What is a Veterinary Assistant?

Job Description

veterinarian's office
A veterinary assistant works alongside a vet. John Burke/Stockbyte/Getty Images

A veterinary assistant cares for animals in an animal hospital or clinic. Working under the supervision of a veterinarian or veterinary technician, he or she is responsible for basic tasks. Veterinary assistants feed, bathe, and exercise animals, and restrain them during examinations and treatment. They clean and sterilize examination and operating rooms, and the equipment used in them. They sometimes perform lab work, which includes drawing blood and collecting urine samples, and administer medicine and vaccinations.

Some assistants perform clerical duties as well.

Quick Facts About Veterinary Assistants

  • In 2016, veterinary assistants earned a median annual salary of $25,250. Their hourly wages were $12.14.
  • About 73,000 people worked in this occupation in 2014.
  • Veterinary hospitals and clinics employed most of them.
  • This occupation has a very good job outlook. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts employment will grow faster than the average for all occupations through 2024.

How to Become a Veterinary Assistant

You will need a high school or equivalency diploma to get a job. Most employers provide on-the-job training, but some will only hire those who have prior experience working with animals.

What Soft Skills Do You Need to Succeed in This Career?

  • Active Listening: Strong listening skills will allow you to understand and follow veterinarians' and veterinary technicians' instructions.
  • Monitoring: You will need the ability to notice changes in animals' conditions so you can take appropriate action.
  • Service Orientation: To succeed as a veterinary assistant, you must have a strong desire to help others.
  • Problem Solving: You must be able to identify problems and solutions.
  • Critical Thinking: When making decisions or solving problems, this skill will allow you to determine what your options are, evaluate them, and then choose the one that has the most promising outcome.

    The Truth About Being a Veterinary Assistant

    • You will be at risk for being bitten or scratched by the animals in your care. Some of your patients may be aggressive or frightened.
    • You will have to restrain animals while veterinarians and technicians examine them or provide treatment.
    • Since many clinics and hospitals are open 24/7, you may have to work nights and holidays, in addition to during regular business hours.
    • You will have to assist veterinarians when they euthanize animals and dispose of remains.
    • Some of your patients may be victims of abuse or will be very ill.

    Differences Between a Veterinary Assistant and a Veterinary Technician

    The biggest difference between these two occupations lies in their educational requirements and subsequently their job duties. Unlike assistants, who need just a high school education and on-the-job training, technicians must complete a two-year postsecondary program in veterinary technology. They typically earn an associate degree upon completion. They then must become licensed by the state in which they practice. This additional training allows them to perform tasks equivalent to the ones nurses do in human healthcare. For example, they administer medication, anesthesia, and vaccinations.

    The duties of assistants and technicians differ by state. See the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) website for a state-by-state guide to specified duties of assistants and technicians.

    What Will Employers Expect From You?

    Here are some requirements from actual job announcements found on Indeed.com:

    • "Must love dogs and cats...and people too!"
    • "A devoted team player who thrives in a collaborative environment"
    • "Must have excellent communication and interpersonal skills"
    • "Remain calm in a busy environment"
    • "Able to lift up to 50 lbs unassisted"

    Is This Occupation a Good Fit for You?

    Occupations With Similar Tasks and Activities

     DescriptionMedian Annual Wage (2016)Minimum Required Education/Training
    Nursing AssistantProvides basic care to hospital and nursing home patients$26,590HS or Equivalency Diploma and state-approved training program
    Physical Therapist AidePerforms non-therapeutic duties in a physical therapy practice$25,680HS or Equivalency Diploma; on-the-job training
    PhlebotomistDraws blood from patients$32,710Certificate or Diploma from one-year postsecondary phlebotomy training program
    Medical AssistantPerforms clerical and clinical tasks in a doctor's office$31,540Minimum of a HS or Equivalency Diploma; most have a postsecondary certificate in medical assisting

    Sources:
    Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 (visited June 22, 2017).
    Employment and Training Administration, U.S. Department of Labor, O*NET Online (visited June 22, 2017).