How to Become a Veterinary Assistant

What is Veterinary Assisting?

Veterinary assisting is the process of helping veterinarians look after and care for animals. It involves performing various tasks under the supervision of a veterinarian. These tasks include administering medications, keeping up with an animal’s hygiene, lab testing, and blood collection to name a few. Think of a veterinary assistant like a nurse for pets.

Veterinary assisting can be a difficult profession. There are a range of different animals that may come through an office during any given day. Veterinary assistants manage the care for each, keeping the veterinarian informed of all medical issues. They are required to perform an initial examination of each animal to document their heart rate, temperature, temperament, and any other symptom that will help with a diagnosis.

Based on the information they obtain, a veterinary assistant will then update the veterinarian of the specific symptoms in order to obtain a diagnosis. They may then be instructed to perform tests such as drawing blood or taking an x-ray of the animal in question. They will then present these findings to the veterinarian with a recommendation on treatment.

Depending on the specific treatment plan that is decided on, veterinary assisting may involve the administering of medication. This can include anything from oral medication to injection. Part of the process involves notifying the animal owner of the prescribed treatment prior to administering the medication. Depending on the severity of the illness or injury, the assistant may need to administer anesthesia in order to proceed with an operation.

Veterinary assisting involves a wide range of activities, many of which involve working directly with a veterinarian. Tasks such as collecting data and administering medications are common to the profession. In addition to knowing the different types of animals that may come through an office, assistants must also ensure they make the proper recommendations to the veterinarian in order to obtain the best diagnosis possible.

What Does a Veterinary Assistant Do?

A veterinary assistant helps the veterinarian care for the animals during routine and emergency vet appointments. As a veterinary assistant, you will be responsible for providing services for the animals in your care. Your will be required to perform basic veterinary services under the supervision of a veterinarian, scientist and/or a veterinary technologist/technician. It is important to note that the majority of laboratory and clinics are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, so you may be required to work nights, weekends, holidays and overtime.

As a veterinary assistant, your main responsibilities may consist of obtaining basic medical information on the animals, inquiring about any problems, finding out why the animal is in the office and taking vitals (temperature and weight). You may also be responsible for updating and maintaining patient (animal) records, billing customers, insurance companies and/or vendors, checking animals in for their appointments and sterilizing the examination room in between vet appointments. You may also help prepare and administer medications to the animals. If you want to become a veterinary assistant, you will need to complete certain educational and certification requirements.

As a veterinary assistant, you may also perform the following tasks:

  • Observing and caring for the animals following surgery
  • Disinfecting surgical instruments and equipment
  • Sterilizing the kennels, cages, examining rooms and operating rooms
  • Providing emergency first aid care to injured and/or ill animals
  • Administering medications and/or immunizations
  • Performing basic laboratory tests (x-rays)
  • Feeding and bathing the animals
  • Collecting blood, tissue and/or urine samples for diagnostic testing

Why Do We Need Veterinary Assistants?

Veterinary assistants are crucial in that they provide many hands-on services in medical pet care. In this day and age, when our pets are more important to us than ever before, we need to be able to feel secure in the knowledge that they are being appropriately and thoroughly looked after. This is especially true at the critical time of a pet’s illness or injury. The services veterinary assistants provide are also tremendously important when it comes time for vaccinations and wellness check-ups.

Veterinary assistants are often the first point of contact when we bring our pets into the veterinarian’s office. They have the capacity to ease our minds, so we can be assured that our pets are in good hands.

It is a well documented but perhaps little known fact that the veterinary industry is among the more stressful fields. Veterinary assistants provide an invaluable service to veterinarians in curbing that.

When veterinary assistants work with our animals and assist in their care or even on simple administrative tasks, it frees up time for veterinarians to accomplish other important tasks in the facilitation of our pets’ care.

Veterinary assistants provide compassionate, expert care to our pets. If our furry loved ones have to stay over night at the veterinarian’s office for a period of time, veterinary assistants will be close at hand to check in on them, ensuring our pets’ effective recovery, as well as comfort.

