Vet Techs Say Sedation Is Underutilized

In certain cases, sedation can lower stress levels in animals and veterinary staff and make handling the pets easier.

83 percent of veterinary technicians surveyed have been injured while restraining a cat or dog.

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Being bitten, scratched or kicked by a patient is an accepted part of life at a veterinary hospital. But members of the National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America (NAVTA) believe the risk of injury would be reduced if more animals were sedated.

A survey published in the October/November issue of The NAVTA Journal found that a veterinary technician is called upon to physically restrain a patient an average of 11 times a week and that sedation was used in less than half of the cases where it would have been appropriate.

The American Animal Hospital Association’s “Anesthesia Guidelines for Dogs and Cats” states that sedation may be suitable during short, minimally invasive procedures such as diagnostics, joint injections, suture removal and wound management. More complex cases and treatments lasting more than 30 minutes may require anesthesia.

The 1,262 NAVTA members who responded to the survey reported that sedation was used most often during exploration or repair of wounds or cuts, during euthanasia and when an animal had a troublesome temperament. Other top cases that called for sedation were during radiology procedures, fracture stabilization and the removal of foreign objects.

“Interestingly, you reported that procedure type has more influence on the decision to use sedation than the benefit of sedation itself,” the article stated.

The AAHA guidelines and the technicians agreed that sedation can lower stress levels in animals and veterinary staff and make handling the pets easier. NAVTA members also pointed out that sedation can increase efficiency and improve medical outcomes.

One veterinary technician noted that making sedation the first choice in appropriate cases can pay off later.

“They don’t remember anything bad happening if we sedate the first time,” the technician wrote. “And when we keep working with the animal, they sometimes improve to the point where several visits later we no longer need to sedate them.”

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Sedation might not be attempted if the veterinary team is in a hurry, said NAVTA executive director Julie Legred, CVT.

‚Äč“It hasn’t been common practice overall, and when you are in a busy practice situation, you are doing what you need to do to keep up and are probably forgetting that it’s even an option,” Legred said.

“Veterinary health care teams should be reviewing protocols in every respect within their team meetings,” she added. “Everyone must be on the same page, too, as the messaging is important in all that we do to ensure the client is working with us as a team to comply. If [pet owners] don’t understand something, why would they want to spend more money or feel comfortable with some of the things we are asking to do or asking them to do?”

Care should be taken when physical restraint is the chosen technique, according to AAHA. The restraint “should be humane, control the pet’s primary defense mechanisms, be in harmony with the behavior and anatomy of the species, and, at the same time, provide safety for the pet, handler, owner and veterinarian,” the policy states.

The NAVTA survey found that sedation reduced the risk of on-the-job injuries. Eighty-three percent of the respondents reported being hurt while physically restraining a cat or dog, while just 9 percent were injured by a sedated animal.

The article concluded by advising veterinary technicians to raise the sedation issue with hospital administrators.

“Consider speaking with your veterinarians and other team members,” it read, “about how you can incorporate sedation to help make visits more pleasant for everyone involved—you, your colleagues, clients and, most importantly, the dogs and cats in your care.”

The survey was conducted in February with the assistance of drug manufacturer Zoetis Inc.

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