How To Become A Veterinary Assistant

Interested in becoming a vet assistant? It’s a fulfilling career where you’ll get to work with animals every day and save the lives of beloved pets. Plus, the demand for well-educated, experienced vet assistants has never been higher.

There are a lot of factors to consider when planning your career as a vet assistant. This guide will help you navigate all of those factors and help you make the most educated decision. Here’s what you need to know before becoming a vet assistant.

Two vet assistants checking the heart rate on a kitten

Vet Assistants vs. Vet Techs

The biggest difference between vet assistants and vet techs is the time and money it takes to receive your education. Even the longest vet assistant programs typically last no more than nine months, while vet techs are required to complete at least two years of higher education. Vet techs must also pass the Veterinary Technician National Examination, while vet assistants need not take an exam in most states.

Although their requirements are not as demanding, vet assistants can perform much of the same duties as vet techs and make comparable salaries. For more information on the differences between vet assistants and vet techs, click here.

What Does a Veterinary Assistant Do?

In a clinic or hospital setting, a veterinary assistant does nearly everything a vet tech does. In most states, the only thing they cannot legally do is administer anesthesia. Other than that, the specifics of the job varies based on employer.

As a vet assistant, you can typically expect to…

  • Provide for the husbandry needs for animals in the clinic or hospital’s care
  • Assist veterinarians in exams, surgeries, and other procedures
  • Take patients’ vitals, administer medication, and care for hospitalized animals
  • Communicate with pet owners about their animals’ needs and health concerns

Vet assistants are usually seen as “do anything” members of the veterinary team. In addition to your regular duties, you may be asked to manage the front desk, make phone calls, or prepare exam and surgery rooms. In smaller clinics, it’s common for vet assistants and vet tech both to assist in these types of roles.

Vet Assistant Requirements & Qualifications

While the specifics vary from state to state, there are few requirements to becoming a veterinary assistant. That being said, you should seek a foundational education and meet a few requirements in order to serve your patients to the best of your abilities.


Veterinary Assistant Education

While the education requirements for a vet assistant are not as rigorous as those for a vet tech, it still requires a solid understanding of biology and the physiology of the species you’ll be working with. Typically, vet assistants receive their education in one of three ways:

Hands-On School (2-9 Months)

There are a handful of hands-on vet assistant schools across the country, each providing a blend of classroom learning and practical experience. During your program, you’ll get to work alongside professional instructors and practice with live animals. Of all the options for becoming a vet assistant, hands-on schooling provides the best, most comprehensive education.

Unfortunately, hands-on school is also the most time-consuming and least cost-effective option for your vet assistant education. Because there are only a few schools in the country, you may need to relocate to attend your desired program. Plus, these schools are often full-time commitments. You’ll finish your education more quickly, but they require a time commitment up front.

Because of the quality of their education, however, vet assistants who study at hands-on schools are often hired more quickly and earn more than those who pursue other forms of education. This can offset the initial cost of school in the long run.

Online School (2-9 Months)

Possibly the most convenient option, online school provides your foundational education in the comfort of your own home. These schools are often affiliated with local veterinary associations. They’re also one of the most affordable ways to become a vet assistant, and often, you get to learn at your own pace.

The affordability does come with drawbacks, though. Because of the virtual environment, you won’t receive the level of practical training you’d receive at a hands-on school (if you receive any at all). In addition, you probably won’t have the same one-on-one relationship with your instructor that you would if you worked with them in person.

If you decide to enroll in an online vet assistant school, consider other ways to get hands-on experience, such as through an apprenticeship or entry-level job within a clinic.

Apprenticeship (Timeline Varies)

Full-time school isn’t an option for everyone. In that case, you might consider working as an apprentice beneath a local vet professional.

During an apprenticeship, you would work alongside a registered veterinarian or vet tech, who would provide on-the-job training during the daily operations of their clinic. While you wouldn’t get a standard classroom education, the real-world experience you get as an apprentice is unmatched.

Unfortunately, there is currently no network of vets and vet tech seeking apprentices. If this is the path you choose to take, you’d need to find a clinic willing to take you on and learn at their pace. You may learn quicker in a fast-paced environment, but there’s no guarantee the clinic of your choice will have the time and resources to devote to your education.

After you complete your apprenticeship, you can usually expect to remain on the team that trained you. Without a school to vouch for your skills, you might find it difficult to find a starting position in a different clinic or hospital. If your original clinic doesn’t have an opening for you, however, your mentor will often act as a reference as you seek employment elsewhere.


Veterinary Assistant License

In most industries that require it, a “license” is a legal document that states you are fully educated and legally allowed to practice your profession.

Unlike vet techs, vet assistants do not need a license. There are no licensing organization for vet assistants, so anyone who works in a vet clinic could may use the title. Some states allow vet assistants to register through their Veterinary Medical Association (MVMA), but it is not required to work in the field.


Veterinary Assistant Certification

In most industries, a “certification” acts as proof that you have met the standards set by a school, university, or other testing organization.

While certification is not required, this proof increases your chances of finding a long-term, high-paying position in the pet care industry.

If you attend a hands-on or online school, you’ll most likely learn everything you need to know to pass your state’s optional Certified Veterinary Assistant exam. If you opt for an apprenticeship or other form of on-the-job training, you’ll most likely need to study for the exam on your own time.


Personal Skills

Many vet assistants set off on this career path because they love animals, but working with pets comes with a price. A vet assistant needs to be able to help owners make the best decisions for their animals’ health, even when that decision is emotionally difficult. You’ll get to save lives, but you’ll also have to witness many come to an end.

Plus, working with pets also means working with their people. You’ll need to be able to communicate effectively with pet owners, even when emotions run high.

In addition, vet assistants should be able to…

  • Keep their composure in a fast-paced, sometimes stressful environment.
  • Work efficiently and accurately to ensure the safety of both pets and people.
  • Work on their feet for most of the day, including lifting, standing, walking, bending, and restraining animals.
  • Communicate effectively, both with clients and fellow team members.

If you want to work with animals but you’re unsure if vet assisting is the right path for you, click here to explore other career options.

Finding a Vet Assistant Job

Once you complete your education, it’s time to move onto the next phase of your career. There are plenty of opportunities for certified vet assistants, and the demand is only growing.


How much do vet assistants make?

Because vet assistants do much of the same work as vet techs, their salaries are comparable. In the US on average, vet assistants make just $1 less per hour than vet techs. The average vet assistant salary is $31,567 per year, but some make as much as $42,000 per year.

That being said, the pet care industry is evolving. Pet owners are spending more money than ever on their pets’ care, and there’s a high demand for well-trained vet assistants. We expect to see the average salary increase in the coming years.


Jobs for Vet Assistants

Typically, a vet assistant would work in a clinic or hospital setting. This could be anything from a small local vet clinic to a large emergency animal hospital.

There are also opportunities for vet assistants outside of the veterinary field. Many vet assistants go on to work in other parts of the pet care industry, such as dog boarding, training, or even grooming. Others work in zoos, wild animal rehabilitation centers, and in wildlife preserves around the world. There’s really no limit to where your vet assistant education can take you.

Want to become a veterinary assistant? Take the first step today!

Our hands-on program is designed to provide you with the classroom and practical education you need to jumpstart your vet assisting career. Complete the form below for more information, or to book a tour of our Missouri facility.

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