A career in veterinary services can be very rewarding for animal lovers, with plenty of opportunities for career growth. Since the COVID-19 pandemic — and the increase in pet adoptions and needs for animal services that followed — the veterinary technician job outlook in the United States has increased tremendously.
In many animal hospitals and clinics, veterinary technicians have an important role in supporting veterinarians in delivering quality care. Knowing more about a vet tech's responsibilities and qualifications can help you determine if you want to choose it as a career path.
In this article, we discuss exactly what a vet tech does, how long it takes to become a vet tech, their typical work environment and how much money vet techs make.
What is a veterinary technician?
A veterinary technician is a certified professional that provides essential support services in a veterinary practice. Vet technicians 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 can work in private clinics, animal hospitals and research institutions. Veterinary technicians must undergo rigorous training and require state-specific credentials to practice.
Read more: Learn About Being a Veterinarian
Veterinary technician duties and responsibilities
Veterinary technicians perform a variety of duties under the supervision of a licensed veterinarian. A vet tech can do any task as directed by a veterinarian. However, they cannot 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
Average salary for a veterinary technician
A veterinary technician earns an average salary of $15.84 per hour in the United States, though salaries can range from $7.25 to $36.05 per hour. A variety of factors can determine compensation including the size of the employer, qualifications, experience, certifications and region.
Veterinary technician requirements
Veterinary technicians require several years of education, training and certifications to practice.
Vet technicians need to complete a two-year degree to work. An associate degree in veterinary technology equips them with clinical and laboratory experience working with different kinds of animals. This degree is the minimum requirement for entry-level veterinary technician roles and allows students to gain valuable experience in a work setting.
Students will learn the foundations of animal pharmacology, animal diseases, clinical practices, veterinary hospital management and animal behavior. At the end of the associate program, students can take the licensing exams to practice in their state.
Veterinary technicians require practical training experience in an animal hospital. This is a part of the associate degree program's curriculum. Students may also complete an externship before the end of their college education.
During an externship, students will assist with veterinary tasks such as weighing animals, taking blood samples, cleaning animals and preparing them for surgery. They will also learn how to handle animals, calm them when they're anxious and identify signs of distress.
At the end of the training, veterinary technician graduates will be qualified to work in veterinary practices, animal hospitals or apply for a four-year veterinary technologist program.
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 (AAVSB) and assesses entry-level expertise in pharmacy and pharmacology, animal care and nursing, anesthesia, laboratory procedures, dentistry, animal behavior and other areas.
This computer-based test comprises 170 multiple-choice questions and lasts three hours. 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.
Licensure requirements for veterinary technicians vary by state. If you meet the licensure requirements, you may apply and get licensed by your state. Most states require that you complete a two-year associate degree program in veterinary technology, letters of recommendation, proof of citizenship or residency permit and other paperwork. Once you fulfill all the requirements, your state licensing board will issue you a license or registration.
Skills for veterinary technicians
Veterinary technicians need excellent people skills as much as they require knowledge of handling animals. Here are examples of vital veterinary technician skills:
- Attention to detail: Veterinary technicians 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 difficult situations and care for healthy and sick animals. Vet techs should be able to remain calm 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 find the file and review the 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, vet techs need compassion for all animals.
Veterinary technician specialties
Veterinary technician specialties Veterinary technicians learn the basics of animal nursing and pharmacology in college, but they can also study for specific 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, you'll likely need to meet certain education and training requirements. You may also need to pass an exam. If you're interested in pursuing a specialty, review the academy's website to see what qualifications you need.
Veterinary technician work environment
Veterinary technicians can work in diverse animal care settings including private veterinary clinics, animal hospitals and laboratories. They can also work in zoos, colleges, universities, research organizations and humane societies.
Veterinary technicians working in clinics and hospitals could have varying work hours since these practices are open 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 such as 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.