How to Become an Animal Health Technician in 5 Steps

Research what it takes to be an animal health technician. Learn about job duties, education requirements, licensing 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 are also known as veterinary technicians. They perform a wide range of duties under the supervision of a veterinarian. Some of their tasks may include observing animal behavior, performing tests, providing emergency first aid to animals and collecting stool and blood samples for tests. They usually need an associate's degree to enter their field, and they need to be comfortable dealing with animals. They may need to be registered or licensed, depending on which state they work in. In addition to routine tasks such as taking a patient's history and noting any concerns the animal's owner has, animal health technicians may also assist veterinarians with surgeries.

Degree Required Associate's degree
Education Field of Study Veterinary technology
Key Responsibilities Examine animals, collect specimens for lab tests, assist vet with surgery, administer medications, maintain patient records
Credentials Required Most states require credentialing through the Veterinary Technician National Exam, plus licensing, registration or certification; specifics vary by state
Job Growth (2018-2028)* 19%
Average Salary (2018)* $35,560

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

What is an Animal Health Technician?

An animal health technician cares for animals and assists with medical treatment under the supervision of a veterinarian. Your duties might include evaluating the conditions and symptoms of ill or injured animals; resuscitating animals; collecting and testing blood, tissue and fecal samples; taking x-rays; preparing animals for surgery; participating in surgery; and monitoring animals post-surgery. You also might administer vaccinations and medications, fill prescriptions and maintain treatment records.

Step 1: Prepare During High School

High school courses in biology, chemistry and algebra can acquaint you with concepts you will apply later in your studies. Some postsecondary programs for technicians require completion of these courses for admission. Computer science and English courses might be helpful as well.

Step 2: Earn an Associate's Degree

A veterinary technician associate's degree program can train you to assist veterinarians by providing basic medical care to animals. You'll likely learn about animal anatomy and physiology, handling techniques for large and small animals, and lab and surgical procedures. Some programs emphasize working with cats and dogs. Most include an internship or clinical practicum.

Step 3: Become Licensed

Most states require you to pass a licensing or certification exam after you've completed your technician education. As of September 2011, Alaska, Delaware, Washington and Wisconsin would allow you to train on the job before taking the exam. Many states use the Veterinary Technician National Examination (VTNE) administered by the American Association of Veterinary State Boards. The VTNE exam consists of 25 unscored and 200 scored multiple-choice questions that test your knowledge in seven domains, including surgical preparation, lab procedures and veterinary pharmacology.

Step 4: Obtain a Job

Veterinarian offices and veterinary services will provide most of your job opportunities, but kennels, shelters, research labs and zoos may have openings as well. Figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics show that about 106,680 veterinary technicians and technologists were employed in 2018; separate totals for each aren't available. In addition, employment is projected to increase 19% during the 2018-2028 decade. An increased willingness to purchase quality veterinary care for pets is expected to drive this growth. The BLS also reports that in 2018, veterinary technicians and technologists earned an average salary of $35,560.

Step 5: Consider Certification

If you work in a research lab, you can seek two technician credentials from the American Association for Laboratory Animal Science. These are the Assistant Laboratory Animal Technician (ALAT) and the Laboratory Animal Technician (LAT) designations. If you've earned an associate's degree and worked in a lab for at least six months, you're eligible for the ALAT exam. An associate's degree and two years of lab experience can qualify you for the LAT. Both exams test your knowledge of animal husbandry, animal health and facility management. The ALAT consists of 120 questions and the LAT of 155 questions.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Animal care and service workers do not need postsecondary training, but they do need to be comfortable with animals. They provide basic care and may assist with feeding, exercising, bathing and grooming animals. Their work is similar to the work that animal health technicians do because they need to be comfortable with animals and aware of their daily needs. Surgical technologists need postsecondary training, and may complete a certificate or diploma program to prepare to work in operating rooms. Their work is comparable to the work of animal health technicians because they assist with surgeries, although they assist with surgeries on people.

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