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What's Your Why?: Pain Management Tips

Posted by Viticus Group

Whether or not you can identify the moment you knew you wanted to work in the veterinary field or specialize in a particular area, we all have a "why". What's yours?

About twenty-three years ago, Dr. Mark Epstein was excited to welcome his newborn daughter into the world. Otherwise healthy, she was born with a cleft lip and had to undergo surgery to get it repaired. Through the difficult process of surgery and recovery, Dr. Epstein was struck with the lower quality of pain management procedures practiced at the time. 

His daughter, a 4-month-old, had little understanding of what was happening and almost no way to communicate her pain or distress. He saw how doctors often communicated through agents rather than with the patients themselves. Realizing that these practices closely mirrored the practices in veterinary medicine, Dr. Epstein decided to work toward changing that.

As veterinary professionals, we all have our “why,” the driving force and passion behind why we do what we do. For Dr. Epstein, that moment was clear in the aftermath of his daughter’s painful ordeal—he needed to help improve the pain management standards in the veterinary industry.

Here are some takeaways from what Dr. Epstein had to share regarding pain management in this Quick Cup of Knowledge.

Take It with a Grain of Salt

Mr. Fluffers, after 10 years of disobedience, has finally learned not to jump on the counter, you say? As a veterinarian or veterinary technician, you know that Mr. Fluffers’s lack of jumping most likely isn’t his submitting to his owners’ wishes. Rather, it’s possible evidence of pain.

Pets have chronic pain more often and way earlier than we (or clients) appreciate. Part of our job is to observe potential red flags for ourselves and get an accurate estimation of pain.

Listening carefully to clients is important, but because many aren’t trained to see signs of stress, they’ll say their pet is recovering well when, in reality, they need help. These veterinarian-client conversations can be difficult because the pain usually isn’t the reason the client came in, but communicating these signs of pain earlier will save the patient a lot of suffering.

Signs of Pain in Dogs and Cats

Dr. Epstein’s daughter probably had a similar understanding of what was happening than what a cat or dog could comprehend. Baby humans, at least, usually vocalize their displeasure or distress. It’s rarer for dogs and cats to show that they’re in pain with vocal or physical cues. Knowing about the patient’s usual behavior and any recent changes in that behavior can indicate the presence of pain.

As pack animals, dogs have adapted to hide pain extremely well. The key is to watch for disability, or in other words, doing things differently to limit their movement. They’ll avoid jumping or running up and down the stairs, for example.

Cats are not just small dogs when it comes to pain—they prescribe to their own set of behaviors. Telltale signs to look for are demonstrating a stilted gait, lack of jumping, or lack of nighttime activity.

Pain Management at Your Practice

According to Dr. Epstein, the best way to detect signs of pain during an appointment is to use the whole team throughout each stage of the visit. The patient’s visit starts as soon as they walk in the door.

Front desk workers see and hear things others don’t—clients chit-chatting about their pets, pets walking, pets getting up to go into the exam room, etc. Technicians can detect more subtle things like asymmetry while they do basic exams. These things are alerts for the clinicians who later can have a more specific conversation with the client.

Discover Your Why

It’s pretty apparent why Dr. Epstein is passionate about pain management. That’s why he’s spent much of his career involved with organizations that help elevate pain management in veterinary practices across the country.

Why did you choose the career path you’re in? Why do you keep going day-in and day-out, always striving to be better? Or, have you yet to discover the area of practice that unlocks your passion and will shape your career?

Stay in the Know!

Check out the educational sessions about pain management at WVC’s Annual Conference next year, themed “Discover Your Why.”

Click the link to subscribe to our YouTube channel or check out our WVC Resource Library full of great podcasts, videos, and digital downloads!


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