Veterinary assistants are crucial members of the veterinary team looking after our pets.

What are the Education Requirements to Become a Veterinary Assistant?

You do not have to obtain a bachelor’s or master’s degree in order to become a veterinary assistant. It is important to note that although a formal education is not required for this industry, many employers prefer that their veterinary assistants have at least a high school education. Some employers may prefer that their veterinary assistants have experience working with animals, while others may seek out assistants that have taken some college-level classes in animal behavior, animal science or a related area.

The main qualification for becoming a veterinary assistant is that you be adept at working with animals. For instance, if you are interested in working on a farm or at a zoo, a prerequisite may be that you grew up on a farm or you spent summers working at your local zoo. If you are planning to enter the veterinary services industry, you will more than likely learn on the job.

Certification Requirements

You do not have to be certified to be a veterinary assistant, but if you wish to work with animals in a laboratory research setting, it may be beneficial for you to seek certification from the American Association for Laboratory Animal Science. Certification in animal science signifies that you have demonstrated advance knowledge, skills and abilities in the area of laboratory animal care.

Certification eligibility is dependent on your educational background and experience. For instance, if you only have a high school diploma, you will not be able to seek certification unless you also have three years of experience working with animals in a laboratory setting, but if you have a bachelor’s degree in animal science, you can seek certification with just one year of experience working with animals in a laboratory setting.

Related: How to Become a Veterinary Hospital Manager

Where Does a Veterinary Assistant Work?

As a veterinary assistant, you will more than likely work at a animal clinic, animal hospital and/or research laboratory. Approximately 85% of veterinary assistants work at private clinics and/or animal hospitals and the remaining 15% work at research laboratories, educational institutions and/or research facilities.

What is the Salary for a Veterinary Assistant?

As a veterinary assistant, you can expect to make approximately $25,370 per year, as of May 2014. If you are in the lower 10%, you can expect to make approximately $17,500 per year, while if you are in the upper 10%, you can expect to make approximately $36,000 per year. If you decide to further your career by becoming veterinary technologist or technician, you can expect to earn a higher average salary (approximately $32,000 per year) and if you fall in the upper 10%, you can expect to make $45,000 per year.

What is the Job Outlook for Veterinary Assistants?

The career outlook for veterinary assistants is outstanding. Although some employers have opted to replace veterinary assistants with advance-level veterinary technicians/technologists, jobs in the pet care industry are expected to rise in the future. It is important to note that there is a high turnover rate in the pet care industry; therefore veterinary assistant positions will continue to be available as others leave. In fact, veterinary assistant positions are expected to increase 10% by 2020. This growth will stem from the growing pet population and veterinary medicine advancements.

What is the Difference Between a Veterinary Assistant and a Veterinary Technician?

Both veterinary assistants and veterinary technicians assist veterinarians, physicians who treat animals. The veterinary assistant typically has a high school diploma and performs routine tasks for animals, like grooming and feeding. The veterinary technician generally has an associate or bachelor’s degree and can assist the veterinarian with diagnoses and medical testing. The salaries of veterinary assistants and veterinary technicians reflect the difference in their educational levels.

A veterinary assistant helps out in the front office by scheduling appointments and answering questions from customers. The assistant can draw blood, take x-rays and perform other diagnostic testing for review by the veterinarian. A veterinary assistant may support the doctor during surgical procedures and provide post-operative care like administering medication. The veterinarian will also require the assistant to clean and disinfect animal cages and the work area.

A veterinary technician is considered an integral member of the animal health care team. Technicians are trained to perform testing, diagnosis and treatment of animals. They take a detailed case history to help in diagnosing the problem. Veterinary technicians take blood samples, develop x-rays, and perform lab tests including urinalysis and blood counts. They may also prepare tissue samples. When surgery is required, they are called upon to sterilize surgical and laboratory equipment. They provide post-operative care and specialized nursing care. The veterinary technician also assists with dental care and vaccinations.

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