Veterinary Assistant Career Overview

A career as a veterinary assistant is always an appealing choice for anyone with a genuine passion and love for animals. Not only do you actively contribute to ensuring their well-being, but you also provide a great deal of comfort and joy to their owners.

Another appeal of becoming a veterinary assistant is the relatively short amount of training required to be one. But for anyone looking to pursue a career as a veterinary assistant, there are a few questions they must first answer.

What does the field entail? What are the roles and responsibilities? How much can you expect to earn? And of course, how do you even go about becoming one in the first place?

We provide in-depth answers to all of these questions and more below.

Who are Veterinary Assistants?

A veterinary assistant helps veterinarians and veterinary technicians take care of animals by performing a host of roles and responsibilities that make their lives a lot easier. Among other things, they may provide medication and immunizations, collect samples, bathe and exercise the animals, and restrain them so that examinations and lab procedures can proceed.

Unlike veterinarians and veterinary technologists that must obtain a 4-year bachelor’s degree to practice, it is possible to become a veterinary assistant with only 9 months of training.

Becoming a veterinary assistant also offers a perfect starting point to become familiar with the field and move on to more advanced roles if you please.

What do Veterinary Assistants Do?

Along the course of a regular workday, you’ll often find veterinary assistants carrying out one or more of the following duties:

  • Collecting urine, blood, and tissue samples from animals.
  • Bathing and exercising the animals.
  • Administering drugs, vaccines, and immunizations
  • Sterilizing and sanitizing equipment and environment
  • Observing animals to observe signs of injury or illness
  • Restraining animals so that veterinarians can conduct examinations
  • Moving animals from one area to another
  • Assisting veterinarians in surgery by passing instruments or surgical packs
  • Providing after care to animals post-surgery

Veterinary Assistants may also carry out administrative duties such as:

  • Taking and scheduling calls
  • Scheduling appointments
  • Maintaining proper records of animals and treatment
  • Maintaining an inventory of tools and equipment
  • Discharging patients when treatment is complete.

Work Environment

As a veterinary assistant, you will most likely secure employment in an animal hospital or a veterinarian clinic. Most veterinary assistants work full-time, but part-time is also possible.

Veterinarian services are available every hour of the day, so shifts are quite regular. You should also expect to work on night, weekend, and holiday shifts.

It is possible for a veterinary assistant to not work in hospitals or clinics, but Instead in an educational capacity at a school or in a research capacity at a development center.

Those who work in clinics and hospitals may choose between regular or emergency specializations.

How to Become a Veterinary Assistant

To become a veterinary assistant, you will have to obtain training and become certified in your desired state of practice. Before you can apply for any of these, however, you must have a GED or high school diploma.

Taking certain introductory classes in high school also helps to make training a lot easier. Once you fulfill the prerequisite, you may proceed to enroll in a training program.

Veterinary Training Programs

It is possible to become a veterinary assistant through a 9-month training program. Getting an associate degree is also an option, but most prefer the certificate programs thanks to their speed.

When choosing a training program the first thing you want to do is make sure that the school is accredited and known for quality. You also want to make sure that you choose a school known for providing students with hands-on experience and possibly an externship where they get to test their skills in real-world settings.

Also take into account the curriculum and quality of the instructors.

Training Coursework

A veterinary assistant training program should teach you everything you need to know to work in a range of establishments including hospitals, clinics and kennels among others. You should learn the fundamentals of animal handling, restraint, diagnostic imaging, nursing fundamentals, laboratory procedures and office practices.

Veterinary Assistant Certification

Certification is not necessary before you can practice as a veterinary assistant, but it is still a good idea thanks to the edge it gives you when it comes to securing employment. One of the foremost certification options to consider is the Approved Veterinary Assistant (AVA) certification offered by the National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America (NAVTA). To qualify, you must have graduated from an approved school and pass the examination or attain enough real-world experience practicing under supervision of approved veterinarians and veterinary technicians.

Securing Employment

Once you’re done with your training, and optional certification, you may proceed to apply for jobs in your preferred animal clinic or hospital. It is also possible to secure employment through association that not only provides the opportunity to get certified, but also actively help you find suitable jobs.

Veterinary Assistant Salary

In 2021, the Bureau of Labor Statistics found the median annual salary for veterinary assistants to be $29,870. That is, half of veterinary assistants around the world earned above this figure and half earned below.

Factors that influence whether or not a veterinarian assistant falls above or below this number include location, particular establishment, experience, among others.

Veterinary assistants who worked in scientific research and development earned the most with an average annual salary of $37,750. Those who worked in colleges and universities followed with an annual average salary of $37,730. Veterinarian assistants in general veterinary services establishments earned around $29,710 on average.

Career Outlook

The demand for veterinary assistants will increase by 19% between 2021 - 2031, almost triple the national average for other occupations. This is according to data revealed by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The increase in demand is set to arise as a result of veterinary assistants moving on to different fields or retiring and the increased level of pet-related spending which is expected to drive significant growth in the veterinary services industry.