Who is your Veterinary Technician?
The Veterinary Technician is an indispensable part of your pets medical team yet it seems that many people outside of the veterinary world have no idea what we do. Do we simply hold animals for the doctors we work for? Do we snuggle puppies and kittens all day long? (No, though that doesn’t sound bad…) Are we similar to human nurses? Have we gone to school? Are we licensed or registered? How are we different than Veterinary Assistants? This blog post is here to dispel all these myths and to hopefully answer your questions!
A Registered Veterinary Technician (or Certified or Licensed depended on what state you live in) is a technician who has passed the VTNE, the Veterinary Technician National Exam. They will also have satisfied the additional requirements their particular state and/or province may have. The VTNE is a rigorous examination encompassing both small and large animal medicine. Most states and all provinces require that VTNE candidates be graduates of a Veterinary Technology program accredited by the American or Canadian Veterinary Medical Association. There are a few states left that allow technicians to “grandfather” in, meaning they can use on the job experience in order to qualify to take the test however, this is going out of favor.
Most RVT’s have graduated from either a 2 year or a 4 year Veterinary Technology program where they studied everything from anatomy and physiology, pharmacology, surgical nursing, anesthesia, radiology, parasitology, medical math and more. During these programs students typically complete externships where they gain on the job experience and many students work at veterinary practices too. Upon graduation and successful passing of the VTNE, a person can be lucky enough to call themselves a Registered Veterinary Technician. There are many different avenues a technician may choose to go into such as working with laboratory animals, food animals, zoo animals, equine medicine, small animal general practice or emergency practice, specialty medicine and more!
There is another level of expertise that Registered Veterinary Technicians can pursue and that is to obtain their Veterinary Technician Specialty certification. There are a variety of specialties a technician may pursue such as Small Animal Internal Medicine, Emergency and Critical Care, Anesthesia, Dentistry, and more. This is an extremely demanding process that requires many hours of experience in their specific field (3 years or 6000 hours as an example), letters of recommendation, continuing education, case logs and case reports, as well as passing another rigorous examination. There are only about 700 VTS’s in North America. Becoming a VTS is a great way for technicians to advance in the veterinary field and to gain advanced skills and knowledge.
So, now that you know about the education level of RVT’s, lets delve into what they do all day at work. A technician will likely wear many hats during the course of a typical day. Legally, we are not allowed to perform surgery, prescribe medications or diagnose a disease or illness. These are tasks left to the Veterinarian. Aside from these, we perform the majority of patient care tasks. One of the biggest things that RVT’s do is induce, maintain and recover patients from anesthesia. When your pet has a dental cleaning, surgery, endoscopy, or any other anesthetized procedure, the anesthesia is likely done by an RVT. A technician will also be taking radiographs (x-rays), drawing blood, placing IV catheters, placing urinary catheters, performing dental cleanings, running laboratory tests, giving medications, educating clients,
assisting the veterinarian, and many more tasks. A RVT is similar to a human nurse and there is a push in our field to start calling all licensed or registered veterinary technicians, Veterinary Nurses. We will see if this change comes about.
A Veterinary Assistant does many similar tasks that a Veterinary Technician may do however, they have not completed a Veterinary Technology program or passed the VTNE. Legally there will be a few things that they cannot do, such as induce anesthesia, give rabies vaccines, give IV injections without an IV catheter, etc. Many Veterinary Assistants are very knowledgeable and experienced. I know that I could not live without the assistant on my team! They are equally as indispensable as Veterinary Technicians, but they do not share the same title or credentials.
I hope that this blog post has cleared up a little bit about what a Registered Veterinary Technician is and does. Next time you see the technician at your pet’s veterinary office, make sure to give them a big hug and a thank you for all of the personal care they provide to your beloved pet!
