Cure Your Pet - With Lasers?
More and more, veterinarians are using lasers to enhance medical treatment of dogs and cats. A laser is a device that emits light in the form of electromagnetic radiation and channels it into a narrow beam. When used for surgery, such as in neuters, declaws, and skin mass removals, the laser beam works like a scalpel to make an incision. These lasers can often reduce pain, bleeding, and recovery time, while other lasers can actually eliminate the need for surgery altogether.
A PROBLEMATIC STONE
When Carol Hawke’s French bulldog, Ben, was in surgery to remove bladder stones, she received the call that no pet owner wants to hear: The surgery was not going well. The veterinarian was unable to dislodge a stone in the urethra that was blocking the flow of urine. He recommended a reconstructive surgery that would require the removal of Ben’s testicles and scrotum so a permanent urinary opening could be made in that area.
“It wasn’t Ben’s value as a former top show dog or his stud potential that mattered,” says Carol. “It was Ben.” She told the veterinarian that she wouldn’t put Ben through that kind of disfiguring surgery. Warning her that an obstructed urethra could quickly result in a critical situation, the veterinarian referred her to Dr. Jody Lulich, a urinary stone expert at the University of Minnesota’s Veterinary Medical Center.
Dr. Lulich used a special technique called retrograde urohydropulsion to flush the stone back into the bladder. Ben then underwent abdominal surgery to remove that stone and two others from his bladder. Because of the incision, it took Ben about three weeks to recover from the operation.
After recovery, Ben was put on a special diet to prevent the formation of additional stones. “He hated the diet and lost weight,” says Carol, “so eventually we put him back on his original diet.” Two years later, the symptoms returned: bloody urine and straining. When x-rays revealed new stones, another abdominal surgery seemed necessary.
AN ALTERNATIVE TO INVASIVE SURGERY
Carol and her veterinarian consulted Dr. Lulich again. He told Carol about an experimental veterinary procedure called laser lithotripsy. Unlike traditional treatments that require abdominal surgery, lithotripsy is minimally invasive. While the pet is anesthetized, a laser fiber is passed through a scope up the urethra, where energy is transmitted to fragment the stones. The fragments are then retrieved in a miniature basket or flushed from the urinary system.
Dr. Lulich, who was one of the first veterinarians to perfect the lithotripsy procedure in small animals, cites the numerous advantages of the procedure. “By eliminating the need for a surgical incision, pets experience less pain and recover faster,” he says. “Most pets can go home the same day as the procedure, and urinary tract signs usually resolve in 24 to 48 hours.” Laser lithotripsy can also fragment stones in the bladder, eliminating the need for reconstructive surgeries.
On Halloween day, Ben underwent a successful lithotripsy procedure and was able to go home that night. “He wore his Halloween hat, and he was awake enough to bark at the trick-or-treaters,” Carol says. “He recovered in only three days. Since he didn’t have any sutures, we didn’t have to haul a 26-pound dog up and down the stairs.”
NEW HOPE FOR DOGS AND CATS WITH STONES
Urinary stone disease is a common condition that causes irritation and blockage in pets. Until now, many pets suffered from recurring stones and had to undergo repeated abdominal surgeries. “If laser lithotripsy can save a friend from an invasive surgery, with the associated complications, the potential for infection, and the weeks of recovery, it’s an easy choice,” remarks Carol.
Dr. Lulich has performed about 200 lithotripsy procedures so far. Although lithotripsy can be done in most pets, he cautions that it may not be possible for male cats or small male dogs because the urethra may be too narrow. Because of the expense of the equipment, the procedure is currently only available at a handful of veterinary teaching hospitals across the United States.
“Dr. Lulich is a very insightful and compassionate pioneer,” says Carol. “Through his work with laser lithotripsy, he’s not only reducing pain and suffering in animals, he’s saving lives. I really admire what he’s doing.”