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Veterinary Assistants Job Description and Education Requirements

Veterinary assistants and laboratory animal caretakers examine pets and other nonfarm animals for signs of disease, illness or injury in laboratories, animal hospitals and clinics.



By Diane Wadhwa
Posted 2012



Veterinary assistants and laboratory animal caretakers feed and water animals, clean and disinfect cages, kennels, examination and operating rooms, animal holding areas and other work areas to control the spread of disease. They sometimes provide emergency first aid to injured or sick animals and administer immunizations, medication and blood plasma as prescribed by veterinarians.


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During routine office visits, veterinary assistants and laboratory animal caretakers hold or restrain animals. They also take and develop x-rays and perform routine laboratory tests. They are responsible for sterilizing equipment and instruments, preparing surgical equipment and passing instruments and materials to veterinarians during surgical procedures. Veterinary assistants and laboratory animal caretakers also administer anesthetics during surgery and watch the effects on animals. Afterwards, they monitor animals recovering from surgery and notify veterinarians of any unusual symptoms or changes.

Veterinary Assistants Job Description

  • Veterinary assistants and laboratory animal caretakers should have a love for animals and their well-being.
  • This career can be emotionally draining, especially when animals are injured, suffering or unwanted.
  • Veterinary assistants and laboratory animal caretakers typically need a high school diploma.

Work Environment for Veterinary Assistants

Veterinary assistants and laboratory animal caretakers usually work in veterinarian’s offices, animal hospitals, clinics and laboratories. This job is physically active, requiring bending and lifting dogs, cleaning animal cages and standing for most of the workday. Veterinary assistants and laboratory animal caretakers may be injured by frightened or sick animals. There is also a risk of injury from the surgical instruments that they are responsible for cleaning and maintaining.

Because veterinary assistants and laboratory animal caretakers generally care for animals recovering from surgery, injuries or illnesses and require 24-hour monitoring, assistants and caretakers may be required to work nights, weekends, and various shifts.

Veterinary Assistants Education Requirements and Training

Many employers require veterinary assistants and laboratory animal caretakers to have a high school diploma. In addition, these workers are trained on-the-job by an experienced veterinary assistant or laboratory animal caretaker or their supervisor. They learn to hold or restrain animals during veterinary procedures, first aid for animals, animal recovery, how to clean kennels, operating rooms and other parts of the hospital or clinic properly, and to administer immunizations, medication and blood plasma to animals. In addition, trainees learn to take x-rays and other diagnostic tests, to administer anesthetics during surgery and to assist veterinarians during surgery.

Experience working with animals in an animal hospital or clinic can be helpful to candidates since some employers prefer to hire those who are familiar with the procedures of veterinary care. Also, customer service experience is desirable since veterinary assistants often deal with pet owners.

Veterinary Assistants Employment Outlook and Earnings

Veterinary assistants and laboratory animal caretakers held about 71,350 jobs in May 2009, according to research published by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Most worked for other professional, scientific and technical services, while a few worked for colleges, universities and professional schools, scientific research and development services, social advocacy organizations and general medical and surgical hospitals.

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The BLS expects employment in this field to grow 20% between 2008 and 2018, which is much faster than average for all occupations. This growth will be spurred by an increased willingness of pet owners to spend more money for advanced veterinary care on their pets.

In May 2009, the BLS reported that the median annual salary for veterinary assistants and laboratory animal caretakers was $21,700. The middle 50% of these workers earned between $18,140 and $26,680, while the bottom 10% made $16,020 or less each year. The top 10% earned in excess of $32,840.


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