What do I need to become a veterinarian assistant?

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What do I need to become a veterinarian assistant?
Veterinary assistants help provide medical care to animals. (dog face image by Albert Lozano from Fotolia.com)

Veterinary assistants are an important part of veterinary teams, providing medical care to a range of animals. They support licensed veterinarians with medical and administration duties. Most veterinary assistants work in private practice clinics, but they also work in zoos, kennels, grooming shops, animal shelters, ranches and on farms. Typical tasks of a veterinarian assistant include feeding and grooming animals, fielding phone calls and arranging appointments. Veterinary assistants also document animal health histories, restrain animals for treatment and prepare biological samples for laboratory analysis, under the supervision of licensed veterinarians.


Veterinary assistant jobs do not require a college degree or any formal vocational qualifications. Many community and technical colleges, however, offer certificate programs that provide veterinary skills that may help candidates find employment.

Applicants to certificate programs usually require a high school diploma or a GED (General Educational Development). Candidates should have basic computer skills and be physically capable of lifting larger-sized animals, as stated on the Education-Portal website. Veterinary assistant courses can usually be completed in less than a year. Typical course themes covered include office administration and payment processing, animal grooming, animal nutrition, care for injured animals and specific classes on the physiology of birds, lizards and snakes

Some schools offer certificate programs online, but most are on-site because laboratory work is a key element of veterinary assistance programs.


Training for veterinary assistants is typically on the job under the guidance of licensed veterinarians. Candidates work under the supervision of veterinarians and learn how to provide post-operative care to animals and administer medication. Other training areas include sterilising surgical and laboratory equipment and preparing examination rooms. Veterinarian assistants also learn how to identify and report signs of injury on animals and to restock essential supplies. Holding certification means significantly less on-the-job training, according to the All Allied Health Schools website.


Veterinary assistants require compassion and empathy in tending to the needs of animals. They should also have excellent communication skills as they speak with animal owners on the animals’ conditions and allay any fears they may have. A veterinary assistant should be proficient in basic administration such as processing payments, answering phone calls and filing animal medical histories.

Outlook and Salary

The Bureau of Labor Statistics expects employment for veterinarians to increase 33 per cent from 2008 to 2018, which is likely to yield a similar increase in positions for veterinary assistants. The average salary of a veterinarian assistant as of November 2009 was £17,254, according to the My Salary job information website.


Many veterinary assistants move into veterinary technician roles once they have sufficient experience and training. Completing a certification program in veterinary assisting rather than completing a veterinary technician associate degree will allow you to enter the field of animal health care quicker. On-the-job experience can also help meet internship requirements for veterinary technician positions.

Veterinary assistants can stay current with developments by registering with the National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America (NAVTA). NAVTA provides news of industry changes and advice on educational resources for those wishing to improve their skills. A veterinary assistant who completes a certificate program can go on to undertake a two- or four-year course in veterinary technology.

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