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How to Become a Vet Assistant

Veterinary assistants play an important role in ensuring the well-being of animals who visit veterinary offices. Vet assistants provide support to veterinarians and provide preventive, routine, emergency and postoperative care to pets and other nonfarm animals.

If you have a love for animals, a career as a veterinarian assistant can be rewarding. You can play a direct role in helping animals maintain health and well-being and in providing comfort and happiness to their owners. Learn how to become a vet assistant and what to expect from this important job in this guide.

What Does a Veterinary Assistant Do?

Vet assistants typically work under the supervision of veterinarians and veterinary technologists and technicians. They perform routine animal care tasks. Their duties may include:

  • Administering medication and immunizations
  • Collect samples suh as blood, tissues and urine samples
  • Bathing and exercising animals
  • Cleaning and disinfecting veterinary facilities, including cages, examination and kennels
  • Communicating with veterinarians regarding animal progress
  • Examining animals for signs of clinical symptoms or behavioral changes that could indicate injury or illness
  • Restraining animals for examinations and lab procedures
  • Moving animals during procedures
  • Sterilizing instruments for surgery
  • Performing Aseptic assistance in surgery, such as passing instruments or opening surgical packs
  • Providing first aid 
  • Providing care before and after surgery and medical procedures
  • Sterilizing and maintaining surgical equipment and instruments
  • Treating animals who are sick or who have been mistreated

Veterinary assistants may also perform animal intake sessions before a pet owner meets with a veterinarian. In addition to being adept at performing animal care effectively, vet assistants must also be good at communication and show empathy and understanding to pet owners they meet with.

Benefits of Being a Vet Assistant

If you want to work with animals, a vet assistant position typically requires less training time than what’s required of roles like veterinary technologist and technician or veterinarian.

Veterinarian school typically takes 4 years to complete after a 4-year undergraduate degree, while a 4-year bachelor’s degree is typically required for veterinary technologists. Veterinary technicians typically need a 2-year associate degree. The Veterinary Assistant program can be completed in as few as 9 months.1 2

Since a vet assistant position is an entry-level role in animal care, it’s a role that enables professionals to determine whether they want to further their education and career in the field.

The demand for Veterinary Assistants and Laboratory Animal Caretakers is bright. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports the employment is projected to grow 16% between 2019 and 2029, which is much faster than average compared to all positions

Vet Tech vs Vet Assistant

Vet assistants can enter the animal field more quickly than vet techs and get to work helping animals and assisting veterinarians. 

Vet tech roles are more advanced. In particular, only vet techs can induce anesthesia, suture existing skin wounds, extract teeth, or make a port hole to place a catheter. 

Because vet tech roles involve more direct animal care for injuries and illnesses, beyond the routine care vet assistants provide, vet techs typically need at least a 2-year associate degree to qualify for a position. 

All of these positions – vet assistant, veterinary technician and veterinary technologist – work under the supervision of a veterinarian in similar veterinary clinic work environments. What position you choose to pursue depends on what kind of animal care you want to provide and what kind of education you’re willing to complete.

Why Become a Vet Assistant?

You may want to pursue a vet assistant position if you want to work with animals in a shorter amount of time. In as few as 9 months, you can get a Veterinary Assistant certificate and learn animal care skills including animal nursing fundamentals, animal handling and laboratory procedures.

The BLS reports there are 15,700 new laboratory animal caretaker and veterinary assistant jobs expected to be added between 2019 and 2029 to the 99,500 jobs there were in 2019.4 These jobs are found throughout the United States, wherever there are veterinary clinics and other animal care facilities.

With veterinary assistant education, you may choose to advance your education to become a veterinary technician, vet technologist or veterinarian. An entry-level vet assistant job can help you determine how involved you want to be in the field and what type of career you want to pursue.

Vet Assistant Salary

The median annual wage for Veterinary Assistants and Laboratory Animal Caretakers in May 2019 was $28,590, according to the BLS. The highest 10% earned more than $39,800.

