Using CO2 lasers in small animal practice

    By Christopher Winkler, DVM For The Education Center

    Originally published in Veterinary Practice News, November 2015 – Download as a PDF

    winkler-veterinary-laserI implemented carbon dioxide laser surgery into my practice in 2010 and have never regretted the decision. I find laser surgery to have many advantages over scalpel surgery, not the least of which is greater control of bleeding, resulting in a clearer surgical field and a faster operation. Sealed lymphatics and nerve endings also result in less inflammation and pain, and a quicker recovery for the patient, with less scarring.

    I’ve owned and used CO2 surgical lasers with articulated arms and hand pieces with fixed focal length, and the newer flexible hollow waveguide laser systems with adjustable spot size hand pieces. Although articulated arms deliver a more consistent output from console to hand piece, the hollow waveguide lasers compensate with greater power output combined with a lighter and more flexible delivery system. I have found the hollow waveguide lasers’ pen-like adjustable hand pieces to be much more comfortable to hold over longer periods without hand strain. They also allow the surgeon to get closer to the tissue for greater precision than the articulated arm’s fixed hand piece, especially in difficult narrow areas such as the ear canals and throat.

    Moreover, the newer laser system, with its adjustable hand pieces, offers the surgeon greater control over selection of fluence—the laser energy delivered to an area of tissue—during a surgery. These factors, plus the laser’s greater power output, make the Aesculight hollow waveguide laser my preferred CO2 surgical laser.

    When discussing laser surgery, I’ve heard many colleagues’ concerns about “burning” patients with the laser. Although laser surgery is, indeed, photothermal in its effect, correct use of the laser results in little or no collateral tissue damage. The surgeon can select an option called SuperPulse to pulse the laser beam, precisely vaporizing target tissue while allowing surrounding tissues time to cool between pulses.

    This feature helps prevent excessive thermal necrosis. The smoke plume seen with laser surgery is not the patient burning, but merely the vaporized cellular debris of the target tissues. Routine use of a backstop, such as a groove director and moistened gauze, further protects surrounding or underlying delicate tissues and anesthesia equipment. Further selection of fluence with the hand piece settings, and consideration of the laser’s power settings for different procedures, results in safe and consistent outcomes. Continuing education to help develop proficiency in using surgical lasers is highly recommended and is offered throughout the year online and at veterinary conventions.

    The CO2 surgical laser has allowed us to perform simple wart, skin tag and small mass removals on an outpatient basis under a local anesthetic, typically within the space of a single office visit and with little or no suturing. This alone has greatly increased our repertoire of services for canine and feline patients, while improving revenue without affecting our daily case schedule.

    I also have successfully performed procedures with more confidence in the desired outcome and with less adverse effects than I would have considered with conventional instruments, such as liver biopsy, cherry eye “pocket technique,” radical mastectomy, digit and tail amputations, and a variety of tumor removals, including those from the urinary bladder. I would highly recommend careful consideration of the benefits of a CO2 surgical laser in your practice. The following clinical cases are all examples of using CO2 laser surgery here at our practice.

    CASE 1

    A 4-year-old male pit bull terrier presented with a single benign epulis over the upper left canine.

    CASE 2

    An 11-year-old spayed female shih tzu presented with a malignant peripheral nerve sheath tumor on the right ventral flank.

    CASE 3

    A 12-year-old female miniature pinscher presented for hemangiopericytoma on the distal second digit of the left forepaw.

    CASE 4

    A 3-year-old female pit bull mix presented with an aural hematoma on the left pinna of two weeks’ duration.

    CASE 5

    A 10-month-old male Catahoula mix presented for an 8 cm cutaneous laceration across the medial right thigh sustained on a yard stake the night before. The size and location of the laceration made bandaging for delayed closure difficult. The CO2 laser was utilized instead, at continuous wave SuperPulse 12 watts, to debride the wound edges prior to closure with a drain. The owner requested neutering the pet during the laceration repair procedure.

    CASE 6

    A 13-year-old neutered male bichon frise with a 1.5-cm sebaceous epithelioma just beneath the left ear.

    Dr. Winkler graduated from the Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine in 2001 and is the owner of Suffolk Veterinary Group Animal Wellness and Laser Surgery Center in Selden, N.Y. He uses both CO2 and diode laser wavelengths in his practice, often combining them when possible. He is a diplomate of the American Board of Laser Surgery and a member of the American Society for Laser Medicine and Surgery. He appeared as an instructor on CO2 laser surgery at the 2015 American Veterinary Medical Association convention.

    This Education Center article was underwritten by Aesculight of Bothell, Wash., the manufacturer of the only American-made CO2 laser.