Red Light Therapy to Heal Animals (What The Science Says)Last Updated:
Red light therapy, also known as low-level laser/light therapy (LLLT) is not just for humans. The effects of red light therapy have been studied in a wide range of animals, demonstrating that animals can benefit from red light therapy just as people do. In fact, it seems that virtually all life forms can benefit from red light, even plants!
Pets give their owners unconditional love. Most animal enthusiasts consider their pets beloved family members and care for them as such. Even farmers with a barnyard full of animals want to provide them with the best possible care.
Just as non-invasive, holistic, and more natural therapeutic alternatives have become a trend for people in recent years, animals can be treated similarly. Red light therapy for animals is a great way to enhance the care of our furry (and other animal) friends.
The veterinary industry has already begun utilizing red light therapy as a treatment option for animals large and small, mammals and other species alike.
In this article, we will explore how and why red light therapy can help animals.
Table of Contents
How Does Red Light Therapy Work and What Can It Do for Animals?
Red light therapy draws upon natural biological processes to activate change.
Red light-emitting diode (LED) and near-infrared (NIR) wavelengths penetrate the mitochondria (energy-production centers) of cells. The mitochondria interact with a specific protein called cytochrome c oxidase, leading to the creation of the organic compound adenosine triphosphate (ATP). ATP is the primary currency of cellular energy transfer in all living things.
Cytochrome c oxidase and ATP are found in all life forms, even plants. In plant cells, ATP is part of the process of photosynthesis. One of the first uses of red light technology was, in fact, by NASA for plant growth experimentation on space shuttle missions. All life forms, including people, animals, and plants, can benefit from red light therapy.
In humans and other animals, ATP boosts cellular energy in bodily organs and tissues. Energized cells elicit higher oxygen levels, better circulation, and a higher immune response. These effects work together to jump-start and enhance natural healing abilities at the cellular level, leading to improved bodily functioning, more efficient recovery, and improved overall health. 
The physical response triggered by red light therapy applies to humans and animals alike because our basic biological, cellular functions are consistent. Thus, red light therapy can provide the same benefits to animals as it does for people.
What Kinds of Conditions Can Red Light Therapy Treat in Animals?
Animals experience pain, injuries, and chronic conditions just as humans do. Red light therapy can treat these issues in animals the same way it can in people. Examples of common conditions experienced by people and animals alike include:
- Muscle tears, strains, and sprains
- Inflammatory conditions
- Skin irritations and allergic reactions (food allergies, for example, or reactions to noxious plants like poison ivy)
- Eye conditions such as dry-eye syndrome and vitreous floaters
- Eye diseases such as cataracts, glaucoma, macular degeneration, and retinitis pigmentosa
- Weight gain
- Reduced physical/athletic performance with age
- Wounds, cuts, lesions, and surgical incisions
- Torn or injured tendons and tendons
- Joint pain
- Depression and anxiety
- General muscle soreness
This list is not all-inclusive. The checklist of common conditions shared by people and animals is practically endless.
We don’t always think about some of these conditions as they apply to animals (depression or anxiety, for example). Animals cannot express themselves through speech, so it is easy to ignore the fact that animals can also suffer from psychological stress. These conditions are not unique to humans.   Concerned pet owners can usually recognize behavioral changes in their animals that might indicate depression or anxiety, and will want to help their pets feel better. Red light therapy can provide the same relief from depression and anxiety to an animal as it can to you.
For animals that perform “work”, such as horses that people ride, cows that farmers milk, or chickens that lay eggs, injuries and health conditions can put them out of commission from their “jobs” for a long time. Red light therapy can help these animals return to functioning normally.
Adverse health conditions can reduce an animal’s quality of life just as they can yours. Red light therapy is a safe, effective, natural, and FDA-approved method of treatment for restoring your pet’s health and well-being.
Are Animals Resistant to Red Light Therapy?
