Animal Health Technician: Education and Career Facts

Research what it takes to become an animal health technician. Learn about job duties, education requirements, credentials and salary to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Veterinary Technology degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Does an Animal Health Technician Do?

Animal health technicians, also known as veterinary technicians, assist veterinarians in providing healthcare for animals. Veterinarians supervise them as they perform different diagnostic and lab tests. Most of their work is done in a lab, but they also help the veterinarians observe and examine animals. They may assist by restraining an animal or taking down their medical history. In a clinic setting, animal health technicians may also feed, bathe and exercise animals who are recovering from surgeries or being boarded in the clinic. These technicians may also interact with pet owners to help explain certain care instructions and medication for an animal. Take a look at the following chart for an overview of how to enter this field.

Degree Required Associate's degree
Education Field of Study Veterinary technology, animal health technology
Key Responsibilities Animal physical exams; surgery preparation; dental care; medication administration
Licensure Required Requirements vary by state; most require a credentialing exam; specialized optional credentials available for lab animal technicians
Job Growth (2014-2024 ) 19% (veterinary technologists and technicians)*
Average Salary (2015) $33,280 (veterinary technologists and technicians)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

What is an Animal Health Technician?

Animal health or veterinary technicians work directly with a licensed veterinarian to provide medical care for animals. As an animal health technician, you will work as an assistant to the veterinarian, in much the same way that a nurse serves as an assistant to a doctor. You may be asked to perform tasks like giving initial physical examinations, providing basic dental care and preparing animals for surgery. You may also perform laboratory tests, take blood samples and administer medication.

What Career Opportunities are Available?

As a licensed or certified animal health technician, you can work in a variety of locations, including animal hospitals, clinics and private veterinary practices. You may also choose to work in research facilities, studying animal behaviors and recording data for tests on medication or treatment protocol. Technicians in research environments often perform tasks such as administering laboratory examinations, preparing laboratory samples and recording basic information on the animals, like weight, diet and genealogy. Other options for career tracks include biomedical research, animal shelter care and wildlife medicine.

How Can I Find a Job?

In order to start your career as an animal health technician, you must complete a 2-year associate's degree program at a college or university accredited by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA). Courses in these programs are generally taught in a laboratory setting using live animals for study and practice. Course requirements can include anatomy, physiology, animal pathology and laboratory diagnosis. You may also have the opportunity to take courses in anesthesia for small and large animals, radiology and pharmacology.

In most programs, you will learn directly from veterinarians or licensed veterinary technicians. These programs also include internship or externship requirements for more hands-on experience in the field, an excellent asset to have when you graduate and enter the job market.

Do I Need to Pass an Examination?

Most states will require you to pass a credentialing exam after finishing your coursework. Graduating from a school accredited by the AVMA ensures that you have fulfilled the education requirements necessary to take these exams, such as the Veterinary Technician National Examination, which includes oral, written and practical components.

The American Association for Laboratory Animal Science (AALAS) offers the Assistant Laboratory Animal Technician (ALAT), Laboratory Animal Technician (LAT) and Laboratory Animal Technologist (LATG) credentials for veterinary technicians working in research environments (www.aalas.org). In order to fulfill AALAS's certification requirements, you must have a specified amount of education for each level, combined with experience working directly in an animal laboratory setting.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Radiologic and MRI technologists, as well as medical laboratory technicians, are a few related positions that typically require an associate's degree. Radiologic technologists use different kinds of complex medical equipment to take diagnostic images of a patient, such as x-rays. MRI technologists also create diagnostic images, but they specialize in using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanners to create the images. Medical laboratory technicians work under medical or clinical scientists in a lab. They help collect various tissue and body samples from patients to perform a whole range of tests.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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