How to Become a Veterinary Assistant: Job Description & School Requirements

If you love animals and want to bask in all the glory that comes with wagging tails and kitten purrs, then the job of a veterinary assistant may be just right for you. Don’t get us wrong though, this isn’t a job for the faint of heart or weak of stomach, but it’s never boring and almost always full of rewards (see aforementioned wagging tails and purring felines). So pull out the dog biscuits and catnip to have a little snack while you read about how to become a veterinary assistant.

How to Become a Veterinary Assistant

It is actually very easy to become a veterinary assistant and there are actually very few requirements to do so. The most basic of skills that are required for the job is a high school diploma and the ability to learn on the job. There is an added bonus of having experience working with animals as well. These basic requirements can often lead to a job without any further schooling required.

There are however certificate options for those that are looking to become veterinary assistants. You can obtain a certificate through a community college or through an accredited veterinary association. We will go over schools to become certified through in just a bit, so sit tight for that. Some of the accredited veterinary associated to consider are: the American Association for Laboratory Animal Science (AALAS) and the National Association of Veterinary Technicians of America (NAVTA). Each of these places will help you to become an Approved Veterinary Assistant without having to enroll in a college or trade school.

Like we already stated, certification is not required, but it is helpful in getting a job, better pay and most importantly it arms you with more tools to better care for the animals. That’s just a bit of food for thought for you.

There are a few important qualities that are helpful when trying to get a job as a veterinary assistant. Here they are:

  • Detail Oriented: Your job will be instruction jam packed and you will have to follow those instructions to a T too, so attention to detail is a must. You’ll have to take very special care to perform tasks like giving medications, assisting with surgical procedures and sterilizing surgical tools
  • Compassion:  It does really take a good amount of compassion to treat animals that may be sick, scared or wounded pm a daily basis. You will also need a fair amount of compassion to interact with their pet parents as well. They too may be scared and will likely act accordingly
  • Dexterity: You will be using your hands a ton in this job, so good dexterity is key. You will be handling wiggling animals, medical instruments and lab equipment…so a hand or two of butter fingers will be a bit rough to work it.
  • Physical Strength: You will be moving, restraining and holding animals that may be bigger than you at times and a good amount of muscle will be needed to do that. It’s time to toss down some spinach and make like Popeye if this is a job you are considering to pursue.

Veterinary Assistant Job Duties

What does a veterinary assistant do exactly? Well we are glad you asked because we are totally ready to tell you…take a look!

  • Feed, exercise and give bubble baths…we mean baths to the animals that need them
  • Clean out and sanitize kennels, cages, examination rooms and operation rooms
  • Help to calm and restrain the animals during routine examinations as well as lab procedures
  • Keep the surgical and procedure tools and equipment sterilized for future use
  • Monitor and take care of the animals after their procedures
  • Help administer first aid to sick or injured animals during times of emergency
  • Administer medication and vaccinations when instructed by the prescribing veterinarian
  • The joyous (pure sarcasm here folks) job of collecting urine, fecal and blood samples when needed

How to Become a Veterinary Assistant Online

This is one of the cool certificate programs that you can totally do online. You never have to step foot on a college or trade school campus to get going. There are also a pretty surprising amount of schools that provide this type of certificate program too. Take a look at a few of these options and see if any of them tickle your fancy:

Be sure to click on each of the bullet points to see the each schools course information page for some extra helpful information.

You can also check out some of these schools:

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Check Out this Informative Video

Here is pretty helpful video that we found on YouTube from Linn-Benton Community College. The video goes into just the right amount of information without boring you to tears. It perfectly and succinctly describes exactly what can be expected from a job as veterinary assistant. So take a quick look and keep an eye out for some information about the program that is available at Linn-Benton Community College that is hanging out in our “Veterinary Assistant Schools” section.

Do I Really Want to Become a Veterinary Assistant?

This is really the million dollar question, isn’t it? How are you supposed to know if you are cut out for a job as a veterinary assistant? Having a solid passion for animals and a desire to help is a good place to start for sure. There are also some fun online quizzes that are entertaining and actually kind of helpful when determining if a vet assistant job is right for you. Click here to take the quiz and see what it says about your possible career.

Veterinary Assistant Salary

How many flea baths and nail clippings do you have to do to earn your yearly salary? That’s exactly the question that we are asking ourselves right now. We will as usual consult the Bureau of Labor Statistics to see what they have to say…we know how shocking that may be for those of you that have read our website before (insert winky emoticon here).

