17 Tools That Veterinarians Use on the Job

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published March 11, 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Veterinarians look after the health and well-being of animals. In addition to a great deal of knowledge about animals and their medical needs, veterinarians possess technical skills that allow them to use various tools and machines effectively. If you're interested in a medical career caring for animals, it's important to understand what to expect from the role in terms of duties and tools. In this article, we define the role and duties of a veterinarian and look at some of the important tools they use to perform their job.

What is a veterinarian?

A veterinarian is a medical professional who specializes in animals. Many veterinarians work for veterinary services, often in private practice, looking after the health of various types of animals. Just as a doctor examines, diagnoses and treats human patients, so do these veterinarians with domestic pets, livestock, laboratory animals and zoo animals. Some veterinarians also contribute to public health by studying zoonotic diseases—illnesses that can jump from animals to humans—while others may work in areas such as food safety or medical science.

There are various types of veterinarians. Some of the most common are:

  • Companion animal veterinarians: Companion animals refer to pets, particularly common domesticated mammals such as dogs, cats, rabbits and ferrets. These veterinarians are general practitioners, qualified to examine and treat domestic animals, write prescriptions and perform surgical procedures.

  • Exotic animal veterinarians: These veterinarians specialize in providing care and treatment for less-common pets or species with special considerations, such as birds, reptiles and amphibians. Many exotic animal veterinarians treat pets, but some also work with animals kept in zoos or wildlife habitats.

  • Livestock or large animal veterinarians: These veterinarians specialize in the care of animals raised for food and those that are especially large, including pigs cows, horses, sheep and goats. Though there are veterinary hospitals that treat such animals, livestock or large animals veterinarians often travel in outfitted vehicles to their patients' homes.

  • Veterinary specialists: A veterinary specialist is a veterinarian who specializes in a particular field, such as dentistry or anesthesiology. Like medical specialists, they typically receive advanced education and training in their chosen field.

  • Laboratory veterinarians: Also called research veterinarians, these professionals work in research, typically in a field of specialty, which can help to improve the health of both animals and humans. Laboratory veterinarians contribute to scholarship and knowledge in areas such as pathology, pharmacology, disease diagnoses, zoonotic diseases and animal feed production, to name just a few.

Related: 5 Different Types of Veterinarians

What do veterinarians do?

Most veterinarians treat the illnesses or injuries of animals. In providing care for animals, they may perform a wide range of other duties. Such duties may vary depending on their practice or area of specialty, but they generally include:

  • Performing physical examinations of animals to evaluate their health or physical condition

  • Discussing animals' medical histories with owners or handlers

  • Taking radiographic images of animals to examine the severity of injuries

  • Diagnosing illnesses or injuries based on the animal's history and the examination findings

  • Cleaning and dressing wounds

  • Setting fractures

  • Performing elective or emergency surgeries

  • Administering vaccinations

  • Maintaining vaccination records

  • Prescribing medications, such as for pain or the prevention of fleas, ticks and worms

  • Educating animals' owners about diagnoses, treatments or general care

  • Euthanizing animals to prevent further suffering, such as from injury or old age

Related: Research Veterinarian: What Is It and How To Become One

17 veterinarian tools

The following is a list of 17 tools that veterinarians use to perform their duties:

1. Stethoscope

A stethoscope is an instrument that medical professionals use to listen to sounds within the body. Like other doctors, veterinarians use stethoscopes to assess their patients' heartbeats, breathing, gastrointestinal activity and blood flow. All stethoscopes follow the same general design. At the end of the instrument is the chest piece, which the doctor places against the patient's body, allowing internal sounds to resonate through the piece. The sound then travels up tubing into earpieces, which the doctor places within their ears.

Related: 105 Useful Medical Terms

2. Thermometer

Like other doctors, veterinarians use thermometers to measure body temperature, which can reveal whether a patient has a fever. There are various types of thermometers that veterinarians are likely to use. Rectal or ear thermometers are the most common. These usually have disposable probes or disposable covers over the probe to prevent cross-infection between patients. Most medical professionals today use digital thermometers, which are faster and more accurate than mercury.

3. Speculum

A speculum is a medical instrument that can be inserted into an orifice to open it and allow for viewing. A veterinarian may use a speculum to keep open an animal's mouth to examine their teeth and gums, to increase the direct view of the inside of an ear or to examine the tissue of the rectum. Some specula have a light source that provides the user with a clearer view of dark spaces.

4. Otoscope

An otoscope is a tool for looking into a particular orifice, the ear. The head of an otoscope comprises a speculum that goes into the ear, a viewing lens for the veterinarian and a bulb for illumination. The bulb beams light through the speculum, allowing a clear view of the patient's ear canal and eardrum. Veterinarians often use otoscopes to assess the cleanliness of patients' ears or to determine the cause of ear-related symptoms.