No, quite the opposite is true. Animals seem perfectly happy around red light. Red LED and NIR light therapy is non-thermal, meaning that it does not generate heat. It does not feel uncomfortable or hot. A gentle, warm, pleasant sensation, however, can be felt. Just as most humans find this soothing and comforting, animals appear to as well.
Animals perceive visual light differently than humans. Their eyes are less sensitive to red wavelengths. In general, animals have a much more limited view of the electromagnetic spectrum than humans do.
People can see the entire spectrum of visible light, including variations of violet, blue, green, yellow, orange, and red wavelengths. Dogs, however, can only see blue, yellow, and some shades of gray. Dogs don’t see red, violet, or orange light at all. Similar to dogs, almost all animals have very limited vision of color as compared to people. For this reason, animals are not as visually sensitive to red LED and NIR red light as humans are.
Another reason for animals to love red light therapy is the attention they will get from you during treatment! Pets can enjoy lots of loving care from their favorite human while soaking up the warm glow of red light. Red light therapy can provide a fun and relaxing bonding experience for you and your pet.
Has the Use of Red Light Therapy on Animals Been Scientifically Researched?
Yes. Numerous clinical studies have proven the efficacy of red light therapy as a method of animal health treatment. A wide range of animals has been studied in various capacities.
Since dogs and horses have received a great deal of scientific attention with regard to the benefits of red light therapy, we will start there and then move on to the myriad of other animals studied.
Red light therapy has been studied as it pertains to treating a number of conditions in dogs, including (but not limited to) post-surgical healing, wound recovery time, skin conditions, inflammatory conditions, and hair regrowth.
Here are a few pertinent studies that illustrate the efficacy of red light therapy for dogs.
Healing After Bone Surgery
In one study , healthy dogs undergoing the same knee surgery (tibial osteotomy) were divided into two groups; a treatment group and a control group. The treatment group received preoperative red light therapy while the control group received a placebo. Eight weeks after treatment, the majority of the treatment group exhibited better healing than the control group.
Another study  implemented the same protocol on two groups of dogs receiving dental implants and bone grafts. The treatment group received post-surgical 830 nanometers (nm) red light therapy three times per week for two weeks. 45 and 60 days after surgery, the dogs were evaluated and the treatment group showed significantly better bone healing.
Pododermatitis is an inflammatory condition that causes lesions on an animal’s foot or paw. A study  was performed on dogs with pododermatitis. The dogs were divided into a treatment group receiving red light therapy and a control group receiving only traditional treatment for this skin condition. Sixteen days post-treatment and again two months post-treatment, the group of dogs that received red light therapy consistently showed a statistically significant improvement in healing as compared to the control group. Subsequent lesion recurrence was also lower in the treatment group.
Success in treating pododermatitis suggests that almost any skin condition in a dog can be relieved through red light therapy, the same as is true for people.
Canine non-inflammatory alopecia (CNA) is a heterogeneous group of skin diseases with different underlying pathogenesis that causes hair loss in dogs.
A study was performed to determine the efficacy of red light therapy for hair regrowth in dogs with this condition.  Seven dogs with CNA were treated weekly for two months with 685 nm red LED light and 830 nm NIR red light therapy. On each dog, a control area was left untreated. At the end of the study, six of the seven dogs showed a marked improvement in hair regrowth and hair follicle quality in the treated (targeted) areas as opposed to the untargeted control areas.
Healing After Surgery for Herniated Spinal Disks
A group of dogs with acute intervertebral disk herniation (a spinal problem) all underwent surgery for the same condition. Half of the dogs received postoperative 810 nm NIR red light therapy for five days, and the other half received none. Recovery time was markedly faster in the treatment group of dogs and they returned to an ambulatory state more quickly.  This further demonstrates the healing powers of red light therapy for dogs.
Chronic Wound Healing
A fresh, full-thickness skin wound on a healthy adult male dog was treated with 630 nm red light once daily for four consecutive days.  The wound diminished consistently during the course of treatment and was completely healed after 21 days. For a wound of its nature, this was known to be significantly faster than conventional recovery time. Red light therapy was attributed to the accelerated duration of wound healing and was determined to be a useful treatment for chronic skin wounds in dogs.
