GUIDE
August 20, 2021
How to Become a Veterinary Assistant

If you love animals and want a job where you get to care for them every day, you may want to consider a career as a veterinary assistant! 

Veterinary assistants provide basic care to animals that veterinarians and vet technicians are treating. Though the position requires very little formal training (making it an excellent entry-level healthcare career!), veterinary assistants are vital to the efficient functioning of veterinary offices, animal hospitals, and research laboratories. 

Want to find out how you can start a career as a veterinary assistant and if it’s the right path for you? Keep reading!

We Found The Following Schools with Online Veterinary Assistant Programs

Part One What is a Veterinary Assistant?

If you’ve ever taken your pet to the vet, you’ve likely encountered a veterinary assistant in the front office or helping to care for your furry friend. 

Veterinary assistants assist veterinarians and vet technicians in two major areas:

  • Animal care
  • Office support

Animal Care Duties

Some of the most common veterinary assistant tasks include cleaning examination rooms and equipment and preparing surgical suites. However, they also perform basic animal care, including feeding, exercising, and grooming as well as restraining animals during examinations.

Administration Duties

Veterinary assistants also play an integral role in customer service and office administration, helping to schedule appointments, entering animal immunization and medical information into charts, and providing emotional support to owners.

Part Two What Do Veterinary Assistants Do?

Veterinary assistants support veterinarians, vet techs, and clients who entrust their animals to their care. They help in the examination and surgical rooms and at the reception desk, the laboratory, and the grooming area. 

Each veterinary office, clinic, or hospital will have its own specific requirements for its veterinary assistants. However, in most cases, veterinary assistant responsibilities include:

  1. Providing quality care for animal patients by feeding, grooming, and supplying environmental enrichment
  2. Restraining animal patients during examinations
  3. Running laboratory testing 
  4. Greeting clients 
  5. Providing education on general health and medications
  6. Ensuring exam rooms and surgical suites are clean and well-stocked
  7. Completing clerical work and scheduling client appointments
  8. Transferring and requesting patient records from other facilities
  9. Cleaning medical and surgical equipment
  10. Filling prescriptions and dispensing medications

Trained veterinary assistants are also able to:

  1. Collect samples from animals
  2. Administer medication and immunizations
  3. Observe animals and report on progress to veterinarians
  4. Assist in surgical procedures
  5. Help provide care before and after various medical procedures 

In addition to clinical duties, veterinary assistants also help support pet owners who are often dealing with worry or grief about the well-being of their pets. 

Part Three Veterinary Assistant Salary

The U.S.Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that in 2020, veterinary assistants earned a median annual salary of $29,930, or $14.39 per hour. The lowest ten percent earned less than $21,570, and the top ten percent earned more than $41,080. 

Numerous factors can impact a veterinary assistant’s earnings, including education, whether you work full-time or part-time, years of experience, work setting, and geographical area. 

Highest Paying States for Veterinary Assistants

The BLS states that the top paying states for veterinary assistants include:

  1. Maine - $43,290
  2. Massachusetts - $41,000
  3. District of Columbia - $38,890
  4. Connecticut - $36,100
  5. California - $35,620

Veterinary Assistant Benefits 

Also, depending upon their work environment, veterinary assistants who work full time may receive additional forms of compensation, including paid time off, sick leave, personal days, and health insurance.

Part Four How to Become a Veterinary Assistant

Step 1.) Earn a High School Diploma or GED

The baseline requirement for veterinary assistants is a high school diploma or GED. And you may be able to get a job with just this as some veterinarian offices are willing to provide on-the-job training for veterinary assistants. 

Step 2.) Complete a Veterinary Assistant Program

However, earning a certificate can increase your compensation and make you more competent in your role. Veterinary assistant certificate programs are available both online and in person. They provide both classroom learning and the opportunity to participate in hands-on externships within various animal care environments.  

It is essential to ensure that your certification program has accreditation by the National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America (NAVTA). 