The Bureau of Labor Statistics does indeed have some great information about the median annual salary that can be expected for veterinary assistants. As of May 2013, the BLS is reporting that $23,550 yearly is the median salary earned. There are also reports for the medians earned by those that earn in the top and bottom 10th percentile. The top 10th percentile of earners is reported to earn $35,680 a year and the lowest 10th percentile of earners is earning $17,380 a year.

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Veterinary Assistant Schools

For those that are interested in pursuing a certificate as a veterinary assistant this is the section for you. Here we are going to tell you about some on campus schooling options for you.

Linn – Benton Community College

The Linn – Benton Community College in Portland, Oregon offers a veterinary assistant certificate program. This program covers the education and experience that will be needed in the medical and surgical settings of a veterinary office. In the program students will also gain knowledge in animal hospital management, business procedures and job preparation skills. Students will attend class for 35 hours a week and will spend four weeks in a clinical setting working and observing in a veterinary clinic.

Tunxis Community College

Tunxis Community College in Farmington, Connecticut also has a veterinary assistant certificate program. During this program students will gain all of the knowledge and skills needed to be prepared for an entry level job as a veterinary assistant. This program also covers front office functions, assistance in routine and emergency care, dental and surgical positions, x-ray skills and it will cover other laboratory procedures. There will also be 24 hours of veterinary clinical experience required to complete the program.

Coastal Carolina Community College

The Coastal Carolina Community College offers a 144 hour veterinary assistant program. This course will help you to learn how to get each animal’s health history and records (if applicable), understand the jargon that is used in veterinary offices, assist your fellow clinic members during procedures and surgical treatments and symptoms of disease in an animal. This program also covers what some of the administrative office duties that you would perform would be.

Veterinary Assistant Jobs

As a veterinary assistant, you will likely be employed in three main places where you will be able to show your skills. Here are the main places that you will be working at:

Veterinary Clinic or Hospital: You will most likely find work in a veterinary clinic or hospital. You will help check in the animals at the start of the visit and help maintain the kennels. You will also often help the vet technicians and doctor perform various other procedures.

Animal Shelters: It is actually pretty common for veterinary assistants to be hired on at animal shelters. Many of the same jobs are performed at shelters and there are even veterinarians employed at times as well. You will be tasked with taking care of the dogs and cats up for adoption on a daily basis as well as get them ready for adoption.

Zoos or Animal Sanctuaries: Vet assistants are helpful staff members to have at zoos and animal sanctuaries because there are animals that are in need of care as are their habits. Having a vet assistant on hand in these places actually frees up more time for the veterinarians to attend to each animal rather than having to do all of the work themselves.

Going to the Dogs – What It’s Really Like to Work as a Veterinary Assistant

We’d like you to meet Emma! Emma is a veterinary assistant that lives in sunny California. She was nice enough to sit down and share her experience working as a veterinary assistant with us. She’s told us the good, the bad and the ugly of it. Here is a little about Emma and some of her thoughts about being a veterinary technician.

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Emma loves animals and always has, so for her, going into the animal care field was a simple choice. She went to school to become a veterinary assistant right after high school and began working not long after that. She totally loves her job choice and can’t imagine doing anything else, but there certainly are days when it seems so overwhelming. Not just for her, but for other veterinary assistance too. The burnout rate is high in this profession and she will tell us a little bit about why.

As a veterinary assistant you are often considered to be the right and left hand man or woman to the nurses, technicians and doctors. You tend to be the jack of all trades and Emma says that it can be truly exhausting bouncing from one task to another without a lull. This can be pretty overwhelming and another cause for the burnout that is so common among those in the veterinary industry.

Emma says that having a pretty solid knowledge of many and we do mean many different types of animal species and each ones physiology is a necessary part of the job. She has many stories about treating animals and how interesting it can truly be. You will likely encounter reptiles, birds, sheep, goats, horses, rabbits and of course cats and dogs.

She was clear to tell us that the pay surely won’t get you things like fancy cars or designers clothes, but it is very rewarding and more than makes up for it in other ways. Emma does encourage those of you reading to go ahead and get that veterinary assistant certificate. It may get you a bit more pay than those that don’t have it and the program is usually pretty affordable.