There are innumerable studies showing that red light therapy is effective for dogs; far too many to discuss here. The research of red light therapy for dogs has consistently yielded positive results over a broad range of health concerns and conditions.
We can surmise that dogs can reap the same benefits of red light therapy as humans, for the same range of issues.
Studies of red light therapy and its effect on horses have been performed to test its efficacy for treating back pain, wound healing, soft tissue injuries, and skin conditions.
A few pertinent studies include:
- Fourteen horses performing below expected standards due to chronic back pain were treated with 904 nm red light. After the completion of weekly treatments for 11 consecutive weeks, clinical signs of back pain were alleviated in 10 of the 14 horses. One year after treatment was discontinued, nine of these 10 horses continued to perform at a standard acceptable to the owner. 
- Other studies prove that red light therapy is successful for relieving pain in horses as ongoing chiropractic treatment. 
- A group of horses with leg wounds was divided in half. Half of the horses were treated with 635 nm red light and the other half were not. Eighty days later, the horses that had been treated were fully healed while those who had not received red light therapy were still in various stages of the healing process. This study revealed that soft tissue healing time was significantly reduced by red light therapy and also produced evidence that inflammation and pain were reduced. 
Red light therapy research has been performed on a wide range of animal species, consistently showing positive results. Some of the other animals, conditions studied, and results include:
Cats — Dogs and cats are more closely genetically linked than most people think. They both belong to the order Carnivora (not to be mistaken for the word “carnivores”). The name of the group is somewhat misleading because not all meat-eating mammals are part of the Carnivora order, and not all members of Carnivora eat meat. Cats and dogs, however, both do. The ancestors of Carnivora are from a group of animals called miacids, once found across Eurasia and North America.The point is that cats and dogs will likely react similarly to red light therapy, due in part to the genetic history they share. Not as much red light therapy research has been done on cats as on dogs, but it is reasonable to extrapolate the results of dog research to cats, at least to a general level.
One study performed on cats demonstrated that red light therapy may be helpful in treating superficial forms of skin cancer.  A group of cats with superficial squamous cell carcinomas was treated with 635 nm red light. After a single treatment, 11 of the 13 carcinomas treated were resolved. Seven of those 11 experienced recurrences; however, not until 19 to 56 weeks later. The study concluded that red light therapy shows great promise in the treatment of skin cancer (at least in cats).
Chickens — Studies have been performed on both egg-laying chickens and “broiler chickens” (the chickens we eat). Red light seems to be very stimulating to chickens in a number of ways. Egg-producing hens in cages equipped with red light strips began laying eggs sooner, continued to lay more eggs, and laid eggs longer than hens without red light.  There is also evidence that ambient red light (indirect light immersing a room rather than being shined directly) benefits chickens; thus chicken coops and hen houses might be well served by swithcing out traditional lighting for ambient red. Broiler hens raised in red light environments exhibited better bone strength, fewer movement problems, longer legs, and more rapid growth. 
Cows — Studies show that red light therapy helps wound healing in dairy cattle.   Cows can experience certain conditions that hinder milk production. If a cow’s teat is injured, for example, milk production can even be painful. With the reduction in inflammation and fast recovery time provided by red light therapy, cows with wounded teats healed more quickly and were able to return to normal milk production sooner. In addition, an overall healthier cow will be a better milk producer.
Ducks and Geese — Ducks and geese responded to red light therapy similarly to chickens. Better weight gain, growth, egg production, and overall healthier functioning were noted in study conclusions.   As with chickens, most of the research performed on geese and ducks utilized ambient red light rather than direct red light as a red light therapy device would administer. It appears that chickens, ducks, and geese alike respond positively to ambient red light. Less is known about the response of chickens, ducks, and geese to direct red LED or NIR therapy.
