Technicians are tops: The changing role of this critical team member

It’s National Veterinary Technician Week, a time when we honor these tireless professionals who have never been more critical to animal health than over the last eight months or so. Veterinary Practice News caught up with Kara M. Burns, MS, MEd, LVT, VTS (nutrition), founder and president of the Academy of Veterinary Nutrition Technicians (AVNT) for her take on how the role and skill set of technicians have evolved.

Q: How has the role of the veterinary technician changed over the years?
A: Many veterinary technicians have moved from foundational care of the patient to more holistic nursing care; the veterinarian makes the diagnosis and prescribes the treatment plan, and the veterinary technician fulfills the veterinarian’s orders. The skill set and knowledge of today’s veterinary technicians is amazing, and we are now responsible for executing the diagnostic and treatment plan. We’re handling everything, including placing catheters and calculating medication dosages, assisting in surgery and maintaining anesthesia, and client education and patient discharge. In addition, the veterinary technician profession now has 16 veterinary technician specialties, providing an avenue for technicians with an interest in specific areas of medicine to complete a formal process of education, training, experience, and testing to qualify.

Q: What are the biggest challenges?
A: The veterinary profession has come a long way in utilizing veterinary technicians, which I think is wonderful, but we have more to go. Until each team member is properly utilized and performing all the skills and knowledge based on their training and credentials, I consider this both a challenge and an opportunity.

Q: You’ve dedicated part of your career to mobility in dogs. Why?
A: Osteoarthritis (OA) is painful, can decrease the pet’s quality of life, and can interfere with the human-animal bond, but we can help. The veterinary team can incorporate a multimodal approach to managing OA that helps to decrease the pet’s pain, improves the pet’s quality of life, and strengthens the human-animal bond. Additionally, exercise and certain nutrients are part of this management program. Nutrition’s ability to help manage a disease and improve quality of life is the reason I went into veterinary medicine.

Q: What new solutions do you recommend for dogs and mobility?
A: A multimodal approach is not new, but it works. I focus on exercise and specific nutrients to help alleviate pain and increase mobility.

Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to aid in the management of pets with osteoarthritis. Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) significantly decreases the loss of aggrecan in canine cartilage by inhibiting the upregulation of aggrecanases by blocking the signal at the level of messenger RNA (mRNA).

Green-lipped mussel (GLM) is known to contain anti-inflammatory components and other nutrients benefiting joint health. It’s been shown to contain a unique omega-3 fatty acid, eicosatetraenoic acid (ETA), which appears to act as a dual inhibitor of arachidonic acid oxygenation by both the cyclooxygenase and lipoxygenase pathways. GLM is a rich source of nutrients, including glycosaminoglycans (GAGs), such as chondroitin sulfates, vitamins, minerals, and omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs).

Q: What are some of your top tips for increasing mobility in dogs?
A: An exercise plan in conjunction with nutrition or specific nutrients (omega-3 fatty acids) has been shown to work. Many dogs today are overweight or obese, which is a risk factor for OA. Extra pounds exacerbate the symptoms. Regular exercise not only helps the dog lose weight, but can also improve mobility. Exercise improves circulation and helps maintain muscle mass. Depending on the stage of joint disease, an exercise regimen tailored to the patient and the owner will help, in conjunction with nutrients benefiting joint health.

I recommend the patient and owner start slowly—walk to the end of the driveway, and build distance over time. Further, use ramps to help the pet to get from one level to another; cover slippery surfaces such as tile or linoleum floors; and do passive range-of-motion exercises and physical therapy. Keep the pet moving, even if it’s only mild activity in the beginning. Of course, the first step toward improved mobility is a full examination by the veterinarian and veterinary team.

Kara M. Burns, MS, MEd, LVT, VTS (nutrition), is a licensed veterinary technician with a master’s degree in physiology and a master’s degree in counseling psychology. She is the founder and president of the Academy of Veterinary Nutrition Technicians (AVNT), and teaches nutrition courses around the world. Burns is a member of many associations and holds positions on many boards: American Academy of Veterinary Nutrition executive board; Western Veterinary Conference technician education manager; NAVTA immediate past-president; Pride VMC board treasurer; etc. She is also a member of the veterinary advisory board for YuMOVE Advance 360, a hip and joint supplement for dogs.


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