Veterinary Assistant vs Vet Tech: What Are the Differences?

According to a report from AVMA, more American households have opened their doors to pets in recent years. Around 45% of households own dogs, and 36% own cats.

All these people need experienced and qualified individuals to help them take care of their animals. So, if you’re an animal lover, a career in veterinary medicine might hold fantastic prospects for you.

Becoming a veterinarian is a lengthy and arduous process, requiring outstanding grades and extreme dedication. If that’s not your cup of tea, there are other ways to find fulfillment in the veterinary field.

Keep reading to find out all you need to know about veterinary assistant vs vet tech careers.

What Is a Veterinary Assistant?

Veterinary assistants play an important support role in veterinary practices, carrying out necessary daily tasks. They perform low-key, critical tasks under the supervision of veterinary technicians or veterinarians.

In human medicine, a veterinary assistant is akin to a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA).

Versatility is a key trait of vet assistants, while veterinary technicians perform more specialized functions.

What Is a Veterinary Technician?

Veterinary technicians work closely with veterinarians in a lab or veterinary practice. They perform more complex, medically-related tasks than assistants do.

If you were to compare these two positions with others in the medical field, a vet tech is equivalent to a nurse.

Veterinary Assistant vs. Vet Tech Job Descriptions

Both these career paths require a love of animals and dedication to their welfare. Veterinarians can’t perform at their best without the assistance of these employees.

Vet techs and assistants both perform some clerical duties. Vet techs maintain detailed records of patient medications and treatments, while vet assistants focus on record-keeping to ensure the practice runs smoothly.

Veterinary Assistant Duties

A veterinary assistant’s portfolio of tasks is rather extensive. Their daily tasks comprise working with both humans and animals. They take care of scheduling appointments, gathering documents from other facilities, and issuing bills to customers.

In addition, they may perform all or some of the following tasks:

  • Feeding, exercising, and bathing animals
  • Cleaning and disinfecting kennels, cages, and operating facilities
  • Re-stocking examining rooms with medical supplies
  • Setting up the necessary materials for medical procedures
  • Restraining animals during procedures
  • Monitoring patients after surgery
  • Post-operative care of their charges
  • Administering prescribed medications

Some veterinary assistants perform low-key lab work. These include blood withdrawals and collecting urine samples. In short, veterinary assistants perform the groundwork needed for vet techs and veterinarians to fulfill their roles.

They also play a pivotal role in ensuring the success of the veterinary practice by fostering good customer relations and ensuring accurate billing.

The median salary for a veterinary assistant is $32,365.

Veterinary Technician Job Functions

Veterinary technicians work closely with both veterinarians and veterinary assistants. They serve as the veterinarian’s right-hand person in many instances.

They perform more clinical tasks than veterinary assistants. These include:

  • Performing emergency first aid on injured animals
  • Providing nursing care to recovering animals
  • Restraining animals during examinations and procedures
  • Administering anesthesia
  • Monitoring animal responses during surgery
  • Administering prescribed medications, vaccines, and treatments
  • Take X-rays
  • Perform or collect laboratory tests, like blood counts and urinalyses
  • Prepare instruments and patients for surgery
  • Processing tissue samples

Their duties extend to sterilizing surgical equipment and assisting the veterinarian during surgical procedures.

Veterinary technicians earn around $36,800 per year.

Veterinary Assistant Guide to Qualifications

All you need is a high school diploma or GED to become a vet assistant. It’s best to study toward a certification if you want the top jobs, though.

If you’re planning to become a vet assistant after high school, it pays to focus on biology and math classes. as this knowledge will help you in your career.

Many practices prefer to work with certified individuals or an associate degree. Associate programs for vet assistance include aspects of veterinary technology, which provides opportunities for career advancement.

Becoming a certified veterinary assistant shows you’re willing to learn the correct way of doing things. It proves the recipient’s competency in facility administration as well as animal welfare, health, and husbandry.

This certification includes an internship at an animal care facility, which provides crucial experience in the veterinary environment.

You may also aspire to become an Approved Veterinary Assistant. This involved taking an advanced six-month course via NAVTA (National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America).

Since all veterinary practices have different routines and standards, on-the-job training is the most important part of your education as a vet assistant.

You don’t need a license to work as a veterinary assistant. You will benefit if you can master the art of operating animal tools, like:

  • Animal clippers and razors
  • X-ray equipment
  • Injection syringes
  • Lab analysis equipment

You’ll also need experience with technological tools like label-making software, Microsoft Office Suite, e-mail programs, and relevant medical software.

Personal characteristics that will stand you in good stead as a vet assistant include:

  • Observation skills
  • Active learning abilities
  • Service orientation
  • Sensitivity to problems
  • Deductive reasoning
  • Mathematical ability

None of these is a requirement for the job. Yet, these abilities will help you find work faster and can help you grow your career.

Veterinary Technician Guide to Qualifications

To work as a veterinary technician, you must complete a two-year associate’s degree accredited by the Committee on Veterinary Technician Education and Activities.

Initially, this degree includes subjects like:

  • Information Literacy
  • Office Applications
  • Biology
  • Physiology 1 and 2
  • English Composition
  • Veterinary Office Management
  • People Skills
  • Mathematical Applications
  • Nursing for Veterinary Technicians
  • Medical Mathematics
  • Pharmacology

In the final semesters, you’ll study advanced subjects, like:

  • Clinical Pathology 1 and 2
  • Arts and Humanities
  • Anesthesia
  • Surgical Nursing
  • Clinical Parasitology
  • Radiography
  • Animal Medicine
  • Psychology
  • Animal Nutrition, Aging, Reproduction, and Genetics
  • Laboratory Animal Medicine and Nursing

Additionally, vet techs can specialize in the field of their choice. There are 16 specializations available to vet techs.