Hamsters, Mice, Rats, and Other Rodents — Extensive phototherapy research has been done on rodents of all kinds. Red light therapy has been proven to reduce inflammation, reduce pain, increase cellular function, increase oxygenation and fibroblast production, heal wounds, and treat skin conditions in various rodents.    
Pigs — Pigs are frequently used in medical research because a pig’s organs are actually 80 to 90 percent similar to the corresponding systems in humans, both in anatomy and function. The system that matches up best may be the cardiovascular system. Research is actually underway to determine whether it might someday be feasible to use a pig’s organs (even the heart) for human transplant purposes. Therefore, any red light research done on pigs is meaningful for humans as well. Studies have shown that red light therapy can improve heart function after myocardial infarction in pigs. 
Rabbits — Red light therapy has been shown to inhibit the development of osteoarthritis in rabbits due to decreased inflammation.  In another study, when shined in the mouth of a rabbit after dental surgery, red LED light improved the rabbit’s thyroid function, providing better overall well-being in addition to helping surgical wounds heal faster. 
- Worms — Even worms have been studied under red light. Earthworms are useful to humans because they help produce rich, fertile soil in which we grow food. “Worm castings” (manure, also known as vermicast) are an organic form of fertilizer produced by earthworms. As earthworms eat through compost, their waste creates an optimal soil enricher. The production of vermicast by earthworms has been studied under a variety of light wavelengths, and their casting production rate was highest under red light. They also appeared to enjoy being under red light, whereas they showed signs of distress under other forms of light such as blue.
Creatures great and small seem to migrate toward and enjoy the soothing, healing effects of red light wavelengths. Even snails appear to be drawn to red light over other wavelengths, although the health effects of red light on snails have not been specifically studied.
The extensive clinical research performed on animals to date yields consistently promising results. We can conclude that red light therapy imparts definite health advantages and benefits to animals as well as people.
The Nuts and Bolts of Red Light Therapy for Animals
Are the same wavelengths appropriate for animals of all sizes? Does fur reduce the impact of red light therapy? What kinds of red light therapy devices can be used on animals? What about dosage and treatment protocol?
Here are the answers to these practical questions so you can get on the road to successful red light therapy for your animals.
Smaller animals generally require less intense light exposure while larger animals require more for successful treatment. The size of an animal is inversely proportional to the distance the animal should be from the light source. Consider the device manufacturer’s recommended minimum usage distance (the distance from which you as a person would administer therapy for yourself). Consider the animal’s size in comparison to that of a human being when determining the appropriate positioning. If you are unsure, you can always email the manufacturer with your questions.
Animal Fur, Feathers, and Skin
Fur, hair, and feathers can block red light from penetrating an animal’s skin. Animals with these characteristics (especially thick fur) will need to be closer to the light source and/or require longer exposure for the light to properly penetrate.
In the case of a specific wound or injury, shaving the treatment site you wish to target will allow the red light waves to heal more effectively.
Red Light Therapy Devices and Dosage
The same devices you use for your own red light therapy can be used on your animals too, as long as the size and wavelengths are consistent with your pet’s needs. If you are using wavelengths to treat something totally different in yourself than for your pet, you might want to consider purchasing a separate device with the proper wavelength combinations.
For practical purposes of general well-being and overall health, if you already own a device for yourself, you can use it on your pet too.
In cases where constant ambient red light was found to be beneficial (such as chickens and their egg-laying potential), standard lighting could be changed to ambient red as opposed to bright white.
The same general treatment protocol for humans can also be used for animals. A good starting point would be three or four 10 to 20 minutes sessions per week, and then adjust as deemed necessary based on response to treatment
In addition to these considerations, it is always a good idea to check with your veterinarian before providing any at-home medical care to your pet.
Your pets can experience the same safe and painless healing powers of red light therapy that you can, free from adverse side effects. Best of all, you and your animals can experience the restorative and rejuvenating powers of red light therapy together in the comfort of your own home.
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