Is PEMF therapy an option for your dog or cat?

Short for “pulsed electromagnetic field therapy”, PEMF has a variety of applications for dogs and cats, from wound healing to anxiety relief. Here’s an overview of how this technology works.

When giving our dogs and cats the care they deserve, we have more tools and modalities to turn to than ever before. Alternative therapies on their own open up a whole spectrum of possibilities for helping ensure that our animal companions stay healthy and happy. One of these alternatives is PEMF therapy, short for “pulsed electromagnetic field therapy”. It uses a magnetic field to treat patients. PEMF can help with a range of ailments in dogs and cats, including pain, swelling, arthritis, bone loss, and anxiety. It can also assist with wound and fracture healing.

How does PEMF work?

Electromagnetism is a magnetic force related to electricity. When electricity flows through a wire, a magnetic field is created, perpendicular to the direction in which the electricity is flowing.

PEMF is not the same as attaching ordinary magnets to your dog where he hurts. Instead, the magnetism is pulsed. That means it starts, stops, starts, stops, over and over again. It’s much more effective than steady magnetism. But you can’t get that pulsing effect from a regular magnet – not even a strong one.

Pulsed magnetism involves two measurements.

  1. Pulses per second are measured as Hertz (Hz). The number of pulses of electricity effective for medical electromagnetic treatments is measured in thousands per second, or kilohertz (kHz). The most effective number for pulsed magnetic therapy is in the range of 1 kHz and 50 kHz.
  2. The strength of the magnetic force is measured by two units — one is called a gauss, and the other a microtesla (or µT): 10,000 gauss = 1 tesla (T) and 100 gauss = 1 microtesla (µT). Information about the strength of PEMF devices is usually measured in microteslas.

Magnetism penetrates through your animal’s fur, and through almost anything else he might be wearing, such as a coat; its strength is not affected by those objects. So you do not have to shave an animal to treat him. However, if his coat is very thick and fluffy over the area that needs treatment, you might want to at least trim it. That way you can get the PEMF equipment closer to his body.

Medical devices — Class I vs. Class II

PEMF equipment is considered by the FDA to be a Class II medical device. Class I devices are the reasonably harmless things we use to deal with basic health prevention or treatment, include objects most of us would not think of as “medical device” — like toothbrushes and dental floss. The FDA usually does not require anything specific to allow these items to be sold, nor does it require any special labeling.

Class II devices – which include PEMF equipment – align more closely with what most of us think of as “medical devices”. All Class II devices can be sold if they are very similar to another device that has already been approved. They also must be manufactured following GMP standards and must be safe for use. PEMF devices are officially approved for use as “medical devices” throughout Europe. In the US, most are sold for “wellness therapy.” That’s because in order to be FDA approved as an official “medical device”, they must undergo additional expensive research and clinical trials, similar to the process that drugs go through.

What to look for in a PEMF device

Two things tell us about how well a PEMF device will work: the pulses per second of the electric field (in kilohertz, or kHz), and the strength of the magnet (usually measured in microteslas — µT). For the electric field, look for a product that has a setting between 1 kHz and 50 kHz. This is the range shown to be most beneficial; no harm has been associated with those measurements.

When it comes to the magnetic field, the higher the number, the stronger the field. Treatments with lower µT take longer (15 to 20 minutes), and may need to be given more often than treatments using devices with higher µT ratings. The higher the µT, the higher the cost, which can rapidly become prohibitive as the power increases.

Available PEMF equipment

Two main companies sell PEMF equipment for animals – Curatron and Assisi. Curatron makes units that allow some adjustment of settings. They also come with a number of attachments, including both blankets and mattresses, suitable for use with dogs (and horses). Because of their flexibility and power, they are also expensive, and so are most often used by veterinarians.

Assisi offers smaller, more affordable units, available as battery-powered loops. They’re available through veterinarians, or you can buy direct from the company with the okay of your vet. Depending on which unit you buy, 100 or 150 treatments are guaranteed, and you can often get more than that (especially if you let the battery rest long enough between treatments.)

You may also find used PEMF units for sale. However, do not be tempted to buy older “spark gap” type units if you are shopping for your animal. This is old technology, and the spark electrodes in old units often needs replacement, making the units much less effective.

Applied correctly, PEMF therapy can ease pain, swelling, and arthritis in your dog or cat, and can also speed healing and calm anxiety. Adding it to your toolbox, with your veterinarian’s guidance, gives you another effective way to enhance your animal’s health and comfort.