Veterinary technicians, commonly known as vet techs, provide care and comfort to sick or injured animals. They work with veterinarians or scientists in a way that is similar to the help a nurse gives to a doctor.
With a growing pet population, a wider focus on food and animal safety and a greater demand for veterinarians to see more patients, qualified vet techs can take advantage of explosive job growth.
Veterinary technicians perform their duties under the supervision of veterinarians, but the location where the work takes place can vary dramatically. Small, private practices, 24-hour pet hospitals, regional animal shelters and independent laboratories are just a few of the common workplaces.
Vet techs also help at animal research facilities, zoos, racetracks, boarding kennels and rescue agencies. Most employers focus their practices on either small animals or large animals.
Many vet tech duties are centered on the lab or the client. Some of the most common duties in a veterinary technician job description are the following:
- Collect blood, stool, urine or tissue samples for testing
- Perform laboratory tests, such as urinalysis, heartworm in
spections, feline leukemia tests and blood counts
- Take and develop x-rays
- Sterilize instruments and equipment
- Assist with dental procedures
- Prepare animals for surgery
- Administer anesthesia to animals
- Euthanize seriously injured or ill animals
Examination and Treatment
- Ask probing questions about the reason for the visit
- Record case history, weight, temperature and other details
- Restrain and stabilize animals during examination and treatment
- Trim nails, express anal glands, remove sutures and perform other routine procedures
- Administer medications, vaccines, and treatments prescribed by a veterinarian
- Provide basic education on animal care, nutrition and medical conditions
- Teach clients how to administer medicines at home
- Recommend products for optimal wellness, such as vitamins, supplements, dental cleaning, flea control, geriatric care and dietary measures
- Maintain animal records and billing information
- Prepare and label medications to be sent home with the patient
- Clean and organize examination rooms
- Order, organize, label and restock supplies and pet foods
- Feed, walk and bathe animals when applicable
- Train new employees
Customer Service and Reception
- Answer phones
- Schedule appointments
- Greet customers
- Prepare invoices
- Discharge patients
- Follow up with clients
Essential Skills and Qualities
A veterinary technician job description typically lists the physical duties that must be performed, but technicians also need to hold certain personality traits. Some of the most important characteristics are listed below.
Good communicator: Vet techs must work with a variety of animal owners, doctors and office staff. Each person must be kept informed in a way that is clear and meaningful. Technicians must also be able to demonstrate compassion in situations that are stressful and frustrating.
Detail-oriented: Vet techs work with details every day, from symptoms and animal behaviors to diagnostic test results and medicine dosages. Workers must stay focused and organized in order to avoid mistakes.
Animal lover: The most successful vet techs are passionate about the animals they see on a daily basis. At the same time, they must be able to control their emotions, especially during times of distress or death.
Helping sick and injured animals all day can be exhausting, both physically and mentally. Veterinary technicians typically work long hours, including evenings and weekends, and at least some overtime. They risk bites, scratches or other injuries when restraining, examining or cleaning animals.
They may also encounter diseases that can be transmitted from animals to humans. While dogs and cats are the most common patients, vet techs should be prepared to handle birds, mice, rats, cattle, sheep, pigs and horses.
Education and Licensing
In order to become a veterinary technician, individuals must complete at least an associate’s degree in veterinary technology. Employers prefer technicians who have studied under a program approved by the American Veterinary Medical Association.
Technician licensing is administered by individual states. The most common certification exam is the Veterinary Technician National Examination. People working in animal research facilities may also complete optional certificates from the American Association for Laboratory Science.
With the right qualifications, virtually anyone can take advantage of the rise in veterinary technician jobs. The role can also develop into promotional opportunities, such as technologist, supervisor or eventually veterinarian.