The veterinary field offers a number of opportunities for animal lovers to find employment serving the needs of pets and livestock. One of the entry-level positions is that of the veterinary assistant, who plays an important role in an animal hospital, clinic, research laboratory, university veterinary facility, zoo, aquarium, kennel, animal shelter, stable, or pet store.

Veterinary assistants provide basic healthcare treatment to pets and other nonfarm animals under the supervision of the veterinarians. In addition to caring for animals, these assistants aid veterinarians and others in carrying out their duties. They also must maintain clean and organized working spaces, and perform administrative tasks.

While the work poses some challenges, veterinary assistants enjoy spending much of their time with animals. They also serve as resources and counselors for pet owners.

Veterinary Assistant Job Description

A typical day in the life of a veterinary assistant features a wide array of activities. They work under the direction of veterinarians, veterinary technologists and technicians, and scientists. These supervisors assign duties, based on what they determine needs to be done.

For many veterinary assistants, the best part of the job is taking care of animals. They keep an eye on pets and livestock being held in a facility, to ensure that they are comfortable. They feed, clean and groom, weigh, exercise, and administer medication to pets. These animals include canine, feline, avian, reptilian, and other types of domestic critters. Livestock such as horses, cows, pigs, and sheep also require preventive health care (like vaccinations), treatment for illnesses and diseases, and emergency care (in the case of injuries).

Veterinary assistants prepare animals for examinations and medical procedures, then serve as aides to veterinarians and others during those activities. They hold animals to keep them still while being examined or operated upon.

Sterilizing and maintaining equipment, and performing clerical and administrative tasks, are required. A veterinary assistant is expected to keep the outer office, examining rooms, kennels, and other areas clean, organized, and stocked with supplies.

Pet owners also need help. In many facilities, they rely on veterinary assistants to provide information and comfort. People want details about their animals’ ailments, medications that are being administered, treatment methods, and home care.

The responsibilities of a veterinary assistant include:
  • Greet and meet with animal owners to learn what is wrong with their pets and livestock
  • Provide information and comfort to pet owners
  • Care for animals by providing for their physical needs and ensuring that they are comfortable
  • Take care of animals’ hygiene such as bathing, cleaning feces, and disinfecting cages
  • Take animals’ vital signs
  • Prepare animals for procedures
  • Assist veterinarians and others in conducting examinations, medical procedures, and surgery
  • Assist veterinarians in administering medications and injections
  • File reports, fill out forms, update records, and do other clerical tasks
  • Keep all parts of the facility clean, neat, and supplied

Veterinary Assistant Prerequisites

This job can entail heartache, as veterinary assistants care for animals who are suffering (and may die from) illness, disease, or injury. Veterinary assistants must be able to deal with high-pressure situations, including emergency care and surgery. They also require the people skills to counsel pet owners who may be extremely upset. Compassion and effective communication are crucial.

Long hours, including overtime, are common in this profession. Veterinary assistants have to stand for lengthy periods during surgical procedures, and possess the strength to lift pets weighing more than 100 pounds.

Animals, especially those that are scared or in pain, may bite, claw, or kick anyone attempting to handle them. Veterinary assistants need to take the proper precautions. There is also a risk of contracting certain diseases from animals, though the threat can be mitigated by following health and safety protocols.

Veterinary assistants help the veterinarians to care for animals in animal clinics, zoos, racetracks and laboratories. Any person wanting to take this post should be physically capable of handling animals of different sizes and weights.

How to become a Veterinary Assistant

A high school diploma or GED is the minimum requirement for this position. Students in animal-science programs sometimes volunteer at clinics or other facilities to gain practical experience.

Those who want to work as veterinary assistants are trained on the job by their respective employers. Training often covers basic animal care and how to administer medications/injections to animals. However, what is covered in this training depends largely on the establishments where they are being trained. For example, an assistant receiving training in the office of a veterinarian will learn more of office related duties.

In recent years, more and more employers want their veterinary assistants to hold associate’s degrees in animal science or veterinary technology. Degree programs recognized by the American Veterinary Medical Association are recommended. Some positions even call for bachelor’s degrees in animal science, veterinary technology, or a related field. Nondegree certification programs also are available.

Veterinary Assistant Schools

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Veterinary Assistant Certification

Even though veterinary assistants are not required to have any postsecondary education, one can become certified for better employment opportunity. There are a lot of technical schools and community colleges that offer certificate programs for veterinary assistants. Some of these programs cover courses in pathology, animal nursing, animal lab procedures and hands-on experience.

Some employers require that veterinary assistants be certified by a state veterinary society. Other states mandate that veterinary assistants obtain licenses. Applicants must show that they have the necessary education and training.

Veterinary Assistant Salary

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Veterinary Assistant Job Description Summary

Here is a short recap of the veterinary assistant job description:
  • Provide basic healthcare treatment to pets
  • Work under the supervision of veterinarians
  • No formal education required
  • No certification required
  • 10% employment growth by 2022