How to Become a Veterinary Assistant in 5 Steps

Explore the career requirements for veterinary assistants. Get the facts about job duties, education requirements, employment outlook and salary to determine if this is the right career for you. Schools offering Veterinary Technology degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Does a Veterinary Assistant Do?

Veterinary assistants support veterinarians, helping to provide basic care for pets and non-farm animals, as well as evaluation of their overall health and treatment for sickness and injuries. They typically work in animal hospitals or veterinary clinics, and often work with other veterinary assistants, technologists or technicians. Their duties include, but are not limited to, feeding animals, exercising animals, bathing animals, cleaning cages, disinfecting exam rooms and restraining animals during examinations. Veterinarians may also ask them to administer medications or vaccinations, as well as collect samples for lab tests if needed. Check out the chart below for an overview of how to enter this field.

Education Required HS diploma or GED; postsecondary certificates are often helpful
Education Field of Study Veterinary assistant
Key Skills Handle animals, provide animal care, help with exams and tests, maintain patient records
Job Growth (2014-2024 ) 9%*
Average Salary (2015) $25,940*

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

What Is a Veterinary Assistant?

Your care duties include providing animals with food and water; taking x-rays; holding animals still during treatment; administering medication as directed; collecting blood, fluid and tissue samples for tests; assisting with surgery; and monitoring the response of animals to treatment. You also clean cages, holding areas and examination rooms; clean examination equipment and instruments; prepare equipment and instruments for surgery; develop x-rays; and maintain records on treatment.

Step 1: Earn a High School Diploma

A high school diploma or GED is sufficient for employment as a veterinary assistant. Figures from O*Net Online show that about 34% of veterinary assistants only have a high school diploma. High school courses in biology, chemistry and English might help you develop general knowledge you can adapt to the position. If you decide to attend a postsecondary program you will likely need a diploma for admission.

Step 2: Consider Earning a Certificate

O*Net Online reports that around 14% of veterinary assistants have completed college-level courses with no degree awarded. A number of 2-year and 4-year colleges offer veterinary assistant certificate programs that train you in the theory and practice of humane animal care. You learn the causes of disease, the diagnostic process, lab procedures and treatment methods. Courses address animal anatomy and physiology, parasitology, veterinary terminology and veterinary law.

Step 3: Volunteer or Participate in an Internship

Volunteering or working an internship provides you with an opportunity to interact with different types of animals, observe operations in a professional care settings and establish contacts. Many certificate programs include an internship or clinical practicum in their course list. You could be assigned or choose to work for wildlife refuges, veterinary clinics or non-profit advocacy organizations.

Step 4: Obtain a Job

You can potentially find work in animal shelters, veterinary hospitals, zoos, local government agencies and medical labs. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), around 73,400 veterinary assistants and laboratory animal caretakers were employed in 2014, with projected growth of about 9% during the 2014-2024 decade. As of May 2015, the average salary for a veterinary assistant was about $25,940 per year.

Step 5: Advance Your Career

If you earned a certificate, you could consider applying your credits towards a 2-year associate's degree and becoming a veterinary technician. You could also embark on a 4-year bachelor's degree program and become a veterinary technologist. Technicians and technologists both work for private veterinarians' offices, research labs and federal agencies. If you want to become a veterinarian, you'll typically need to earn a bachelor's degree through a pre-vet program or another science-heavy program, then apply to veterinary school to pursue your Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM).

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Animal care and service workers have related careers that also require at least a high school diploma or equivalent. They care for nonfarm animals by feeding, grooming or exercising them. Dental assistants and surgical technologists also have related careers that require a postsecondary nondegree award, like a certificate. Dental assistants can provide basic patient care, like taking x-rays, and complete administrative tasks in a dentist office. Surgical technologists prepare operating rooms and assist surgeons during procedures.

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