Vet assistant salaries may vary depending on the work environment. The May 2019 median annual wage for Veterinary Assistants and Laboratory Animal Caretakers working in state, local and private junior colleges, colleges, universities and professional schools was $37,910. The May 2019 median annual wage for Veterinary Assistants and Laboratory Animal Caretakers working in research and development in the physical, engineering and life sciences was $32,950.5

Best States to Work as a Vet Assistant

You may be interested in the states with the most demand and highest-paying salaries for veterinary assisting. Some states have higher demand due to animal population. Veterinary assistant salary may depend on factors like cost of living and demand. The following states have the highest vet assistant employment levels and top-paying salaries.6

States with the highest employment levels of veterinary assistant and laboratory animal caretakers, as of May 2019

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STATE Employment p/1000 jobs
California 12,360
Texas 6,060
Florida 5,410
New York 4,890
Virginia 4,320

Top-paying states for veterinary assistant and laboratory animal caretakers, as of May 2019

STATE ANNUAL MEAN WAGE
Maine $41,000
Massachusetts $40,070
Connecticut $35,210
California $33,680
New York $33,220

Find Your Path as a Veterinary Assistant

SJVC is committed to hands-on training in the skills you need as a Veterinary Assistant. Learn more about our program and exciting opportunities.

Veterinary Assistant Jobs

Veterinary assistants typically work in animal hospitals and veterinarian clinics, providing routine care and helping treat animals with illnesses and injuries. According to the BLS, 87% of Veterinary Assistants and Laboratory Animal Caretakers work for veterinary services.7

Vet assistant work hours may be full- or part-time and may include nights, weekends and holidays. Since animals may require care any time of day, any day of the year, there are typically veterinary services available 24/7 by various providers.

Vet assistants may specialize in working in regular or emergency veterinary medicine. In addition to providing care for pets, some Veterinary Assistants and Laboratory Animal Caretakers work at educational institutions (5%) and some work in animal research and development centers (3%).

With vet assistant training, you might pursue roles such as the following.

  • Vet assistant to an animal care provider: An animal caregiver at a veterinary clinic assists veterinarians with routine animal care. An emergency veterinary assistant may specialize in assisting a veterinarian who provides emergency animal care.
  • Inpatient technician assistant: Vet assistants in this type of role help vet technicians who care for animals in inpatient clinics. These include animals who are staying at animal hospitals for an extended period of time, including overnight.
  • Kennel vet assistant: Vet assistants who work for kennels help take care of animals who are staying at a boarding facility, such as when a pet owner goes on vacation.

If you’re curious about what jobs are available in your area, check out California Registered Veterinary Technicians Association and the California Veterinary Medical Association.9 10 You can get more information on general veterinary medicine by visiting the Department of Consumer Affairs Veterinary Medical Board.11

Skills for Veterinary Assistants

Veterinary assistants require diverse skills to be successful. Physical strength and manual dexterity are important because vet assistant jobs are typically very physical. You may be handling animals, lifting cages or equipment, administering medication, using medical equipment and collecting blood and urine samples. Some pets can weigh 100 pounds or more, so being able to maneuver animals and adapt to their size and strength is helpful.

You’ll also likely be on your feet for a significant part of the day. Fitness and physical stamina help you stay energized in this physical job.

A love for animals and empathy for their pet owners is also important. Good communication and customer service skills help you connect with clients. Treating animals with care is important to pet owners and for providing animals with optimal support.

Communication skills are also important for vet assistants because they must communicate effectively with their team members, including veterinarians. Vet assistants must also be detail-oriented and vigilant of developments that may affect an animal’s health.

Vet assistants also benefit from emotional skills. Often there are challenging and difficult situations in environments like vet clinics, including abused and injured animals or pets who are euthanized. You must be able to handle tough circumstances like these on the job.

How to Become a Veterinary Assistant

If you want a job as a veterinary assistant, it helps to get education and certifications that can help you stand out as a candidate. Some positions may require a high school diploma and on-the-job training. Some employers may require a certificate of completion or an associate degree in order to be considered. These are some typical steps to become a vet assistant.

  1. Get educated. Veterinary assistant education requirements will depend on the employer and what types of duties you’ll be performing. If you want to go beyond cleaning cages and perform duties like assisting with laboratory procedures, animal nursing and diagnostic imaging, a Veterinary Assistant certificate program teaches you those skills.
  2. Apply for jobs. Wondering the answer to how long does it take to become a veterinary assistant? You may be able to secure a vet assistant job in less than a year. Vet assistant certificate programs take as few as 9 months to complete. Once you have a certificate, you can network in national and local vet assistant groups and upload your credentials to LinkedIn for job opportunities.

Before you begin the process for becoming a vet assistant, research jobs you’re interested in to see what they require. Then, you can align your veterinary assistant training with those jobs. 

