What Is a Veterinary Technician? Degree and Requirements

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated September 14, 2021 | Published February 25, 2020

Updated September 14, 2021

Published February 25, 2020

If you have a passion for animals, you might consider a career as a veterinary technician or “vet tech.” Veterinary technicians play an essential role in the overall care of animals. Veterinary technicians graduate from accredited colleges and then work under licensed veterinarians in an animal hospital, veterinary clinic or another service to provide medical care for animals. In this article, we explore the difference between a veterinarian technician and a technologist and how to become a veterinarian technician.

What is a veterinary technician?

A veterinary technician is a professional who works under a licensed veterinarian and provides various medical services to all types of animals to promote their health and wellness. A veterinary technician may provide both emergency and routine medical care for animals and use both clinical skills and knowledge to perform their job duties. This professional can perform any task assigned by a veterinarian except prescribe medication, make medical diagnoses and perform surgery.

The following are common duties that a veterinarian technician may perform:

  • Prepare surgical instruments for surgery

  • Prep animals for surgery and other medical procedures

  • Perform X-rays and other diagnostic tests

  • Administer vaccinations and medications

  • Assist during animal surgery and other medical procedures

  • Provide routine or emergency medical care for animals

  • Administer anesthesia to animals

  • Observe and analyze animal behaviors and conditions

  • Assist in medical research related to animals

While a career as a veterinarian technician will require knowledge in general medical techniques related to the care of animals, many individuals choose to focus on a specific area of study as a vet tech. The following are the 16 areas of specialization that a vet tech may pursue as recognized by the National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America:

  1. Animal behavior

  2. Anesthesia

  3. Dermatology

  4. Dental

  5. Clinical pathology

  6. Clinical practice

  7. Surgery

  8. Zoology

  9. Nutrition

  10. Internal medicine

  11. Equine

  12. Diagnostic imaging

  13. Emergency/critical care

  14. Ophthalmology

  15. Physical rehabilitation

  16. Laboratory medicine

Related Learn About Being a Veterinarian

Educational requirements for veterinary technicians

The minimum education requirement to become a veterinary technician is a two-year associate's degree in veterinary technology, animal sciences or a related field. Some colleges may require aspiring vet techs to have completed up to 20 hours of observation at a veterinary hospital in addition to having received a high school diploma before allowing them to enroll in an associate's degree program. Topics covered in a veterinary technology associate's degree program include animal behavior, animal pharmacology and veterinary hospital management.

Read more: Learn About Being a Veterinary Technician

What is a veterinary technologist?

Veterinary technologists are similar to veterinary technicians in that they both work directly under a licensed veterinarian and perform various duties within a medical setting. However, veterinary technologists are required to have a four-year bachelor's degree, meaning that they have a higher education than most vet techs. While vet techs and veterinary technologists typically play the same role within an animal hospital or other medical location, veterinary technologists may be more likely to receive higher-paying roles or management positions.

In addition to veterinary clinics or laboratories, a veterinary technologist may also work at a zoo, hospital or farm. Veterinarian technologists that pursue a master's degree in addition to a bachelor's degree may also work for pharmaceutical companies, research facilities or government agencies as they relate to animals.

Related: 18 Popular Jobs That Involve Working With Animals

Educational requirements for veterinary technologists

A career as a veterinary technologist requires a minimum of a four-year bachelor's degree in veterinary technology or a related field. Subjects that may be studied in a four-year veterinary technology program include anatomy of animals, animal handling, animal pharmacology and surgical nursing.

How to become a veterinary technician

The following are the steps that most individuals take when pursuing a career as a veterinary technician:

1. Obtain an associate's degree

As mentioned earlier, aspiring vet techs are required to have a minimum of a two-year associate's degree in veterinary technology. You can check with the veterinary state board of your particular state to see which programs are accredited in your area. Completing a program that is accredited by the Committee on Veterinary Technician Education and Activities is the best way to ensure that the degree you pursue is valid a career as a vet tech. Most accredited veterinary technology programs will consist of 240 hours of on-site practicum and a minimum of 60 credit hours.

2. Get certified

Most states require veterinary technicians to become certified by taking a credentialing exam. The most common exam used is the Veterinary Technician National Exam (VTNE) which is offered through the American Association of Veterinary State Boards. This test is typically taken on a computer and is three hours long and includes 170 multiple-choice questions. Subjects covered on the Veterinary Technician National Exam include anesthesia, dentistry, surgical nursing, pharmacology, diagnostic imaging and emergency medicine among others.

3. Become a member of the National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America

While not required to practice as a vet tech, becoming a member of NAVTA can provide individuals with personal and professional growth and opportunities within the veterinary field.

4. Apply for a job

Once you have completed a two-year degree and become certified, you can apply for a position as a veterinary technician. Most individuals begin their career as a vet tech by working in a clinical setting at an animal hospital or private veterinary clinic. If you choose to specialize in a particular vet tech area, you may work in a different setting, such as a zoo or laboratory.

5. Maintain certification

Most states require you to complete continuing education credits to maintain your certification as a veterinary technician. Each state will vary, so be sure to check with the veterinary board of your state to learn what is required to maintain or renew your certification.

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