Some of these options include:

  • Anesthesia
  • Animal behavior
  • Internal medicine
  • Ophthalmology
  • Emergency care
  • Dental technology
  • Physical rehabilitation
  • Zoological medicine

In most states, vet techs must pass a credentialing exam before achieving their license or registration.

The Veterinary Technician Examination

The Veterinary Technician National Exam (VTNE) is a state-level board exam offered through the American Association of Veterinary State Boards.

When you pass this, you can practice as a vet tech in the relevant state.

This computerized test includes 170 multiple-choice questions and takes three hours to complete. You will need to answer questions on the following:

  • Anesthesia
  • Dentistry
  • Diagnostic imaging
  • Emergency medicine
  • Surgical nursing
  • Pharmacology

You must complete a certain number of education units annually to renew your license every year.

Like certified veterinary assistants, vet techs must work in an animal care facility for a specified number of hours (usually 240 hours) to achieve their credentials.

At this time, they receive vital hands-on training in handling different situations and refine the skills necessary to perform at their best.

Many vet techs go on to study for a four-year degree in animal science, and some even become veterinarians.

Career Opportunities for Veterinary Assistants

As more people discover the benefit of having pets, the veterinary profession will continue to grow. This means there will always be promising opportunities available for veterinary assistants.

Most veterinary assistants work in private practice, but they may also find employment in other areas, like;

  • Government veterinary facilities
  • Large animal hospitals
  • Animal shelters
  • Laboratories
  • Zoos
  • Animal training facilities

In short, vet assistants can work in any facility that provides animal care.

Careers for Veterinary Technicians

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the demand for veterinary technicians is growing by 20% per year. This is much higher than the average for all professions.

Veterinary technicians have a wealth of employment opportunities available to them. They can work in a wide range of settings apart from veterinary practices.

These include:

  • large animal veterinary practices
  • zoos
  • wildlife facilities
  • humane societies
  • animal control centers
  • research facilities

If you further your education by achieving a vet tech Bachelor’s degree, you can also work as a:

  • Veterinary surgical assistant
  • Marine veterinary assistant
  • Animal nutritionist

A Master’s degree in veterinary technology will put you in good stead to follow a career in advanced animal nutrition, wildlife rehabilitation, animal husbandry consulting, and shelter medicine.

Highest Paying Careers for Vet Techs

In any career, you’ll earn more money when you add to your education, experience, and credentials. These are the top jobs to aspire to in the field of veterinary technology:

Surgical Vet Tech

Surgical vet techs work inside operating rooms alongside veterinary surgeons. They deal with surgery room maintenance, handle surgical equipment, and provide pre-and post-operative care for patients.

You need to specialize in a surgical field to qualify for these jobs and acquire a thorough knowledge of wound care and surgical procedures. Surgical vet techs earn an average salary of $46,000.

Veterinary Pharmaceutical Sales 

When they work as sales reps, vet techs market and promote various health products and medications directly to veterinarians. They identify and follow up on leads and must have extensive knowledge of the products they’re selling.

This job involves plenty of travel and variety. You can earn as much as $79,000 annually, based on salary plus commissions.

Equine Dental Technician

This highly specialized field centers around equine oral health and dental care. These technicians file horses’ teeth to keep these animals comfortable and healthy.

You need a four-year veterinary technician degree to work in this field, and you can earn as much as $50,000 every year.

Non-Profit Vet Tech Jobs

If you’re in it for more than the money, you’ll find many job openings where you can indulge your compassionate, altruistic nature. These are some of your options if you have a high need to make a difference in the world:

Animal Advocacy Vet Tech

Non-profit animal advocacy groups need people onboard with experience caring for animals. You can still earn a decent salary of up to $31,000 working for the ASPCA and Human Society.

Animal Shelter Vet Tech

Animal shelters care for abandoned, lost, orphaned, and stray animals. They always need help taking care of the animals in their care with special needs.

You can earn $31,200 per annum working with an animal shelter.

Wildlife Rehabilitation

Wildlife rehabilitation centers care for wild animals in need. They tend their wounds, feed them and make them comfortable.

As a vet tech, you can help them do this, and earn around $30,000 a year in the process.

Non-Clinical Vet Tech Careers

Non-Clinical Jobs for Vet Techs

If you love animals but aren’t enchanted by working in a private practice or animal hospital, there are other things you can do with your vet tech qualification.

These include:

Laboratory Animal Medicine Technician

Universities and private companies need vet techs to care for the testing animals in their research laboratories. This job entails monitoring the animals’ behavior, record keeping, and ensuring their environment stays clean.

You need a specialized degree for this job, and you can earn up to $39,000 per year.

Zoological Vet Tech

Zoological vet techs assist with caring for zoo animals. They assisted the resident veterinarian with examinations, medications, and medical procedures.

You need a zoological technician certification for this job. Earnings are in the region of $40,000 per annum.

Is A Career With Animals Best for You? 

Are you any closer to choosing your ideal career now that you’ve read this comparison between veterinary assistant vs vet tech? If preferred, you can start as a veterinary assistant before you commit to advancing toward a degree in the veterinary field.

Veterinary work can be an emotionally charged career and might not suit people who experience a high degree of empathy. Working with animals isn’t always easy, and it’s upsetting at times.

Working as a vet assistant can help you decide if you’re cut out for the bad times along with the good before you go to the expense of formal training in the field.

Browse our blog for more interesting news on careers and education.

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