How To Become a Vet Tech (Plus Salary and Job Outlook)
By Indeed Editorial Team
Updated November 27, 2022 | Published February 25, 2020
Updated November 27, 2022
Published February 25, 2020
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.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, demand for veterinary technicians is expected to be high over the next decade, as the number of households in the U.S. with pets continues to trend upward. If you love to care for animals, a career in veterinary services may be the path for you.
In this article, we’ll discuss the role of veterinary technicians, specifically what they do and how to become one, plus we answer common questions about this career path, including what vet techs earn, more on their job outlook and the skills they need to succeed.
What is a veterinary tech?
A veterinary technician is a certified professional who provides essential support services in a veterinary practice. Vet techs work under the direction of a veterinarian to provide routine and emergency medical and clinical services for all types of animals.
These credentialed professionals use their training to help veterinarians during the diagnosis and treatment of animals. Vet techs work in private clinics, animal hospitals and research institutions. Veterinary technicians must undergo rigorous training and require state-specific credentials to practice.
Related: Learn About Being a Veterinarian
Duties and responsibilities
Vet techs perform duties under the supervision of a licensed veterinarian. While a veterinary technician can do any task as directed by a veterinarian, they can’t diagnose medical conditions, prescribe medications or perform surgery. Here are examples of common veterinary technician duties and responsibilities:
Observing and reporting the condition and behavior of animals
Providing general care and emergency first aid
Bathing and grooming animals, including trimming nails
Preparing animals for surgery
Collecting samples for tests
Performing diagnostic tests and x-rays
Administering treatments including medications and vaccines prescribed by a licensed veterinarian
Assisting during medical procedures including administering anesthesia
Educating animal owners on home care
Assisting a licensed veterinarian to hold animals for examination and treatment
Compiling and recording animal medical histories
Assisting scientists and veterinarians in research
How to become a vet tech
Here’s a typical academic roadmap to becoming a veterinary technician:
1. Earn a high school diploma or GED
The first step to becoming a veterinary technician is to earn a high school diploma or equivalent, like a GED diploma. To prepare for the coursework you’ll take on in college, aspiring vet techs should take courses in biology and other sciences, as well as math according to the American Veterinary Medical Association, while in high school.
2. Enroll in an accredited program
Vet technicians need to complete at least a two-year degree to work. An associate degree in veterinary technology equips them with the clinical and laboratory experience to work with different kinds of animals.
Note this degree is the minimum requirement for entry-level veterinary technician roles and allows students to gain valuable experience in a work setting. In such a program, students will learn the foundations of animal pharmacology, animal diseases, clinical practices, veterinary hospital management and animal behavior.
At the end of an associate program in veterinary technology, students can take the licensing exams to practice in their state. The American Veterinary Medical Association accredits vet tech programs across the U.S.
3. Complete specialized training
Veterinary technicians require practical training experience in an animal hospital. This is a part of an associate degree's curriculum. Students may also complete an externship before the end of their college education.
During an externship, veterinary tech students will assist with veterinary tasks, such as weighing animals, taking blood samples, cleaning animals and preparing them for surgery. They’ll also learn how to handle animals, calm them when they're anxious and identify signs of distress.
At the end of the training, vet tech graduates will be qualified to work in veterinary practices, animal hospitals or apply for a four-year veterinary technologist program.
Related: 12 Types of Vet Tech Careers
4. Pass the VTNE to become certifified
In most states, veterinary technicians must pass the Veterinary Technician National Examination (VTNE). The exam is administered by the American Association of Veterinary State Boards and assesses entry-level expertise in pharmacy, pharmacology, animal care and nursing, anesthesia, laboratory procedures, dentistry, animal behavior and other areas.
The computer-based test comprises 170 multiple-choice questions and vet techs have three hours to complete it. You can apply for the exam online via the AAVSB website. In addition to the VTNE, some employers and states may require students to sit for specific certification exams.
