Animal Laboratory Attendant Career Guide

What is an Animal Laboratory Attendant?

An animal laboratory attendant is a trained specialist in the animal care world. Their primary concern is for the safety and care of the animals in their charge.  Working in a number of animal related fields, they care for animals’ physical needs, collect samples and tissue if needed, and conduct tests under supervision.

These paraprofessionals are also known sometimes as veterinary technologists or assistants, and they may work in a veterinary setting, a zoo, or in a biomedical or laboratory setting. In the biomedical setting, these attendants are important in the smooth running of the facility.

There are a number of different levels of expertise required among animal laboratory attendant positions. Sometimes, these levels are delineated by position title, sometimes by experience, and sometimes by certification level required for the job.

What Does an Animal Laboratory Attendant Do?

An animal laboratory attendant may work in a number of different settings with animals. To some extent, their daily duties will be dependent upon the setting in which they work. First and foremost, regardless of the setting, an animal laboratory attendant will take care of the animals in his or her charge. This may include, feeding, watering, exercising, cleaning animal quarters, and anything else that an animal may need on a routine or daily basis to maintain its health and welfare. In addition, an animal laboratory attendant will observe animal behavior and is responsible for charting detailed information regarding the animal, including, weight, diet ad behavior.

An animal laboratory attendant may work in a veterinary setting. If so, the attendant may perform routine sample collections of blood, urine and feces for analysis in addition to performing the basic animal care tasks detailed above.  In a veterinary setting, an animal may have to be kenneled or kept sedated after a medical procedure. In that case, an attendant may observe and monitor an animal’s progress and administer pain medications as directed and supervised by a licensed veterinarian.

An animal laboratory attendant may also work in a research or biomedical laboratory setting. In that case, the attendant may also collect samples, sterilize equipment, prepare lab samples, administer basic research tests and follow research protocols in addition to providing daily care for the animals in his or her charge. In addition, the attendant may be responsible for ensuring that the facility complies with state and federal law regarding the treatment of animals.

An animal laboratory attendant may also work in a zoo. In that case, the attendant may be responsible for planning meals, cleaning and attending to animals’ living spaces and over all daily health needs. They may be responsible for feeding, watering, administering medication under a veterinarian’s supervision and making sure that animals are safe in their environment.

Because animals often need care and monitoring around the clock, an animal laboratory attendant may work irregular shifts and hours.  The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that the injury rate among animal attendants is high due to the risk of bites or scratches. This job s also physically demanding.

Why Do We Need Animal Laboratory Attendants?

We depend on animals in a variety of settings. At home, we love our pets. We provide compassionate health care and grooming for our pets. In addition, we often employ groomers, pet sitters, and dog walkers for our pets. All of these positions require some experience with animals, and veterinary offices and clinics often employ animal laboratory attendants to make the clinic run smoothly and to provide the monitoring and care that a vet simply does not have time for.

In a zoo or other natural or wildlife habitat, we require animal laboratory attendants to interact with and care for the animals and their environs on a daily basis. While vets will care for a zoo animal’s general health, it is the animal laboratory attendant who is responsible for the animal’s daily care.

In a research or biomedical facility, an animal laboratory attendant not only cares for the animals but is also instrumental in the smooth operation of research protocols, following tasks outlined in the protocols, monitoring animals for changes, and logging all information into charts.

What are the Requirements to Become an Animal Laboratory Attendant?

Educational Requirements

These are often paraprofessional positions. Some jobs may provide on-the-job training, but most will require at least a high school diploma, and preferably, an associate’s degree in a relevant field.  Many who work in this field hold a bachelor’s degree in animal science.

Most positions that require only a high school diploma, may provide paid on-the job training.

Those positions that require an associate’s degree in a relevant field tend to pay more. Many of these jobs also require certification.

An associate’s degree is usually a two year program. Program names might include a veterinary technology degree, or an associate degree in applied science in veterinary technology. A bachelor’s degree is usually a four-year program and will have more depth and breadth than an associate’s degree.

Courses in a specialty animal attendant program will most likely include: animal science, animal anatomy and biology, animal pharmacology, veterinary pathology, animal behavior, and the like. In some of these courses, a student can expect to work with animals directly in the field under supervision.