5. Nail clipper

Veterinarians of companion animals regularly use nail clippers to trim the nails of their patients. Keeping nails trimmed is important for preventing overgrowth, which can cause problems with an animal's ambulation and may even lead to nails growing into the flesh. Good nail clippers allow users to trim the nail swiftly, in a single motion, to avoid jagged nails. It's common for veterinarians to carry more than one type of nail clipper to accommodate different species of animals.

6. Hoof grinder

A hoof grinder serves a similar purpose as a nail clipper. It's a disc that livestock and large animal veterinarians use to smooth hooves. Like overgrown nails in domestic pets, hooves can cause discomfort and problems with ambulation unless maintained. In some animals, such as cows, overgrown hooves can also cause problems with standing.

Related; 18 Popular Jobs That Involve Working With Animals

7. Scale

A scale is a device that measures weight. Scales for veterinarians come in various types and designs to accommodate the vastly different sizes, shapes, temperaments and considerations of animal patients. In veterinary clinics or hospitals for domestic pets, scales can be small tabletop devices or even built in to the examining table. For larger animals, the veterinarian may use a scale that resembles a broad platform, often with guardrails to keep the animal enclosed.

8. Autoclave

An autoclave is a machine that heats objects using pressurized steam. Veterinarians use autoclaves to sterilize their tools and instruments, preventing cross-infection and contamination. An autoclave is often preferable to chemical cleaning of instruments since the machine can sterilize many items at once and doesn't present the risk of corrosion.

Related: How To Become a Sterile Processing Technician

9. Microscope

A microscope is an optical tool that can magnify the view of very small objects, allowing for closer observation of otherwise unobservable forms. Veterinarians use microscopes to examine various samples, such as ear or mouth swabs, urine or feces, blood and soft tissues. Being able to view microscopic life forms can help in diagnosis and, thus, the treatment of patients.

Related: 17 Molecular Biology Skills and How To Develop Them

10. Sphygmomanometer

A sphygmomanometer is an instrument that measures blood pressure. It comprises a cuff that goes around a part of a limb, a valve, tubing and a gauge for showing the measurement. Sphygmomanometers can be analog or digital, though digital versions are likely more common in veterinary practices. There are various cuff sizes to accommodate small, medium and large animals.

11. Ultrasound scanner

An ultrasound scanner is a machine that uses sound waves to visualize the internal structures of a body. Such a scanner is an important diagnostic tool for medical professionals, including veterinarians. It can be particularly useful for determining whether an animal is pregnant. Veterinarians who make house calls, such as livestock and large animal veterinarians, may use portable models they can easily pack in their kit or vehicle.

12. X-ray machine

An X-ray machine uses electromagnetic radiation to create imaging of solid structures within the body, particularly bones but also muscles and organs. This instrument is essential in veterinary practice, as it is necessary for diagnosing fractures and tracking orthopedic healing. As with other veterinary tools, X-ray machines can vary in size depending on the requirements of the veterinarian. An X-ray of a dog, for example, can be performed with a smaller instrument, while an equine X-ray may involve the use of a large X-ray device on a broadly swiveling system within a large room.

13. Cautery device

A cautery device is any instrument used to burn tissue, particularly to seal wounds. Some cautery devices administer chemical cauterizing agents, such as silver nitrate, which are caustic and capable of closing vessels. Others may generate electricity or lasers to cauterize via heat.

14. Anesthesia machine

An anesthesia machine is a device that administers anesthetic agents. It's a necessary tool for surgeries and sometimes even for noninvasive procedures such as X-rays and dental cleanings, which require the animal to remain still for extended periods. Anesthesia machines largely automate the process of anesthetization by mixing the anesthetics based on predetermined settings and providing the patient with oxygen and ventilation during a procedure.

15. Infusion pump

Infusion pumps, also known as IV pumps, are devices that administer fluids, nutrients or medications directly into a patient's bloodstream. Veterinarians use infusion pumps during surgeries to provide analgesics or antibiotics or to perform steroid treatments, to name just a few uses. Using these machines allows for automated delivery of necessary substances while preventing under- or overdosing.

16. Electric razor

An electric razor, also known as a clipper, is a device for cutting away hair. Hair removal is necessary to prepare a site for the insertion of a catheter or for surgery, providing the practitioner with a clear view of the flesh. It may also be necessary for finding a vein for the administration of IV medications.

17. Surgical clamp

A surgical clamp is a tool used to hold materials together or back during surgery. Veterinarians may use clamps to keep flaps of soft tissue from obstructing the surgical site or securing swabs and drapes. Clamps are often either straight or curved and have the ability to lock in place.

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