The programs generally take about nine months or less and include instruction in:

  1. Animal handling and restraint
  2. Animal nursing fundamentals
  3. Laboratory procedures
  4. Diagnostic imaging
  5. Veterinary office practices
  6. Pharmacy and pharmacology
  7. Medical terminology
  8. Surgical preparation and assisting

Step 3.) Become Certified 

While there are no certification or license requirements to work as a veterinary assistant, you can take the additional step to become certified. After you’ve completed your program, you'll need to take and pass your certification exam in order to earn the Approved Veterinary Assistant (AVA) status. 

We Found The Following Schools with Online Veterinary Assistant Programs

Part Five What Is the Career Outlook for Veterinary Assistants?

There has been tremendous growth in consumer spending on pets and animals, including over $31 billion spent on veterinary care. As a result, the job outlook for veterinary assistants is stronger than for the national average of all other occupations. 

The BLS projects that job opportunities for veterinary assistants will expand by approximately 16%, adding 15,700 jobs over the next ten years. 

Part Six What are the Continuing Education Requirements for Veterinary Assistants?

Though there are no mandatory requirements to legally work as a veterinary assistant, earning the Approved Veterinary Assistant (AVA) designation provides potential employers with confidence in their abilities and knowledge. 

Earning the AVA designation requires graduation from a NAVTA approved veterinary assistant program and passage of the AVA examination. Your certification is valid for two years.  

AVA certification renewal requires completing ten hours of continuing education credits. You can earn credits from any recognized provider of veterinary continuing education.  Some examples include:

  • CE articles published by the NAVTA Journal
  • CE articles from other professional veterinary journals
  • Attendance at conferences
  • Webinars or onsite seminars

All credits must be documented by the provider or via transcripts. 

Part Seven Where Can I Learn More About Becoming a Veterinary Assistant?

Those interested in becoming veterinary assistants can explore career specifics on the National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America website. 

It may also be beneficial to speak with local veterinary hospitals, clinics, or kennels about what veterinary assistants do in their practice. You may even want to write your questions down to appear more professional and ensure you get your questions answered. Who knows, maybe you will end up working as a veterinary assistant in one of those locations someday!

Part Eight FAQs About Becoming a Veterinary Assistant 

What Qualifications Do You Need to Become a Veterinary Assistant?

The minimum qualification you need to become a vet assistant is a high-school diploma or equivalent. 

Although there are no mandatory requirements to start working as a veterinary assistant, many employers prefer that candidates attend a certificate program or other formal training program. Not only does this make it easier for you to get a job, but you will also be eligible for higher salaries.

Other necessities to become a vet assistant include having a passion for animals’ safety and well-being, good communication skills, and the ability to lift at least 30 pounds.

How Long Does it Take to Become a Veterinary Assistant?

Veterinary assistants can earn a Veterinary Assistant Certificate in approximately nine months or less, depending on their chosen program. However, in some US areas, veterinarians do hire assistants with only a high school diploma. Some employers will also hire vet assistants with the expectation that they will earn their certificates while working.

Since a veterinary assistant role is an entry-level position, it gives you a chance to see if working with animals over the long term is something that you are sure you want to do. As a result, many vet assistants continue to get an associate’s degree, bachelor’s degree, or higher while they work.

Does a Veterinary Assistant Need a Degree?

Veterinary assistants do not need an advanced degree, though earning a certificate as a veterinary assistant will lead to more career opportunities, greater job responsibilities, and higher salaries.

What is the Difference Between Veterinary Tech and Veterinary Assistant?

Though veterinary technicians and veterinary assistants work with animals in the same environment, becoming a veterinary technician requires significantly more education and responsibility.

Veterinary technicians provide direct care for injuries and illnesses, including administering sutures or anesthesia, assisting in operating rooms, providing first aid, and performing rudimentary dental work.  

Assistants’ roles are more focused on primary animal care, such as feeding, grooming, and helping the office to run smoothly. They also perform administrative tasks and ensure that examination rooms and surgical suites are cleaned and ready for patients.

We Found The Following Schools with Online Veterinary Assistant Programs