Many people have asked Emma how she deals with euthanasia on a nearly daily basis. She doesn’t for a moment discount the experience or brush it off either. She instead has made a sort of peace with it. You see, Emma views each time she has to perform this sad deed as a way to relieve the suffering of a beloved pet. She feels that it is better that they have a kind hand to guide them out of this life than to have to continue to suffer.

The last major area of the job that we discussed with Emma was how important it is to have good people skills on the job. Many people think that a veterinary assistant job is for those that don’t care for dealing with people too much, when it is actually quite the opposite. You will actually have a lot of time around people and often those times will be filled with heightened emotions, thus making your people skills all the more important.

Now that you’ve heard the real details from someone on the job, you can have a better idea of what you are going into. We hope Emma’s input was helpful and interesting as well.

The Real Poop…We Mean Scoop – Pros and Cons of Being a Veterinary Assistant

There is a good and not so good side to every job. Sometimes it helps to have a pros and cons list laid out right in front of you so you can see the bigger pictures up close and personal. If that sounds cool to you, then you are in the right place because we are going to lay all of the pros and cons of becoming a veterinary assistant on you right now.

The Pros:

  • Pay: The pay of a veterinary assistant isn’t something to scoff at and there is also plenty of room to increase that pay. The longer you stay in the position and the more experience you get will more than likely garner you more pay.
  • Room for Advancement:This is definitely a position that will leave you with the ability to advance, which will also mean more money and greater opportunities for your future. As a veterinary assistant, you have the ability to advance to a veterinary technician and then to a veterinary technologist with some hard work and a bit more schooling.
  • Flexibility:One of the great things about a job as a vet assistant is the ability to work in a variety of different places. You can work in a veterinary office, animal shelter and even some zoos. Having the ability to dabble in these other clinical settings can also help you to decide if you’d like to continue further into the veterinary medicine field.
  • Interesting and Never Dull Work Environment:Each day you go to work as a veterinary assistant will be different and filled with new excitement and challenges. There isn’t a lot of down time and you will be kept on your toes for sure. It’s also pretty rewarding to be able to interact with and help animals on a daily basis.

The Cons

  • Stressful at Times: There are often long hours and the job is pretty demanding on your body. There is also the added stress of caring for sick animals as well as those that have experienced some sort of trauma. Possibly the hardest and most stress inducing thing that you will experience is going to be the inevitable death of an animal and the impact that that will have on its owner.
  • Unpredictable Animals:Animals that are sick, injured or scared are unpredictable and will sometimes feel the need to defend themselves. It’s not completely uncommon to get bit or scratched during a shift.
  • Odd Hours:You will certainly not have banker’s hours when working as a veterinary assistant. You will likely work longer than expected on the average day as well as work nights, weekends and holidays. There is also the added potential to have to work during inclement weather too.

Final Grade

We base our final grade off of all the information that we have gathered for you and put it together in a nice little report card. The areas below are what we find are the most common questions that are going to be asked when our readers are going to consider a new career path. This is a report card that you don’t have to be nervous about though! Grab a pen and get ready to jot down some notes during this section.

  • Degree vs. Debt: A

Some veterinary offices will hire you on as a new veterinary assistant without being certified. This is great for those that are not interested in pursuing extra schooling and already have a high school diploma. You won’t have to worry about shelling out the initial investment to become certified.

  • Difficulty of Degree: A

It isn’t particularly difficult to become certified as a veterinary assistant and it doesn’t require you to have superior skills in any one area. You will be successful as long as you apply yourself and work hard.

  • Happiness Quotient: B

It’s pretty great to be able to work with animals all day and even more so when you can help them get well. The sweet doggy kisses and kitty purrs that you are sure to receive will certainly make this a very rewarding job. The other side of this coin that garnered this job a B is this: long hours and the sadness that comes with the loss of an animal.

  • Job Outlook: B-

The Bureau of Labor Statistics is currently projecting that the job outlook for veterinary assistants is expected to grow roughly 10% from 2012 to 2022. This isn’t good or bad because it’s pretty much as fast as average. Being that the job growth isn’t expected to explode, it might be a good idea to have a plan to expand upon your knowledge base so that you can advance in the field to ensure that you always have a job,

Sources and Recommended Reading

We were like a dog with a bone when we were on the hunt for these sources. We’ve got a bunch of good ones for you today, so be sure to check them out.

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