile!

I am grateful that Tripper’s owners, Greg and Tammy, have allowed us to be a part of Tripper’s care. I’ve learned so much about laser therapy and physical therapy. Plus I’ve earned the love of a dog, and you can’t beat that! In fact, Tripper has a large team of humans behind him who all feel lucky to know him!

written by Christina Brandes, CVT

Christina - Oakview Vet Plover Stevens Point WI


Christina graduated from Madison Area Technical College. She joined us in 2016.
She and her husband David have a baby boy named Kaysen. They also share their home with 2 cats, Moby and Annabelle, a bearded dragon named Leonard, and a gecko named Clyde.
In her spare time, Christina enjoys camping and other outdoor activities.

Certified Veterinary Technician at |

Christina graduated from Madison Area Technical College. She joined us in 2016. She is our therapy laser technician.
She and her husband David have a son named Kaysen. They also share their home with 2 cats, Moby and Annabelle, and a bearded dragon named Leonard.
In her spare time, Christina enjoys spending time with her family, often camping up north and being outside.

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