5. Apply for state credentials
Licensure requirements for vet techs vary by state. Most states require you to complete a two-year associate degree in veterinary technology and show letters of recommendation as well as proof of citizenship or residency permit and other paperwork. Once you fulfill the requirements, your state licensing board will issue you a license or registration to practice.
Veterinary technician specialties
Veterinary technicians learn the basics of animal nursing and pharmacology in college, but they can also study specialties. The National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America (NAVTA) has approved 16 academies that offer certifications for different specialties:
The Academy of Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care Technicians
The Academy of Veterinary Dental Technicians
The Academy of Internal Medicine Veterinary Technicians
The Academy of Veterinary Technicians in Anesthesia and Analgesia
The Academy of Laboratory Animal Veterinary Technicians and Nurses
The Academy of Veterinary Behavior Technicians
The Academy of Veterinary Clinical Pathology Technicians
The Academy of Veterinary Technicians in Clinical Practice
The Academy of Dermatology Veterinary Technicians
The Academy of Equine Veterinary Nursing Technicians
The Academy of Physical Rehabilitation Veterinary Technicians
The Academy of Veterinary Nutrition Technicians
Academy of Veterinary Ophthalmic Technicians
The Academy of Veterinary Surgical Technicians
The Academy of Veterinary Zoological Medicine Technicians
The Academy of Veterinary Technicians in Diagnostic Imaging
To earn a specialty certification as a vet tech, you'll likely need to meet certain education and training requirements as well. You may also need to pass an exam. If you're interested in pursuing a specialty as a vet tech, review the academy's website to see what qualifications you need.
Related: 5 Different Types of Veterinarians
Frequently asked questions
How long does it take to become a vet tech?
Depending on the academic route you take, it could take two to four years to become a licensed veterinary technician. While veterinary techs typically earn an associate degree, some may opt to pursue a bachelor’s degree like most veterinary technologists do.
How much do vet techs make?
A veterinary technician earns an average salary of $19.20 per hour in the U.S. A variety of factors can determine compensation including the size of the employer, qualifications, experience, certifications and region.
Per the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary for vet technicians and technologists is $36,850 per year, which is close to $9,000 less than the average salary for all occupations in the U.S. total. This said, the top 10% in the field earn about the national average at $48,100.
What’s the job outlook?
The labor statistics bureau projects employment for vet techs and technologists to grow by 20% between 2021 and 2031. This is much faster than the average for all occupations and can be attributed to the persistent rise in households with pets. This percentage translates to 15,500 openings each year.
What skills do veterinary technicians need?
Veterinary technicians need excellent people skills as much as they require expert knowledge of handling animals. Here are examples of vital veterinary technician skills:
Attention to detail: Vet techs need to notice every detail when working with animals. Since animals cannot communicate, a vet tech needs to be vigilant while assisting a veterinarian to deliver quality care.
Patience: Veterinary medicine requires patience to handle many difficult situations and care for healthy and sick animals. Vet techs should be able to remain calm and composed when working with animals to prevent stressful situations.
Communication: Vet techs need exceptional communication skills to ask questions that could help diagnose and treat their animals.
Organization: This skill helps vet techs keep detailed files about each animal they work with. That way, they can quickly find the file and review an animal's history each time they visit.
Stamina: Most days, vet techs spend most of their time standing, walking or lifting animals. Stamina can help them keep up with the demands of the job.
Compassion: To give excellent care to their animal patients, vet techs need compassion for all animals.
What’s their work environment like?
Veterinary technicians work in diverse animal care settings, including private clinics, animal hospitals and laboratories. They can also work in zoos, colleges and universities, research organizations and humane societies.
Vet techs working in clinics and hospitals could have varying work hours since these practices are open at all hours. The work can be in shifts and may include nights, weekends and holidays. Vet techs may also need to participate in an on-call rotation.
Most veterinary technicians work with small animals such as dogs, cats and other common pets. However, they can assist with the treatment of large farm animals like cattle, horses and sheep.
The work requires standing for long periods, lifting animals and keeping them calm for treatment. This makes it important to have the physical and mental stamina to perform duties effectively.
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