Licensing/Certification Requirements

For many of the animal laboratory attendant positions, you may need a professional credential. There are a number of different kinds of licenses and certifications available in this field and some positions require one or another type of certification to qualify for a job.

To obtain this certification, you must apply for licensing and pass a licensing exam. Although the name and type of exam available varies somewhat from state to state, the majority of states use an exam called the National Veterinary Technician (NVT) exam. This certification is transferable between states should you wish to relocate.

Many of the research lab positions for animal attendants require an AALAS certification. This certification has three different levels of expertise. Each additional certification level means greater responsibility and greater salary.

For certification under the Assistant Laboratory Technician (ALAT) credential, you must have a high school diploma, and either a year of experience, or an associate’s degree and at least six months of experience.

Certification under the Laboratory Animal Technician (LAT) is a higher level of certification. It requires one of the following degrees: high school, associate’s or bachelor’s, or an ALAT certification, and up to three years of experience in working with animals.

Finally, the highest level of certification is the Laboratory Animal Technologist (LATG). The educational requirements for this certification are the same as those for the LAT. In addition, you must have 5 years of experience working with animals to qualify for this certification process.

What Skills are Required for an Animal Laboratory Attendant?

  • Compassionate Care: An animal laboratory attendant must provide compassionate care in order to connect with and relate to the animals in their charge.  It requires a certain level of empathy to anticipate an animal’s needs.
  • Attention to Detail: Because all animals in these settings are closely monitored, it is necessary to pay close attention to charts, entering information in each animal’s chart and paying close attention to instructions and follow-through.
  • Physical Strength: There are times an attendant must pick up and animal and move it. Picking up heavy bags of food and buckets of water is most likely a part of an animal attendant’s daily duties. Many of the work hours are spent in physical labor.
  • Patience: It is important to understand that animals do not have the ability to execute commands, either immediately, or for some, not at all. Working with animals at any level requires patience.
  • A Thick Skin: Working with research animals can be emotionally difficult. Not all research that is done with animals is pleasant, and while most of the work is done as humanely as possible, it can still be emotionally difficult and draining.
  • Cooperative: These jobs require various shifting duties depending on the setting and upon the needs of the employer at any given time. It is important to be as cooperative as possible in the face of shifting needs in the workplace.

How Much Does an Animal Laboratory Attendant Make?

This is a growing field. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), estimates that the field of veterinary assistants and laboratory animal caretakers field will grow 19% between 2016 and 2024.  The BLS also indicates that the median salary for this position, as of May 2016, is approximately $25,250 annually  or $12.14 per hour.

According to  American Association for Animal Laboratory Science (AALAS). a level II certified animal laboratory attendant makes a mean salary of $35,606, while a level III certification mean salary is approximately $44,297.  Thus, certification and continuing education can have a large impact on salary in this field.

What Professions are Similar to Animal Laboratory Attendant?

Veterinary Technologists and Technicians

Veterinary technologists and technicians work in veterinary hospitals and clinics. They perform medical tests, administer medications, and collect samples, all under the supervision of a licensed veterinarian.  In essence, a veterinary technician or technologist is trained to be, and acts as, a veterinarian’s nurse, laboratory technician, anesthetist, and/or surgical nurse. According to the BLS, the position requires an associate’s degree and the median salary, as of May 2016, is approximately $32,490.

Veterinary Assistant

A step under a veterinary technologist or technician, a veterinary assistant is usually directly trained by the firing veterinarian or the veterinarian’s technologist or technician. A veterinarian assistant assists the veterinarian or the technician in their daily tasks as well as some basic duties of animal care such as feeding and cleaning.

Veterinarian

A veterinarian requires both a bachelor’s degree and a veterinary medical school degree. Between the two degrees, the average veterinarian spends about eight years in school post high school.  In addition, all states require that a veterinarian take and pass a certification exam.  A veterinarian is responsible for diagnosing, prescribing medication and performing surgery for an animal.

Animal Services Officer

This is usually a city or county position in which the officer works with domestic and stray dogs, cats, and other domesticated animals. An animal services officer often makes house visits when there is a complaint about how an animal is being treated, he or she will educate the public regarding medical services and stay/neuter services that may be available in the area, and often works with dangerous or injured animals.

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