You may apply for licensure by meeting all of the Veterinary Medical Board Alternate Route requirements, including completion of 4,416 hours of practical experience under the direct supervision of a California licensed veterinarian. The candidate must also submit all SJVC course outlines to the Veterinary Medical Board

SJVC prepares students to take appropriate certification and licensure exams related to their individual majors. The College does not guarantee students will successfully pass these exams or be certified or licensed as a result of completing the program. You may also be interested in applying for a Registered Veterinary Technician license.13

What to Look for in Veterinary Assistant School

The Veterinary Assistant program you choose should ultimately help you achieve your desired vet assistant position. As you research veterinary assistant schools, keep the following factors in mind.

  • Time: If you want to start your career more quickly, look for a vet assistant school that has a shorter program. Some vet assistant programs may require students to learn topics that aren’t related to their careers, whereas some veterinary assistant programs teach job-specific skills and enable you to earn a certificate in as few as 9 months.
  • Cost: The length of a program can also impact how much it costs. Wherever you’re considering going, enquire about financial aid opportunities including scholarships, grants and loans.
  • School experience: You may be interested in a vet assistant program that provides hands-on experience, including an externship where you can apply what you’re learning in a real-world environment. Also, research what the instructor qualifications are and how their experience can help you as a student.
  • Career outcomes: Research what graduates can expect to pursue career-wise once they graduate and how the skills they learn in school will translate to the job. Ideally, a school will help students prepare for the best practices in a veterinary office, since that’s the predominant location for vet assistant work.

Not all vet assistant schools are created equal. Take into account the curriculum, instructor quality, hands-on experience, accreditation and expected career outcomes as you’re researching schools.

How Long is a Vet Assistant Program?

Vet assistant training will vary depending on the school, what curriculum is included and what award is provided upon graduation. For a Veterinary Assistant certificate program, you may be able to complete that in as few as 9 months.

Can I Attend Veterinary Assisting School Online?

Yes, there are vet assistant schools available online. Before signing up for an online program, consider how hands-on a vet assistant career is and whether the in-person experience you’d get at an externship is important to you.

Many students prefer attending a campus vet assistant program because they get to work directly with animals. That valuable hands-on experience is important to them as they prepare for vet assistant careers.

Kickstart Your Career as a Veterinary Assistant

Small class sizes, individual attention, and hands-on training in the skills you need. Learn more about how to become a Veterinary Assistant with SJVC.

What Will I Learn in SJVC’s Veterinary Assisting Courses?

San Joaquin Valley College’s Veterinary Assistant program prepares students to work as vet assistants at locations like animal hospitals, veterinarian clinics and kennels. Students in the certificate program learn animal nursing fundamentals, diagnostic imaging, laboratory procedures, animal handling and restraint, and veterinary office practices.

The program includes hands-on training and externship experience in various animal care environments. Upon graduation, students will be prepared to work in professional vet assistant careers.

Vet Assistant Classes

During the 36-week Veterinary Assistant program at SJVC, students will take veterinary assistant courses like the following.14

  • Introduction to Veterinary Assisting
  • Introduction to Life Sciences
  • Veterinary Anatomy & Physiology
  • Animal Nursing
  • Veterinary Pharmacology
  • Veterinary Laboratory Procedures
  • Veterinary Radiology
  • Veterinary Surgical Assisting
  • Veterinary Dentistry & Critical Care

Prepare for a Career in Veterinary Medicine with San Joaquin Valley College

SJVC prepares students to work as a veterinary assistant in a variety of environments. Students get to work with animals in real-world situations and learn how to provide proper, safe care that helps animals and pet owners.

You can receive your certificate of completion in as few as 9 months to begin your career in veterinary medicine. Learn more and request information on veterinary assisting at SJVC.

Vet Assistant FAQ

How long does it take to train a vet assistant?

You can complete veterinary assistant school in as few as 9 months. From there, you can begin your career as a vet assistant in less than a year.

Do I need to be certified as a vet assistant?

According to the BLS, veterinary assistant certification is not a requirement.

How much do vet assistants make in California?

How much do veterinary assistants make in California? According to the BLS, the annual mean wage for veterinary assistants and laboratory animal caretakers in California was $33,680 in May 2019, which is the fourth-highest mean veterinary assistant salary in the United States.15 California has the highest employment level of veterinary assistants and laboratory animal caretakers in the country, with 12,360 positions in May 2019.

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