Do you love working with animals? If so, pursuing a career as a veterinary technician might be the right choice for you. Learn more about what veterinary technicians do on a daily basis so you can make an informed decision about this line of work.
Common Veterinary Technician Duties and Responsibilities
In a way, veterinary technicians are like the equivalent of nurses, but for animals. They work closely with a veterinarian to meet the healthcare needs of their animal patients, just as nurses work with doctors to do the same for their human patients. They regularly perform a wide variety of tasks related to the care of animals. Examples of common vet tech tasks include:
- Gathering medical history information
- Asking for details regarding the reason for the current veterinary visit
- Doing an initial examination
- Checking and monitoring vital signs
- Collecting needed samples and specimens (blood, urine, stool, etc.)
- Administering medications as prescribed by the veterinarian
- Giving vaccinations to animals as prescribed by the vet
- Performing dental cleaning services
- Doing X-rays, ultrasounds, and other radiologic tests
- Conducting manual lab procedures like urinalysis, fecal flotation, blood smear analysis, cytology, or packed cell volume (PCV)
- Performing in-house lab work like complete blood count (CBC), blood chemistry panels, and other blood tests (if equipment is available on-site)
- Taking and/or processing tissue samples
- Providing emergency first aid to animals in need of immediate intervention
- Ensuring that surgical tools are prepped and ready for the veterinarian to use
- Getting animals ready for surgery
- Caring for post-op animals
- Providing education to pet or livestock owners about how to best care for their animals
This list of duties makes it obvious that veterinary technicians are highly skilled workers who must be comfortable being very hands-on with medical procedures and lab equipment, including microscopes. As Registered Veterinary Technician (RVT) Saleema Lookman shares, "Techs are carefully trained in safe handling and preparation of specimens to maintain the integrity of the sample and, most importantly, to avoid contracting zoonotic diseases like intestinal parasites or blood-borne pathogens." This is not a field for people who get squeamish around bodily fluids.
Limits on What Veterinary Technicians Can Do
Veterinary technicians provide essential services to the veterinarians for whom they work and their animal patients. However, by law, there are some tasks that only veterinarians can perform. This means there are some functions that vet techs are not allowed to do. Examples include:
- Diagnosing a medical condition (unless authorized by the veterinarian to do so)
- Prescribing medicine
- Performing surgical procedures
- Performing any functions beyond the scope of what vet techs are authorized to do under applicable state law
Working as a Veterinary Technician
Most veterinary technicians work in a veterinary practice, clinic, or hospital. Some may work at an emergency veterinary care facility or a zoo or wildlife park. Hours vary based on the animal care facility's operating hours and how shifts are staffed. According to Payscale.com, the average hourly wage for veterinary technicians is just over $15 per hour. The pay range varies between $11 and $20 per hour, working out to annual compensation ranging from $24,000 - $43,000 per year.
Most Common Vet Tech Tasks
In addition to working directly with animals, performing tests, and assisting with procedures, veterinary assistants also spend a lot of time interacting with animal owners. According to Lookman, "As a veterinary technician, I'd say that I spend about 60% of my working hours each month executing technical skills (drawing blood, taking radiographs, monitoring anesthesia, administering medications, among other nursing care tasks), and the remaining 40% on client communication. Discussing preventive care or aftercare instructions with pet owners is a significant part of the job that can't be overlooked. As advocates for the animals, it's our responsibility to educate owners on how to provide the best care for their pets."
Most Difficult Aspect
Every job has rewards and challenges. According to Lookman, "The hardest part of being a veterinary technician is seeing patients in pain. Considering we can't talk to them, it's impossible to communicate that we're not there to hurt them - we're just trying to help! A lot of people ask me if euthanasia is the most challenging part of the job, but truthfully, it's not. In my opinion, the ability to end an animal's suffering in a humane and kind way is a privilege."
Most Rewarding Aspect
For people who are well-suited to work as veterinary technicians, the positive parts of the job outweigh the difficult aspects. Lookman shares, "The knowledge that I'm making a difference in a pet's (and their owner's) life is hands down the most rewarding part of the job. When a previously ill patient prances out of the hospital with their tail wagging, the entire team cheers. These cases remind me of why I entered the field in the first place."
Key Vet Tech Success Factors
Many skills are required in order to have a successful career as a veterinary technician. Lookman shares, "To succeed as a veterinary technician, an individual should be compassionate, have good communication skills, and possess the ability to multitask and remain calm under pressure." She continues, "It's not uncommon for vet techs to find themselves in emergent situations when intentional actions could save an animal's life. It's also essential to be capable of handling the sight of needles and blood."
As an RVT, Lookman has hands-on experience in this field, so she's well-suited to offer advice to those planning to enter the profession. She shares, "My first word of advice would be to prioritize self-care. In any profession that involves caregiving, it can be easy to channel all your energy into your patients, but it's impossible to fill from an empty cup. Taking care of yourself will enable you to provide the best care for your furry patients. They deserve it, and so do you." She continues, "Secondly, I'd recommend aspiring veterinary technicians explore the field to discover what areas they're most passionate about. There are numerous directions you can take when you become a vet tech - you could elect to pursue a specialty (like anesthesia, nutrition, or large animal medicine), perform research in a lab, work at a zoo, enter hospital management, among dozens of other focuses."
Vet Tech Vs. Vet Assistant
If you want to work with animals, but aren't quite sure being a veterinary technician is the right path for you, you may want to consider working as a veterinary assistant. Lookman explains, "The specific duties of a veterinary technician vs. an assistant typically vary based on where you're located. In some U.S. states, only credentialed technicians are legally allowed to complete certain tasks like drawing blood, placing IV catheters, or administering vaccines, whereas in other states, a veterinary assistant may be permitted to perform all these tasks." As a result, some assistants focus on things like feeding animals, weighing animals, cleaning out cages, sanitizing exam and operating rooms, and other support functions.
Preparing to Become a Veterinary Technician
In order to become a licensed veterinary technician, you will need to complete an associate degree program in veterinary technology. There are many veterinary technology programs, which typically require two years of full-time study. After finishing school, you will also need to earn specific credentials, with requirements varying by state. In most states, you'll need to pass the Veterinary Technician National Exam and earn your Licensed Veterinary Technician (LVT), Registered Veterinary Technician (RVT), or Certified Veterinary Technician (CVT) credential.