How to Become a Veterinary Assistant: The Ultimate Guide & Step-by-Step Instructions

You’ve seen them when you’ve taken your beloved pet in for their regular check-up.

They greet you, they play with your pup, they provide him with all of his routine care while you wait for the vet to come in – they’re veterinary assistants, and honestly, they have a pretty sweet career.

For people who love animals and enjoy working with, helping, and bettering the lives of animals, there’s almost no more rewarding career than a veterinary assistant.

Vet assistants are licensed veterinary technicians that get to have a hands-on role in almost every facet of animal care.

They play a vital role in the daily hustle and bustle of animal hospitals, vet officers, and more!

Does this sound like your type of gig?

Do you think that, more than anything, you’d enjoy working with animals, helping them thrive, and going into work every day knowing the rewarding work you’re doing makes a difference?

It seems like this might be the job for you!

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What does a Veterinary Assistant Do?

But what exactly does a vet assistant do?

Sure, they get to play with the puppies and kittens, have a hand in helping out, and get to be hands when it comes to medical procedures, but being a veterinary assistant is far more than just taking the dogs for a walk every day.

A vet assistant gets to be a compassionate presence for both animal and animal owner, provide insight and experience, and assist veterinarians in their everyday work.

They play a vital role in their establishments every day!

Duties

  • Work as the daily caretakers for the animals that are in their establishment. This includes normal, everyday things like feeding and watering, changing out bedding and cages, walking, and playing with the animals
  • Exercising the animals in their care
  • Cleaning animal cages
  • Cleaning and disinfecting examination rooms and treatment rooms
  • Sterilizing and maintaining surgical equipment
  • Assisting the licensed vet with tasks during surgery
  • Monitoring and taking care of pet parents in the waiting rooms
  • Performing routine tests that do not require a veterinary license such as fecal exams, operating blood machines, urinalysis setup and test, heartworm, leukemia, FIV tests, etc.
  • Maintaining status on patients and organizing patient files
  • Restraining and assisting the vet with restraining during procedures that do not require anesthesia

Let's Talk Salary

If the wheels in your head are turning and you’re considering putting more thought into becoming a veterinary assistant, it’s only natural that your mind should zero in on one of the most important parts about a job – the salary.

It makes sense to want to understand what kind of salary, benefits, and packages you should be getting as a veterinary assistant – it is your livelihood, after all.

So, what exactly does a vet assistant make, anyway?

Research indicates that the median annual salary for a veterinarian assistant is about $29,648, however, the range for this is relatively broad.

On the lowest end, veterinary assistants are making about $18,645 with the high end topping out around $37,000.

If you take a look at the hourly wage rate, you’ll note that vet assistants are looking at a range of about $13.60 to about $16.12, but all of these factors are based on varying circumstances.

It will all depend on the size of the practice, the extension of your duties, the number of doctors you work with, and the traffic of the establishment.

Research does show that facilities that specialize in research are more likely to pay higher salaries than general practice establishments or clinical hospitals, though.

It’s important to note as well that with more certifications and experience, vet assistants are more likely to earn higher wages.

Average National Salary: $29,648

$18K
10%
$23K
25%
$29K
50%
$35K
75%
$41K
90%
*Salary information last updated 2018

Average Annual Salary by State

State Avg. Annual Salary
Alabama $28,136
Alaska $33,502
Arizona $29,381
Arkansas $27,425
California $32,939
Colorado $29,707
Connecticut $31,961
Delaware $31,605
Florida $27,980
Georgia $29,203
Hawaii $30,923
Idaho $26,980
Illinois $31,247
Indiana $28,966
Iowa $27,751
Kansas $29,174
Kentucky $28,106
Louisiana $29,441
Maine $29,945
Maryland $30,419
Massachusetts $33,740
Michigan $30,538
Minnesota $31,635
Mississippi $26,387
Missouri $29,174
Montana $28,225
Nebraska $28,047
Nevada $30,893
New Hampshire $31,308
New Jersey $33,858
New Mexico $27,691
New York $34,507
North Carolina $29,055
North Dakota $27,662
Ohio $29,559
Oklahoma $28,166
Oregon $31,131
Pennsylvania $31,901
Rhode Island $31,397
South Carolina $27,988
South Dakota $26,090
Tennessee $27,484
Texas $29,441
Utah $28,106
Vermont $29,263
Virginia $29,737
Washington $32,435
West Virginia $27,039
Wisconsin $29,500
Wyoming $26,980

How to Become a Veterinary Assistant

Step 1Achieve Your High School Diploma

Some people rule out becoming a vet assistant right off the bat because they think they need to go to college, earn a specific degree, and deal with years of school before they can get into the field – but this simply isn’t true!

