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What does an Veterinary Assistant do?

Tricia Christensen
By
Updated Mar 05, 2024
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It’s important to understand that a veterinary assistant is not the same as veterinary technician. In general, vet techs are people who have received formal training, certification and licensing. A veterinary assistant is someone who usually has experience working in the animal care field but is not a licensed vet tech. Most are responsible for doing front office work in a veterinary office, clinic, or animal shelter. They can assist during surgeries or procedures as needed, but they usually cannot administer medication, give injections or do procedures on their own.

Front office work of the assistant can include the following responsibilities:

  • Greeting patients
  • Pulling charts
  • Filing
  • Writing charts
  • Answering phones
  • Taking appointments
  • Escorting animals and their owners to rooms
  • Weighing animals
  • Selling over the counter vet medications only available through vets, like certain types of flea control
  • Taking payments
  • Scheduling
  • Initiating collection or billing

A veterinary assistant may get a variety of hands-on experience with animals, but this largely depends upon the type of practice in which they work, and who the employer is. Many vets who are parents will employ their children or other teens to work as assistants so they can get field experience and decide if veterinary medicine is the right career choice. James Herriot, in his books on being a Yorkshire vet in the mid 20th century, discusses how both his children were informal assistants when he would visit farms or work at his clinic. This type of training can be great for the younger or older teens interested in the field, and Herriot relates that his son later became a vet because of all the on the job practice he received.

Though many of these jobs are paid positions, this is a field in which many volunteer opportunities exist. This is especially the case in non-profit clinics and in animal shelters, where money may be tight and vets may need as much help as they can get. If a volunteer later decides to become a paid assistant or a vet tech, volunteer experience in the past can look great on a resume and help him or her to obtain jobs or secure acceptance to vet technician or even veterinary medicine schools.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the primary responsibilities of a veterinary assistant?

Veterinary assistants play a crucial role in animal care facilities by providing support to veterinarians and veterinary technicians. They are responsible for maintaining clean and sanitized work areas, assisting with examinations and procedures, feeding and bathing animals, and ensuring that animals are comfortable during their stay. Their duties also include administrative tasks such as scheduling appointments and managing records.

Do veterinary assistants interact directly with animals?

Yes, veterinary assistants have significant direct interaction with animals. They are often tasked with handling pets during check-ups, preparing them for surgery, and providing basic care like feeding and grooming. Their role is hands-on, and they are instrumental in helping animals feel at ease in a clinical setting, which is vital for successful treatment and recovery.

What kind of training or education is required to become a veterinary assistant?

Becoming a veterinary assistant typically requires a high school diploma or equivalent, followed by on-the-job training. Some assistants choose to pursue a certificate or diploma through vocational schools or community colleges, which can enhance job prospects. According to the National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America, formal education can also include courses in animal science, ethics, and restraint techniques.

Is certification necessary for a veterinary assistant?

Certification for veterinary assistants is not mandatory everywhere, but it can be beneficial. The National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America offers the Approved Veterinary Assistant (AVA) designation, which can lead to better job opportunities and potentially higher pay. Employers may prefer certified assistants as it indicates a professional level of knowledge and commitment to the field.

What skills are important for a veterinary assistant to have?

A veterinary assistant should possess a combination of technical and soft skills. Technical skills include knowledge of animal care, restraint techniques, and the ability to assist with medical procedures. Soft skills are equally important, such as strong communication for interacting with pet owners, empathy for animals and their owners, and the ability to work well under pressure in a fast-paced environment.

What is the job outlook for veterinary assistants?

The job outlook for veterinary assistants is positive. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects employment in this field to grow 14% from 2020 to 2030, faster than the average for all occupations. This growth is attributed to the increasing pet population and the rising demand for veterinary services, indicating a steady need for skilled veterinary assistants in the coming years.

AllThingsNature is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen , Writer
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a AllThingsNature contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.

Discussion Comments

By kylee07drg — On Dec 21, 2012

My job duties fell in between veterinary technician and veterinary assistant for awhile. I had the training and experience to do technician work, but the vet desperately needed help answering phones and doing receptionist work, so I stayed really busy until she hired an assistant.

As a technician, I could take samples from animals for tests, trim nails, and even give vaccinations. This was what I studied to do, so I was relieved when the assistant took over the desk duties.

By OeKc05 — On Dec 20, 2012

@seag47 – Generally, yes, they are the lowest paid. My sister was a vet assistant, and she made barely above minimum wage when she started.

Once the vet saw that she was good at the job, though, she got raises every now and then. So, if you do well, you can make more money.

The only veterinary assistant training my sister had came from the vet herself at the clinic. She might have been able to earn more in the beginning if she had any previous experience.

By seag47 — On Dec 20, 2012

What is the typical veterinary assistant salary like? Are these workers the lowest paid in the whole clinic?

By healthy4life — On Dec 19, 2012

@anon115323 – It all depends on where you work. I got away with doing it part-time, but only because there were a couple of other workers who could do all the things mentioned in the veterinary assistant job description.

Many clinics have several assistants so that someone is always there. It would be tough if a vet only had one assistant and he or she became ill and could not work for a week or longer.

I had mentioned up front that I only wanted to work part-time, and since the vet already had two other workers trained in the same field, he was fine with that. We worked out our schedules with the office manager.

By anon275266 — On Jun 17, 2012

I agree with anon115135. It is also infuriating to nearly kill yourself in school only to go into a practice that cares more about money than ethics. The place I work has no idea what the difference between assistants and RVTs are, so they treat us identically. That's a huge insult to me.

I didn't spend all that time in school, up all night every night so that I can be told to work in the kennel that day.

By anon267491 — On May 10, 2012

In Florida, Miami Dade College offers an A.S. in veterinary technology, and an A.A. in Pre-Veterinary medicine.

By anon152130 — On Feb 12, 2011

Just wondering is it better to have hands on skills to do the job?

By anon115323 — On Oct 01, 2010

can this be a part time job? Or can you do this job full-time and also go to school full-time to major in another field for a different future career?

By anon115135 — On Sep 30, 2010

As an RVT in CA, I have to disagree with our role being analogous to an LPNs in human medicine. We are far closer to RNs and in fact, are not legally called Registered Animal Nurses simply because the nurses unions wouldn't allow it.

In fact, veterinary assistants are more like VINEs. We've worked hard to be taken seriously both in our field and in the public eye. Don't belittle the education we have and work we do.

By cafe41 — On Jul 23, 2010

Crispety- I want to add that there are also online programs that offer training for veterinary assistants.

There is a school called Animal Behavior College online that offers a certified Veterinary assistant program. The tuition ranges from $2,500 to $3,200.

By Crispety — On Jul 23, 2010

I just want to add that here in Florida, the Sanford–Brown Institute offers an Associates of Science degree in veterinary technology. A lot of vocational schools like this one offer this type of training.

Tricia Christensen

Tricia Christensen

Writer

With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a AllThingsNature contributor, Tricia...
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