Veterinary Assistant vs. Veterinary Tech: Everything You Need to Know

Veterinary assistants and veterinary techs have vital roles in animal care and helping to treat sick and injured animals. Although a vet’s assistant and vet tech sound like similar job descriptions, the roles vary. Becoming a veterinary tech requires more training than being a vet assistant. However, there are excellent job prospects for either position.

Working in a veterinary clinic or animal hospital can be a dream job if you love animals. But becoming a veterinarian takes at least four years to complete a bachelor’s degree program. However, qualifying to become a veterinary tech takes around two years. And you only need to have a high school diploma to be a veterinary assistant.

This article explains all you need to know about becoming a veterinary assistant or veterinary technician.

Veterinary Assistant vs. Veterinary Tech

The primary difference between a vet assistant and a vet tech is the training involved. To qualify as a veterinary tech, you have to get an Associate’s degree and complete an exam. Training to become a veterinary assistant is usually done on the job.

Veterinary techs have more responsibilities and are more involved with animal care. A veterinary assistant’s role involves more clerical work, and you are more likely to deal with animal and pet owners. But it can seem that duties overlap, as vet assistants can also perform many of the tasks that vet techs do. However, both roles involve working closely with veterinarians.

Because of the level of training involved and level of responsibility, veterinary techs usually earn more than assistants.

Duties of a Veterinary Tech

Veterinary technicians work under the supervision of veterinarians to care for animal welfare. Vet techs assist during examinations, procedures, and surgeries. In some cases, veterinary techs work in research labs to make sure animals are treated humanely.

Some of the responsibilities of a veterinary tech include:

  • Performing health tests, including taking blood, urine, or tissue samples for testing
  • Taking X-rays
  • Monitoring animals during surgery, including administering anesthesia
  • Providing emergency care to injured animals
  • Collecting and reviewing an animal’s health history
  • Administering treatments, medications, and vaccines

Think of a veterinary tech as the work a nurse performs in providing quality patient care.

It’s also vital to note that veterinary technicians can diagnose illnesses or prescribe medication for animals.

Duties of a Veterinary Assistant

Vet assistants support both veterinary techs and veterinarians in helping to provide animal care. Veterinary assistants have varying roles in the day-to-day running of a vet hospital or clinic.

Assistants are involved in feeding animals, exercising them, and administering medication. However, they also care for administrative work such as record keeping, maintaining supplies, and dealing with animal owners.

Some of the responsibilities of a veterinary assistant include:

  • Maintaining equipment
  • Post-surgery animal care
  • Assisting techs to collect samples for laboratory testing
  • Cleaning and sterilizing cages, kennels, and operating rooms
  • Administering medication and vaccine shots
  • Feeding and bathing animals
  • Restraining animals during examinations

Like veterinary techs, vet assistants can’t prescribe medication or diagnose illnesses.

How to Qualify as a Veterinary Tech or Veterinary Assistant

Veterinary assistants and veterinary tech enjoy rewarding careers in providing quality health care for animals. Very often, getting a job as an assistant or technician in a veterinary practice is the first step to pursuing other specialized roles in a veterinary practice.

If you are thinking about qualifying as a vet tech or vet assistant, which one should you choose? Here is a comparison between the two.

Qualifying as a veterinary assistant

To qualify as a veterinary assistant, you need to obtain a high school diploma or GED. You don’t need any post-secondary qualifications or get a degree to work in a vet clinic. You receive all the training you need on the job.

If you want to see if working with animals is for you, working as a veterinary assistant can be an excellent start.

However, it’s good to remember that working as a veterinary assistant without specialized qualifications doesn’t allow you to progress further. Also, due to the growth in the field of veterinary assisting, more employers require you to have some professional training with animals.

Qualifying as a veterinary tech

To qualify as a vet technician, you must complete a two-year Associate’s degree course and pass an exam. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), you have to enroll in an accredited veterinary technician degree program. While studying, you also need to get clinical experience in a veterinary practice.

Some people take a four-year Bachelor’s degree course. This extra education and training open more job opportunities and higher salaries.

After qualifying as a veterinary tech, you will have a license to work professionally. You will also have to renew your license or certification according to local state guidelines for veterinary techs.

Veterinary Assistant Vs. Veterinary Tech Salary

What can you expect to earn as a veterinary tech or veterinary assistant? What is the job outlook for working in a veterinary team? Here is information provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics:

  • Veterinary Technicians can expect to earn, on average, $35,320 per year
  • Veterinary Assistants can expect an average salary of $28,590 per year

The job prospects for the next decade are also up-and-coming. For example, during the next ten years, it’s expected that there will be over 18,000 new jobs in the veterinary technician sector. For veterinary assistants, the number of jobs expected are 15,700. Both figures show a 16 percent increase in the current number of jobs.

Career Paths for Veterinary Assistants and Veterinary Techs

Getting a job in a veterinary practice or animal hospital as an assistant or technician can be the first step to a long career in animal welfare.

It’s relatively easy to start working as a vet assistant as you don’t need post-secondary qualifications. Experience in a veterinary clinical practice can prepare you to qualify as a vet tech.

If you decide to become a veterinary tech, you can then go on to enroll in specialized training programs. This could open up job opportunities in zoological medicine, dental care, or emergency care. Or you could earn a degree in animal science to become a fully qualified veterinarian.