All you need to get started on your veterinary assistant journey is a high school diploma or a GED.

This is sufficient means for employment as a vet assistant.

In fact, about 34 percent of vet assistants were hired with only a high school diploma, according to figures from O*Net Online.

Step 2On the Job Training

If you can obtain a program that allows you get training before you’re hired (such as an internship or apprenticeship), that’s a great opportunity to snatch up.

However, much of the training vet assistants actually get is on the job training, which means you must first be hired so you can practice your technical skills.

It’s likely that other vet assistants will train you in the ways and skills you need to develop, helping you hone your customer service, laboratory skills, front desk tasks, and animal care specialties.

You’ll likely need to learn how to do things the specific way your establishment likes them done, so ensure that you’re learning how to follow procedure.

It’s likely you’ll need to establish on the job training skills in feeding, watering, restraining animals, sterilizing equipment, providing pre and post op care, administering oral and topical medications, preparing patients for lab examination, and more!

Step 3Optional Certification

As we’ve noted before, certifications are not required in order to become a vet assistant, but honestly, they could make a huge difference in your career.

Often, having a certification is going to be preferred by employers and could help you get a better, more rewarding job in an establishment you like better.

Try optional certification through state veterinary societies and through private organizations in order to better your career opportunities.

Requirements for each program are going to vary, so it’s impossible to stay, step by step, what you’ll need to have in order before you apply for these programs – we recommend taking a look at the requirements before you set your sights on a specific program in order to make sure it’s a good fit for you!

Likely, though, you’ll need to endure educational coursework, training with veterinarians, and probably an ending exam to thoroughly test your skills and knowledge. As we said, this could vary from program to program, so ensure you know what you’re getting into.

Step 4Explore Your Options

The final step in your vet assistant journey? Well, that’s sort of a trick question.

The final step advice we can offer you is to consistently work toward advancing your career, meaning, continue to applying for certificates and degrees to help better your career options.

It’s even possible for you to embark on the 4-year track to become a veterinary technologist, a related, but more advanced career option.

Consider researching your options and never stop evolving to become the vet assistant you want to be!


What Education is Required?

As we stated above, the education that you’re required to have to become, and work as, a veterinary assistant, doesn’t necessarily derive from the typical “four-year-college path.”

For starters, all you need to begin your veterinary assistant journey is a high school diploma or your GED.

While some people choose to earn a certificate through non-degree programs (like at a physical college or at an online college), you’re certainly not required to do this.

The skills that you learn in high school, such as biology, English, social interaction, et cetera, are enough to get you going on your vet assistant journey.

We say this with a grain of salt, though, because it’s likely that employers are going to want to hire (as a general rule of thumb) veterinary assistant who have a higher form of education like associates degrees or bachelor’s degrees, though this isn’t necessarily required.

If you decide to attend a postsecondary school, you’ll likely need to have a diploma there.

Much of the education you’ll need for a veterinary assistant job, however, will be obtained while you’re actually on the job.

While it’s possible to work as an apprentice or intern (either unpaid or paid), it’s more likely that you’ll need to be hired on first at an establishment where a colleague will then teach you the ways of the job.

You’ll need to learn skills that span all sorts of genres, such as people skills, administrative skills, animal care skills, laboratory skills, and medical skills.

Much of this is going to be taught directly by other, more experienced vet assistants or veterinarians.

To continue your education throughout your vet assistant journey, though, it can be helpful to gain certifications, licenses, and even attend programs to receive an associates or bachelors degree.

There are a number of 2 or 4 year colleges that offer veterinary assistant certificate programs that can train you in a direction you wish to go, such as theory or the practice of humane care.

Video About The Career


What Licensing and Certification Do I Need?

Again, licensing and certification is certainly not required in order to obtain a job as a veterinary assistant.

With a high school diploma or GED, you’re at the bare minimum for requirements for applying for a veterinary assistant job.

