Acute or severe intervertebral disk herniations can be catastrophic, and some dogs do not recover after a severe episode.
In addition, thoracolumbar disk problems may recur after conservative treatment consisting of rest, corticosteroids, and other
anti-inflammatory drugs. And although not definitively documented in the literature, disk extrusion or protrusion recurrence
at other thoracolumbar disk spaces after decompressive surgery is also a clinically relevant concern.
For these reasons, laser disk ablation, a procedure for preventing thoracolumbar intervertebral disk herniation in dogs, has
been developed and performed in more than 350 dogs at the Oklahoma State University Center for Veterinary Health Sciences.
The original research at Oklahoma State University was extrapolated for clinical use in dogs in 1994 from a research project
aimed at supporting a similar therapeutic modality in people.
Laser disk ablation is a prophylactic procedure and is not meant to replace decompressive hemilaminectomy or dorsal laminectomy
in dogs that are paretic, paralyzed, or that have acute signs of severe thoracolumbar pain. Laser disk ablation is somewhat
controversial because not all clinicians agree that prophylactic surgical fenestration of thoracolumbar intervertebral disks
may be beneficial.
Figure 1. A 5-year-old dachshund, anesthetized and placed in ventral recumbency about to undergo laser disk ablation. Note
the positioning of the seven spinal needles.
Dogs with a history of thoracolumbar disk disease that have recovered from either surgical or medical treatment and are virtually
neurologically normal are considered candidates for laser disk ablation. If a dog is exhibiting lumbar pain only and a thoracolumbar
disk problem is confirmed through imaging techniques (myelography, computed tomography, magnetic resonance imaging) and clinical
history, the dog needs to be treated conservatively (confinement) for at least two weeks before disk ablation. No oral or
parenteral corticosteroids can be given for a minimum of two weeks before the procedure. Also, most nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory
drugs (NSAIDs) should not be administered during this time. These precautions are necessary for two reasons. First, the holmium
laser used for disk ablation is a pulsed laser and could push (via a photoacoustic or photomechanical effect) more material
into the spinal canal during an acute protrusion or extrusion episode. Second, we need to make certain potential complications
from the ablation procedure are not masked by pre-existing signs or the effects of drug therapy.
Figure 2. A close-up of the spinal needles in the dog in Figure 1.
HOW THE PROCEDURE WORKS
After undergoing a presurgical evaluation, the dog is anesthetized and placed in ventral recumbency, and the dorsolateral
aspect of the left upper lumbar area extending from the caudal thoracic to the caudal lumbar spinal column is aseptically
prepared for percutaneous needle insertion. Seven 20-ga, 2.5- or 3.5-in myelographic or spinal needles (the length of the
needles is determined by the dog's size) are placed percutaneously into the center of seven disk spaces between T10 and L4
(Figures 1 & 2). Fluoroscopy is used during needle placement to identify correct positioning (Figure 3). The laser fiber is placed through the needle into the disk space at the level of the nucleus pulposus. A holmium yttrium
aluminum garnet (Ho:YAG) laser is then activated, and the disk material is vaporized and coagulated, which diminishes and
stabilizes the nucleus of the disk. In theory, the disk is no longer predisposed to herniate.
Figure 3. A lateral radiograph of the spinal needle placement in the dog in Figure 1 obtained during fluoroscopy.