My littlest fur baby (Jensen a 1.5 year old Red Heeler) experienced his first snow last week, and it was one of the funniest things I have ever seen. After running in and out of the room 3 times trying to get my attention, I finally got up to see what it was that he wanted. He ran to the living room and stood there growling in front of the bay doors that lead into the backyard. Curious, I got down to his level to see what he was growling at, there was nothing but giant snowflakes falling from the sky. I opened the door and he darted onto the patio, threw his head back, and howled! After a dramatic pause, he bowed to his new found toy, barked, and began to jump and snap at the air to catch these mysterious white flakes falling from the sky. I must have been laughing so hard because Jensen would pause to look at me, ears like satellites, head tilted to the side in wonderment at my silly noise making. His sisters, Sadie and Lola, joined him after a few minutes. They all continued frolicking around the yard making puppy angels, tossing the icy flakes around with their noses, and playing chase while bouncing around like little foxes in the snow.
As I played with my dogs in our little PNW winter storm, and after having to trick Jensen into going inside before he turned into a little pupcicle, I began to think about all of the things I needed to do to keep my dogs safe while playing outside in the cold/snow:
WATCH OUT FOR ICE!
Here in the PNW we tend to get snow, then that all so lovely freezing rain. Be on the look out for ice patches when your pooch is outside as dogs can easily slip and break their bones or strain a joint just as people can. Also, be careful when walking your dog on a leash because when they slip on ice, you both may fall!
NO SNOW CONES FOR FIDO
As much as your dog may love eating the snow or catching flying snowballs, like my Jensen likes to do, this can prove to be unsafe for your pet. Antifreeze can smell sweet and taste even better to animals, but it is HIGHY TOXIC. Rock salt, while not toxic to your pet, can easily get mixed in with the snow and can cause an upset stomach. Lastly, eating large amounts of it can also dramatically lower your pooch’s core temperature and trigger hypothermia.
PROTECT THEIR PAWS
Some dogs are made for colder weather (i.e Huskies have thicker pads as well has coarser hair); however, if your dog is not designed for this, limit their time outside and be sure to dry their paws when they come inside. Treat any cracked pads with a moisturizer specifically made for your pooch’s pretty paws, or try a cream made for cow udders to sooth their pads.
CLEAR SOME SNOW!
To make potty time quicker and easier, shovel an area where your dog likes to do their business so they know where to go (and your house stays piddle free). If they do have an accident in the house, try taking them out more often and rewarding them when they come back inside (essentially you will be potty training your dog again as this crazy white stuff falling from the sky is a new situation for them, which requires a new routine).
If your pups are like mine, they require a ton of exercise! It can be difficult to get out and get moving with your dog when it is cold out; but, staying inside may lead to pent-up energy which can potentially lead to destructive or nervous behaviors! Once my dogs were acclimated to the cold and they were used to wearing their fancy new winter coats, we started back up on our regular walks and they have been spending more time outside each time they go out. When it snowed, I built Jensen a little obstacle course which he just loves and his sisters tried to destroy! If it is just too cold for your dog, try puzzle feeders, peanut butter or other treat filled Kongs, or simply playing hide and seek in your house; anything to keep them busy and entertained on these cold days!
There really is nothing more heartwarming than watching your dog play in the snow! Best of luck with our up coming winter storm!
What Would You Do?
At some point in our careers as veterinary professionals we will be asked by a pet owner: what would you do if it was your pet? Often, we are asked this question when a client (or family member, or friend) is trying to wrap their head around the disease or injury that has inflicted their beloved dog or cat. It can be troubling to weigh the options of a life saving surgery or the overwhelming details of chronic disease management. As someone who has worked in veterinary medicine for 10 years I can tell you that the decision is not always clear cut, even for those of us in the field.
