You love animals and working in a fast-paced environment with lots of other employees. You enjoy connecting with customers and helping educate clients. If this sounds like you, you may be a fit for an exciting career in veterinary assisting. Veterinary assistants are the backbone of a vet office, helping speak to pet owners and managing animals.
If you want to learn more about how to become a vet assistant, why you should, and where to learn the skills you’ll need, read on.
Why Become a Vet Assistant?
Beyond a love for animals and an interest in veterinary medicine, there are plenty of financial incentives to become a veterinary assistant. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of veterinary assistants and laboratory animal caretakers is projected to grow 19% from 2018 to 2028, much faster than the average for all occupations.1 This is also faster than health care support roles (in which veterinary assisting is included) which are expected to grow 18% during the same time period.
This increase in veterinary hiring can be attributed to a growth in pet-related spending. According to the American Pet Products Association, Americans spent $95.7 billion on their pets in 2019, an increase of 5.7% more than 2018.2 This is in line with the overall trend. Pet spending was only $69.51 billion in 2017, suggesting people are spending more than ever on their pets. This, in turn, can lead to increased spending on preventive care for pets and a higher demand for veterinarians and assistants to support them.
Veterinary assistants are often new to veterinary medicine but they may be inspired to advance their careers. Veterinary assistants can go on to work in research laboratories and universities, or they can further their education and pursue veterinary technology.
Vet Assistant Salary
The national median salary for veterinary assistants and laboratory animal caretakers was $28,590 in May 2019, according to the BLS.3 the lowest 10% earned less than $20,790, and the highest 10% earned more than $39,800.
In May 2019, the median annual wages for veterinary assistants and laboratory animal caretakers in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:
- Colleges and universities $37,910
- Research and development in the physical, engineering, and life sciences $32,950
- Veterinary services $28,150
What Does a Vet Assistant Do?
Vet assistants help veterinarians and veterinary technologists and technicians take care of routine tasks during the caring of animals.
Some tasks veterinary assistants may perform include:4
- Feeding, bathing, and exercising animals
- Cleaning and disinfecting cages, kennels, and examination and operating rooms
- Restraining animals during examination and laboratory procedures
- Maintaining and sterilizing surgical instruments and equipment
- Monitoring and caring for animals after surgery
- Helping provide emergency first aid to sick and injured animals
- Assisting in collecting blood, urine, and tissue samples
What’s the Difference Between Vet Tech vs Vet Assistant?
While both work in veterinary offices, there are major differences between vet assistants and vet technicians. Both veterinary technicians and vet assistants may bathe and care for animals, but veterinary technicians are qualified to do more procedures. Some veterinary technician duties that a vet assistant could not perform are:5
- Observe the behavior and condition of animals
- Provide nursing care or emergency first aid to recovering or injured animals
- Administer anesthesia to animals and monitor their responses
- Take x rays and collect and perform laboratory tests, such as urinalysis and blood counts
As mentioned above, the national median salary for veterinary assistants and laboratory animal caretakers was $28,590 per year in May 2019. Veterinary technicians and technologists, on the other hand, had a national median salary of $35,320 per year in May 2019.6 The difference in salary may be due to education and experience. Becoming a veterinary technician typically requires an associate’s degree and certification. Learn more about Carrington’s Veterinary Technology program.
Skills for Vet Assistants
Veterinary assistants need to be able to communicate with pet owners and the rest of the veterinary team. They also need to be able to do routine tasks such as cleaning and grooming animals. Some of these skills can be learned, either on the job or at a veterinary assisting program, but other skills may need to be innate to candidates considering this career.
According to O*NET Online, some skills and abilities a veterinary assistant should have include:7
- Active Listening — Giving full attention to what other people are saying, taking time to understand the points being made, asking questions as appropriate, and not interrupting at inappropriate times.
- Monitoring — Monitoring/Assessing performance of yourself, other individuals, or organizations to make improvements or take corrective action.
- Service Orientation — Actively looking for ways to help people.
- Active Learning — Understanding the implications of new information for both current and future problem-solving and decision-making.
- Complex Problem Solving — Identifying complex problems and reviewing related information to develop and evaluate options and implement solutions.
- Coordination — Adjusting actions in relation to others’ actions.
- Critical Thinking — Using logic and reasoning to identify the strengths and weaknesses of alternative solutions, conclusions or approaches to problems.
- Reading Comprehension — Understanding written sentences and paragraphs in work-related documents.
- Social Perceptiveness — Being aware of others’ reactions and understanding why they react as they do.
- Problem Sensitivity — The ability to tell when something is wrong or is likely to go wrong. It does not involve solving the problem, only recognizing there is a problem.
- Deductive Reasoning — The ability to apply general rules to specific problems to produce answers that make sense.
