Veterinary assistants care for animals under the supervision of a veterinarian or veterinary technician. They're responsible for feeding, bathing, and exercising the animals, and they restrain them during examinations and treatment.
Vet assistants, as they're often called, sometimes also perform lab work, such as drawing blood and collecting urine samples. Approximately 83,800 vet assistants worked in the U.S. in 2016, and about 85% of them worked for veterinary services.
Veterinary Assistant Duties & Responsibilities
Veterinary assistants perform all aspects of routine pet care.
- Feed animals and monitor whether they're eating.
- Bathe pets when necessary.
- Exercise the animals.
- Assist veterinarians and vet technicians with lab work.
- Clean, sterilize, and maintain kennels, operating rooms, examining rooms, cages, and surgical equipment.
- Comfort and restrain pets during examinations and care.
- Provide first aid to pets in an emergency, stabilizing them until a doctor can take over.
- Administer medications to pets.
- Perform some clerical duties.
Veterinary hospitals and clinics employ most veterinary assistants, but some work at colleges, universities, and in research programs.
Veterinary Assistant Salary
Those who work at colleges and professional schools are the most highly paid.
- Median Annual Salary: $27,540 ($13.24/hour)
- Top 10% Annual Salary: More than $38,890 ($18.70/hour)
- Bottom 10% Annual Salary: Less than $19,950 ($9.59/hour)
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2018
Education, Training & Certification
This occupation doesn't require advanced education, but you will need training.
- Education: You'll need a high school or equivalency diploma to get a job, unlike veterinary technicians who must complete a two-year postsecondary program in veterinary technology.
- Training: Most employers provide on-the-job training, but some will only hire those who have prior experience working with animals.
Veterinary Assistant Skills & Competencies
The following soft skills—personal qualities with which you were either born or acquired through life experiences—are instrumental to your success in this field:
- Active listening: Strong listening skills are necessary to understand and follow veterinarians' and veterinary technicians' instructions.
- Monitoring: The ability to notice changes in animals' conditions will allow you to take appropriate action.
- Service orientation: Veterinary assistants need a strong desire to help others.
- Problem solving: You must be able to identify and solve problems.
- Critical thinking: This skill will allow you to determine what your options are when making decisions or solving problems, to evaluate them, and then to choose the one with the most promising outcome.
- Focus: You'll have to remain calm and on task in what is often a busy and even chaotic environment with numerous distractions.
- Physical fitness: You'll have to be able to lift heavy objects and animals.
This occupation has an outstanding job outlook. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts employment will grow much faster than the average for all occupations between 2016 and 2026, at about 19%. The BLS anticipates an increase in consumer spending on pets and their care.
Whether you work in a veterinary office, at a school, or in research, you'll be spending much of your time in kennels, outdoor enclosures, labs, and operating rooms. Some of your patients might be aggressive or frightened. You'll be at risk for bitten or scratched, although wearing protective clothing and gear can help prevent this.
The work can sometimes be sad and unpleasant. You'll have to assist veterinarians when they euthanize animals and dispose of remains, and console grief-stricken owners. Some of your patients might be victims of abuse or will be very ill.
This job lends itself to part-time hours. In fact, about 40% of veterinary assistants worked less than 40 hours a week in 2016. Working some weekends, holidays, and nights can be required, however, to care for pets who are unable to go home to their families while they recover and convalesce.
How to Get the Job
GET IN ON THE GROUND FLOOR
If you have no prior experience with animals and you can't find a veterinary service that's willing to train you on the job, consider applying for a clerical or even a cleaning job first to get your foot in the door. You'll gain at least some work experience in an animal-centered environment.
Veterinary assistants can apply for the Approved Veterinary Assistant (AVA) designation from the National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America (NAVTA). This voluntary certification requires graduation from a NAVTA-approved training program and passing an exam. This credential can help make you a much more a competitive job candidate.
Comparing Similar Jobs
Some similar jobs and their median annual pay include:
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2018