Your guide to managing pain in pets: AAHA Pain Management Guidelines Certificate course
Regardless of your role on a veterinary team, chances are good you share at least one goal with your colleagues: “We all got into veterinary medicine because we are interested in relieving pain and suffering,” said Certified Veterinary Pain Practitioner Tasha McNerney, BS, CVT, CVPP, VTS (Anesthesia and Analgesia).
“By taking the time to increase your knowledge of pain management modalities, you can advance your career while providing the best patient care,” she said.
And the new RACE-approved AAHA Pain Management Guidelines Certificate Course—designed to provide real-life, evidence-guided approaches to veterinary professionals at all skill levels—is a great way to help every member of the team do just that.
Jennifer F. Johnson, VMD, CVPP, has been a small animal veterinarian for 30 years, with a special interest in educating colleagues about the recognition and treatment of pain using a multimodal approach. She is a past president of the International Veterinary Academy of Pain Management (IVAPM), a contributor to the 2022 AAHA Pain Management Guidelines for Dogs and Cats, and a task force member for this certificate.
“Practice owners can easily incorporate this into staff training,” she said. “Having everyone on the same page is so important.”
Pain management checklists and tools
“The course is easy to understand and has a great checklist of items for further discussion and implementation,” Johnson said. “The easy access to pain assessment tools and client education tools is a bonus.”
She hopes this will help practice owners and medical directors see the benefit of empowering their veterinary technician staff to be leaders in patient care, especially when it comes to pain management.
“There is a true benefit when we work as a team and utilize our staff expertise.”
McNerney applauds that team approach, saying that different team members offer valuable input to develop customized pain management protocols for each animal based on the species, breed, size, health status, and cause of pain.
“Veterinarians prescribe appropriate medications and procedures, while technicians and nurses often spend the most time with patients to ensure proper administration, monitoring, and follow-up care,” she said.
“Collaborative decisionmaking ensures that treatment plans are comprehensive, effective, and considerate of the animal's specific needs.”
Comfort is priority number one
Pain management in veterinary medicine has come a long way, and Stephen Niño Cital, RVT, SRA, RLAT, CVPP, VTS-LAM (Res. Anesthesia), believes that it’s a part of team education that matters a lot.
“As pain care evolves and we learn more about addressing pain—from recognizing pain, what pharmacological choices to make, what supplements or integrative care to provide—it is critical for everyone on the animal care team to be aware of this undertreated medical condition. AAHA’s standardized approach allows all team members to have a foundation of pain care,” he said.
Johnson has watched closely as pain management has evolved throughout her career. “My special interest in pain management began long ago, after I realized in practice that my patients had better outcomes if I focused on their comfort as priority number one,” she said.
“This sounds so simple, but after decades, dozens of studies in humans and animals continue to prove this point—we cannot skip out on pain assessment and treatment.”
Pain management CE: Especially important for techs
Today, that treatment often requires a multimodal approach combining various techniques, including medications, physical therapies, acupuncture, and rehabilitation, said McNerney. And that’s exactly why CE opportunities like this are so crucial.
“Veterinary professionals, specifically veterinary technicians, need comprehensive education and additional training to understand the benefits, limitations, and proper integration of these modalities,” McNerney said.
“By expanding pain management education, professionals can employ a wider range of techniques and customize treatment plans for more comprehensive pain relief.”
Pain management strengthens the client bond
It's also worth noting that it’s not only the patients themselves who tend to benefit from optimal pain management practices, but the clients, too, said McNerney.
“When veterinarians and the veterinary team prioritize pain management, it instills a sense of trust and confidence in pet owners,” she said. “They feel reassured that their pets are receiving the best possible care and that their pain is being addressed appropriately. This trust strengthens the veterinarian-client relationship and promotes ongoing collaboration for the wellbeing of the pet.”
Besides, added Cital, while patient care and comfort is always the main goal, providing elevated pain care is also a solid economical investment.
“Pain care is an easy and worthwhile service a practice can add, especially for those chronic pain cases,” he said. “Pain-consults foster not only good patient care but strengthen bonds between the practitioners and pet owners.”
And just as your approach to pain management from the practitioner standpoint has likely evolved over time, so have the expectations of pet owners regarding the level of care their pet receives.
“There is a general public increase in understanding of managing animal pain,” Cital said, which leads to an increase in the services people expect their veterinary team to provide.
The better you and your veterinary team understand pain management, the better you can communicate with one another—and with your clients.
“I think that the veterinary community is in a wonderful place with regards to pain management,” Johnson said. “With organizations like AAHA, the World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA), and the IVAPM all working together to educate about pain, we are providing the best care to our patients.”
AAHA Pain Management Guidelines Certificate course
2022 AAHA Pain Management Guidelines for Dogs and Cats
Pain management guidelines summary
Pain management guidelines toolkit
Are You a Pet Pain Brain? quiz
Embracing the power of checklists with Stephen Cital (interview by Tasha McNerney)
Photo credit: © Elayne Massaini E+ via Getty Images Plus
Disclaimer: The views expressed, and topics discussed, in any NEWStat column or article are intended to inform, educate, or entertain, and do not represent an official position by the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) or its Board of Directors.