- Arm-Hand Steadiness — The ability to keep your hand and arm steady while moving your arm or while holding your arm and hand in one position.
- Inductive Reasoning — The ability to combine pieces of information to form general rules or conclusions.
- Information Ordering — The ability to arrange things or actions in a certain order or pattern according to a specific rule or set of rules.
- Manual Dexterity — The ability to quickly move your hand, your hand together with your arm, or your two hands to grasp, manipulate, or assemble objects.
- Trunk Strength — The ability to use your abdominal and lower back muscles to support part of the body repeatedly or continuously over time without ‘giving out’ or fatiguing.
Who is Right for Veterinary Assisting?
With skills and abilities covered, what else makes someone a good candidate for a job as a vet assistant? There are some core values and personality traits that may make you more successful.
Loving animals is a given for a vet assistant. It’s unlikely you’d be interested in joining a veterinary office if you didn’t at least have a soft spot for furry friends. But take note if you have any animals you dislike. Not all veterinarians will work with animals like reptiles or birds, but if you have an aversion to either you should make sure you don’t work in a clinic that treats them.
While most people think of veterinary medicine for the good times, the fact of the matter is that many animals end up at vets’ offices because they are seriously ill. As a vet assistant, you may be speaking with worried pet parents. Make sure you have compassion and empathy to help relate to someone who may be at risk of losing a pet.
Veterinary assistants help out with all aspects of a vet office, from restraining animals to dealing with owners to helping at the front desk. When emotions are running high, it’s important that a vet assistant not become overwhelmed.
Attention to Detail
A big part of a vet assistant’s job is keeping the area comfortable, clean and sanitary. With germy animals around, this isn’t time to cut corners. The best vet assistants know how to make sure they get everything done right the first time and take pride in the quality of their work.
How to Become a Vet Assistant
There are a number of paths to becoming a vet assistant and qualifications may vary by state and employer. However the most common path to becoming a vet assistant is either through a training program or on-the-job training. Here’s how to become a vet assistant:
- Have a high school diploma or equivalent. This is the minimum requirement to become a vet assistant.
- Complete a veterinary assisting program OR be hired for on-the-job training under the supervision of a veterinarian.
While formal training is not required to become a veterinary assistant, many employers prefer not to start from scratch with training on the job. Learning the basics of animal caretaking from an accredited school may help you find a job.
What to Look for in a Veterinary Assisting Program
Choosing the right vet assisting program for you is a big decision. The right training can open doors for better jobs and possibly salary down the line. While many institutions may offer veterinary assisting classes, it’s important that you look for the one that fits your goals and lifestyle.
A few core things to look for when considering vet assisting programs include:
- Small class sizes. When learning to be a veterinary assistant you want individual attention from your instructor.
- Hands-on training. When dealing with tasks like handling animals and sterilizing instruments, it’s important to get hands-on experience. This can help employers feel confident that you know what you’re doing once you get on the job.
- Externships or career training. Most programs include an opportunity to learn in the real world before you even graduate! You’ll earn an impressive experience that looks great on your resume.
- Cost. Education is a major investment, but it’s an investment in your future. At Carrington College and many other institutions, we participate in most financial assistance programs, both federal and state, as well as private financing. Student loans, grants, and scholarships are available to those who qualify. For complete information on current tuition costs, please see the academic catalog.
Best States to Work as a Vet Assistant
Since veterinary care is available in all states, there is no bad location to pursue a career in veterinary assisting. However, there are higher wages and employment opportunities in some areas.
According to the BLS, the states with the largest employment of veterinary assistants and laboratory animal caretakers in May 2019 were:10
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States with the highest concentration of jobs and location quotients for vet assistants and laboratory animal caretakers in May 2019:10
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In May 2019, the top paying States for vet assistants and laboratory animal caretakers:10
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Launch a Career in Veterinary Assisting With Carrington College
For those who are interested in a career in veterinary assisting, Carrington College’s comprehensive Veterinary Assisting program offers a hands-on experience so students are ready to work in a veterinary office in less than a year. Students learn animal anatomy and physiology, nursing skills, animal surgical assisting, pharmaceutical chemistry and application, animal restraint and patient services and front office skills. To learn more about if our Veterinary Assisting program is right for you, request more information.
Carrington’s Veterinary Assisting Faculty and Students
Carrington College takes great pride in our successful staff and students. Our campuses provide a small college experience where you can get the attention you deserve. At all of our facilities, your instructor will not only know you by name, but they can also get to know you as a person. You will know what to expect from your career in the real world because many of our instructors bring practical working experience from their field into the classroom.
We’re invested in our students’ success and offer career services to help you find externships and job opportunities. Our students thrive in our hands-on, collaborative environment, which mimics what it’s like to work in a veterinary office or hospital.
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