Animals, whether they are household pets or livestock, need routine care to prevent and treat illness. If you have an interest in science and a desire to help animals in need, a job as a veterinary assistant may be right for you. Wondering how to become a veterinary assistant? Read below to find out.
What Does a Veterinary Assistant Do?
A veterinary assistant performs entry-level functions in animal care. While some clerical work is included in their responsibilities (e.g. maintaining medical records and scheduling appointments), veterinary assistants work directly with animals for much of their day. They feed, clean or groom clinic animals and they may administer medication under the supervision of a veterinarian or vet technician. They also clean and sterilize clinic equipment or kennel cages as well as prepare lab samples.
Among the other expected job responsibilities are:
- Laboratory test performance, such as blood, urine and fecal screenings
- Preparation of animal patients for surgery or examination
- Animal restraint
- Medication and fluid administration, as well as medication dispensing
- Animal teeth cleanings
- Grief counseling for pet owners
Veterinary Assistant Specializations
There are many settings in which a veterinary assistant can work, and this changes the nature of the job significantly. Veterinary technicians can specialize in the following areas:
- Laboratory animal caretaker: Feed, clean and otherwise care for animals in scientific or university lab settings; take and deliver lab samples; clean and sterilize work areas.
- Animal caretaker, keeper or trainer: Work in zoos, aquariums, shelters or sanctuaries to assist with feeding, watering, cleaning or caring for a variety of wild and domesticated animals.
- Kennel attendant: Care for pets staying in kennels by feeding, watering, bathing or administering medication. Kennel attendants also clean cages, walk animals and assist in ongoing training efforts
Steps to Becoming a Veterinary Assistant
Most veterinary assistant positions don't require a degree, but depending on the employer they may want to see that you've had some experience or some type of training in the field. Here are some basic steps to take if you want to become a veterinary assistant:
- Get a high school diploma. While it may not be a strict requirement, a high school diploma or GED equivalent is usually required to enroll in postsecondary programs.
- Take classes in math, science and biology in high school. Gain as much exposure to animals as you can through dog-sitting jobs or youth programs like 4-H.
- Enroll in a veterinary assistant program. Usually these types of programs are available at a vocational school or community college. Coursework may include veterinary office maintenance, customer service, basic animal care, surgical equipment use, and basic laboratory imaging.
- Get experience. Get an externship at a veterinarian's office that provides you with hands-on clinical practice. You may consider gaining experience while you're still in school, even if it's volunteer experience.
How to Become a GREAT Veterinary Assistant
Veterinary assistants are entry-level positions in the world of veterinary care, and require lots of hard work, patience and dedication. Some may enter this field because they love animals, and others may want to get in on the ground floor and work their way up as they're getting higher education. If you're wanting to excel in this career, here are some basic skills to utilize:
- People Skills: Being a great assistant means not only working well with animals, but working well with people, including pet owners and veterinary staff. That means honing your communication skills.
- Continuing Education: Work towards an associate or bachelor's degree in veterinary technology. Not only will formal education diversify your skill sets, but it will also expand your employment options.
- Career Advancement: Once a degree is acquired, pursue certification to become a veterinary technician. These technicians perform many of the same duties, but take on more clinical responsibilities.
Resources for Veterinary Assistants
- National Dog Groomers Association of America
- American Veterinary Medicine Association (AVMA)
- The Bureau of Labor Statistics
- American Veterinary Medicine Association, https://www.avma.org/Pages/home.aspx
- The Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Veterinary Assistant,http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/veterinary-assistants-and-laboratory-animal-caretakers.htm