A large driving force behind the decisions we make regarding the care of our pets has to do with the relationship we have with that particular animal. As an owner of four cats, a dog and a horse, I can tell you that I have very different relationships with each of them. I share a stronger bond with some and would address certain health issues differently with each one. For example, one of my cats is a very nervous and skittish creature, she hides most of the day and only comes out to socialize at night. You can’t reach down to pet her or pick her up without causing her distress. Because of this, I am not as closely bonded to Pearl as I am to my other pets. If Pearl is ever diagnosed with an illness that requires a lot of medical management and daily handling I do not know if we would be able to handle that level of care. She would be terrified as I tried to administer medications and treating her disease would put a huge strain on our delicate relationship. Now on the other hand if Pearl needed a life saving surgery (perhaps she gets a blockage in her intestine, for example) that procedure would likely be a one-time event. Once she was recovered from the surgery Pearl could return to her recluse ways and be happy in her solitude. In her case, I would likely opt for the one-time surgery than I would for something like Diabetes which could require twice daily injections and frequent veterinary visits.
I had an experience a few years ago where I chose not to pursue additional treatments and diagnostics for my cat Raspberry and instead opted for the hard choice of euthanasia. This was my first personal pet that I have had to make that final decision for. I adopted Raspberry when I was working as a veterinary assistant at an animal shelter. She came into the shelter with terrible skin disease that was proving hard to manage. After 3 months in the shelter and yet to be available to the public for adoption, I decided to foster her at my home. Long story short, she never went back to shelter and I officially adopted her some months later. Her skin allergies were always a problem (she wore T-shirts and little sweaters to keep her from scratching), and then down the road she also developed IBD (Inflammatory Bowel Disease).
For seven years I cared for Raspberry. She was the best darn cat, so sweet and easy-going, I loved her so much. She required many veterinary visits, medications, injections, x-rays, ultrasounds, special food but despite all that I believe she had a good quality of life with us. Her IBD was hard to control and it was a progressive disease, always getting a little worse. Towards the end Raspberry started to visibly look thinner and was vomiting more frequently, but she was still having more good days than bad. We continued to alter and adjust medications as necessary to keep her happy and comfortable. One night she was having some vomiting and I gave her some medication and separated her from the other cats so she could rest in peace (some times my other cats would bully poor Raspberry), I didn’t get too worried about vomiting since this had been an on-going issue.
The next morning when I woke I went to check on Raspberry, she was surrounded by little vomit piles, dehydrated, hypothermic and too weak to even stand. I rushed her into a 24-hour emergency hospital. I gave the vet her medical history and said that I didn’t want do any extensive diagnostics or imaging, just supportive care to see if we could get her through this episode. Despite warming up her body temperature, providing IV fluids, anti-vomiting medication, Raspberry was still very weak, she still had low blood pressure and started having an abnormal heart rhythm. At this point the veterinarian let me know that we needed to do some more diagnostics to help guide treatment, but at that point, after seven years of high maintenance care, I was done and I felt that Raspberry was done as well. I let the doctor know that I was instead opting for euthanasia.
I called my husband and he came down to the hospital, we were both there when Raspberry passed very peacefully in our arms. In the following weeks I struggled with regret, that I should have done more to try and save her. But once the acuity of her absence had worn off, I came to realize that I made the right choice for myself and Raspberry. In the months leading up to this event, she was declining. The vomiting was increasing in frequency despite medications and her energy and weight were trending downwards. I was emotionally drained even before she crashed and we don’t know what would have happened afterwards even if we had been able to pull her through the crisis.
I am sure there are plenty of pet owners who would have continued medical care in this situation, and that’s ok. I am sure there are plenty of owners who would have struggled to provide the long-term care that Raspberry needed, and that’s ok too. The decision to pursue treatment or surgery is so circumstantial, it can differ between pets, it can change based on financial situations, or on the amount of time and effort an owner is able to dedicate to at-home-care. So, my dear clients and fellow animal lovers, when you ask me what I would do in your situation, I will always answer you honestly. But just know, that the decision you make is entirely yours. You know your pet, you know yourself and what you are realistically able to handle. It’s never easy to make these medical decisions, but it’s the burden we bear for the love our furry family members.
Katie, BS, AAS, LVT
Patient Care Technician