That being said, though, employers are more likely to hire a budding vet assistant if they have some sort of licensing under their belt.

Unless they’re looking for an entirely new candidate for their practice, it’s likely that they’ll want someone with a bit of experience.

Getting licensed or certified as a vet tech isn’t an overly complicated process.

You can pick out the programs that make the most sense for you, your learning level, and your lifestyle, and then proceed to select from there.

You can obtain certification through either state veterinary societies or private organizations, but it’s important to note that all certification programs are not created equally.

Overall, you can expect training experience, educational coursework, vet tech assistantships, and of course, a final exam that culminates all of your learned knowledge in one place.

Certification Example:

veterinary assistant certificate

Average Training Program Duration: 2-4 Years

Popular Degree Programs


Veterinary Assistant Job Outlook

One of the most exciting things about the vet assistant job opportunity is that the outlook for your  career is positive.

People will always have pets, and those pets will always need care – so it makes sense that veterinarians will always have a need for vet assistants.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment of vet assistants (and laboratory animal caretaker is projected to grow by almost 19 percent from 2016 to 2026.

As of 2016, the vet assistant employment rate was at about 83,800 people, but it’s projected to jump to about 100,000 by 2026.

As pet related expenditures increase, this is expected to continue to drive employment for vet assistants, and the demand for these employees will likely increase as well.

Employment Growth Projection: 19%

83,800
2016
100,000
2026

That's a higher than average projected growth of 16,200 jobs.

Veterinary Assistant: Interest Over Time


Should You Become a Veterinary Assistant

Overall Satisfaction

Overall Satisfaction: High

Overall, vet assistants are perfectly capable of being satisfied with their employment. It doesn’t require additional education or certification, but if you choose to advance your career, there’s plenty of flexibility and willingness within the profession to do so.

You’ll learn something new every day and likely grow to be an expert in your field.

If you gain satisfaction from helping animals, making people’s lives simpler, and working up close and personal with veterinarians, this will be an ideal job for you.

Average Salary

Average Salary: Medium

While it’s not the highest paying job in the world, you can expect a salary ranging from the mid $20,000s to about the mid $30,000s, with your salary adjusting and increasing with more experience, more specializations, and more certifications.

Job Growth Outlook

Job Growth Outlook: High

There’s also plenty of job opportunity and job growth potential – that is to say, it’s unlikely that this position will become obsolete.

In fact, the demand for vet assistants is supposedly projected to grow by about 19 percent by 2026, with a predicted 100,000 people in the profession.

Education Duration

Education Duration: 2-4 Years

It doesn’t require extended education, but if you decide that you’d like to further your education within this profession, there are plenty of certification programs, 2-4 year degree tracks, and specializations you can take on.

Personal Skills Needed

Personal Skills Needed

When it comes to skills, you’ll either need to learn or already have quite a few personal skills in your inventory.

This includes things like:

  • Listening
  • Personability
  • Compassion
  • Empathy
  • Chattiness
  • Positivity
  • Sunny Disposition
  • Patience


Frequently Asked Questions

Q. Do I Need to Go To School to Be a Vet Assistant?

To be a vet assistant, you’ll need to have at least your high school diploma or a GED.

However, having a bachelors or associates degree could put you ahead of other prospective vet techs who only have these degrees.

They are not required for vet assistantships, though.

Q. What Qualifications Must I Have to Apply?

Every establishment will have different qualifications in order to apply, but at a minimum you must have a high school diploma or equivalent certificate, a good grasp on personability, a love for helping animals, and determination.

Some vet offices might require certifications, degrees, or experience, but as a general rule, you simply need your high school diploma or GED in order to apply.

Q. What Skills Do I Need?

In order to be a successful vet assistant, you’ll need to have people skills, administrative skills, skills working with animals, skills in taking direction, and skill in cleaning and organizing.

Many of the technical skills will be taught on the job.

Q. How Much Do Vet Assistants Make Hourly?

According to research, vet assistants make anywhere from $13-$16 hourly.

Q. What Do You Do As a Vet Assistant?

As a vet assistant, you’ll take care of the animals, clean their cages, walk, feed, and water the animals in your charge, run the front desk, work with the vets as their assistants, sterilize equipment, work in the lab, and ensure that all patients and their owners are properly taken care of.


Veterinary Assistant Information by State


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