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Anesthesiologists Promote Compassionate Approach to Pain Management
by Jonas Siegel

 Advances in pain management treatment developed by veterinarians at the College’s Teaching Hospital will be featured in a new film about the compassionate care of animals. Dr. William Tranquilli, professor of anesthesiology, was the camera crew’s guide through the clinic and its pain management facilities. Other veterinarians from around the world will join Dr. Tranquilli in the film to articulate the philosophy of compassionate care and discuss ways of improving pain management in animals.

[Drs Tranquilli, Benson, and Greene]
Drs. William Tranquilli, Gordon Benson, and Stephen Greene form the anesthesiology unit at the Veterinary Teaching Hospital.

The College is being highlighted in the film, which will be distributed to veterinary colleges, practices, and associations throughout Europe and South and North America, because of its exemplary commitment to the pain management of its patients. The film was funded by several national pharmaceutical companies.

Like their counterparts at human hospitals, veterinary anesthesiologists at the College anticipate and perceive the level of pain that their patients experience and take appropriate steps to manage it effectively.

“Our understanding of an animal’s perception of pain has focused our attention on a more compassionate approach to companion animals,” says Dr. Tranquilli.

Veterinarians’ perception of their patients’ pain become clearer when they consider having a similar procedure performed on them, says Dr. Gordon Benson, professor of anesthesiology.

“Professionals used to say ‘don’t anthropomorphize’,” says Dr. Benson. “But if there is a place to do that [anthropomorphize], it is with pain management.” 

If there is a doubt about a patient’s level of pain, says Dr. Tranquilli, “err on the side of thinking that an animal is feeling what humans would.”

Dr. Benson warns, however, that not every animal feels the same intensity of pain. “There is no difference in animals’ ability to perceive pain, just a difference in their tolerance,” he says.

Dr. Benson acknowledges that when he was trained as an anesthesiologist, he was taught simply to make sure that a patient was nonresponsive during the procedure, and that a patient would awaken quickly and in a stable condition after the procedure was completed. “You neglected the possibility of pre- and postoperative pain,” says Dr. Benson. Meanwhile, clients assumed that pain management was being done, he says. 

“Pain is stressful,” says Dr. Benson. “Animals have only so many resources to overcome their stress. When we relieve patients of pain, they have a better ability to heal.”

Accordingly, by anticipating a patient’s potential pain, an anesthesiologist improves the patient’s ability to emerge from an anesthetized state and recover quickly from a procedure. 

“When animals do awaken, they seem very comfortable,” says Dr. Stephen Greene, associate professor in anesthesiology. “They don’t seem to be restless.”

Students can better understand the benefits of pain management when they are shown an animal recovering more peacefully, says Dr. Greene.

The fact that older animals with painful conditions such as arthritis or cancer are now more often treated rather than euthanized has also made pain management a higher priority for anesthesiologists. “The overall goal is to improve the quality of life by making patients more comfortable through 
effective pain management,” says Dr. Tranquilli.

The anesthesiology department at the College has been developing new methods of pain management for nearly eight years. Dr. Tranquilli and anesthesiology residents Drs. Kurt Grimm and Leigh Lamont wrote Pain Management for the Small Animal Practitioner, which was published this year by Teton NewMedia (www.tetonnm.com).

“We have been evolving techniques as we go,” says Dr. Benson.

“It requires more time and more personnel,” says Dr. Greene. “But it results in better care overall.”

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