Vet Tech VS. Vet Assistant, Schooling, Jobs and Salary Differences

Comparing Veterinary Technicians and Veterinary Assistants

The American veterinary care sector is currently enjoying dramatic and sustained growth. The continuing demand from pet owners for high quality care for their beloved companion animals, in addition to the need to ensure that production animals, research animals and livestock receive adequate care has resulted in increased employment levels for all types of veterinary professionals, including veterinary technicians and veterinary assistants.

By learning about the difference between these two fields, individuals interested in entering the veterinary care field can help decide what profession is best for them.

An Overview of Veterinary Technicians and Veterinary Assistants

Veterinary assistants and technicians assist veterinarians, researchers and other veterinary professionals in providing high quality care to those animals they are entrusted with.

However, both vet techs and assistants are limited in the types of care they can provide. In most cases, both of these professions must work under the direct supervision of a veterinarian or other veterinary care professional.

They are forbidden from providing most types of in depth veterinary care, such as providing a diagnosis, prescribing medication or engaging in independent surgical procedures.

Vet Techs

vet tech vs vet assistantVet techs serve the same role in a veterinary clinic as a registered nurse serves in a hospital or doctors office. They work directly with the veterinarian, assisting him or her with the following procedures:

  • Performing the initial checkup in order to provide the veterinarian with a baseline of the animal’s condition for his or her later examination.
  • Interview the pet owners in order to determine the reason for the pet’s visit to the clinic.
  • Performing routine veterinary procedures, such as providing vaccination shots and in some states, spaying and neutering animals.
  • In emergencies, the veterinary technician can perform emergency first aid on a pet in order to stabilize the animal until the veterinarian can provide long-term care.
  • Monitor the condition of the animals under the care of the veterinarian, ensuring that they receive proper care and that the vet is notified of any changes in their condition.
  • Create and organize properly formatted reports about the condition of the animals under the vet tech’s care.

In addition, experienced vet techs may be placed in a supervisory position, where they will work with the veterinarian to ensure that other vet techs, veterinary assistants and volunteer workers provide effective care for all of the animals in the veterinary care facility.

Some vet techs may also be given duties that include interacting with the public in the front office, which can include interviewing individuals who are currently distraught due to the condition of their pet. Because of this, the vet tech must be able to interact with clients in a professional, yet understanding manner.

Veterinary Assistants

Veterinary aides, due to their lower professional qualifications, usually do not provide the same type of in depth assistance a vet tech does. A veterinary assistant focuses on the daily tasks that are vital for the smooth running of any veterinary care facility.

These duties include the following:

  • Cleaning and sterilizing animal cages and enclosures in order to limit the spread of infectious diseases.
  • Feed and water animals, while conforming to the veterinarian’s instructions regarding each animal’s specific diet.
  • Under the direction and supervision of the veterinarian, give shots or inoculations. The legality of this type of service may vary depending on the state where the veterinary assistant works.
  • Collect blood, urine, feces and other samples for later laboratory tests.
  • Keep accurate records of the behavior of the animals under their care, and alert the veterinarian to any unusual changes.

Educational Requirements

Vet techs and veterinary assistants have dramatically different educational requirements. Currently, most states require that anyone working as a vet tech be licensed by the state.

Even if licensure is not required, it is generally wise for a vet tech to seek out certification by a professional organization in order to improve his or her employment outlook.

Vet techs must usually complete the following requirements in order to obtain a license or certificate of competency as a veterinary technician:

  • Complete an accredited vet tech program at a community college or other institution. This usually takes about two years for a full-time student.
  • Complete the state or association registration process. Some states require that the candidate submit to a background check and some types of criminal convictions may make the candidate ineligible for licensure.
  • Vet techs must regularly renew their license and must take a varying amount of continuing education units in order to remain eligible to renew their license.

Conversely, veterinary assistants have no mandated educational requirements, although most employers demand that a prospective employee be at least 18 years of age and have either a high school diploma or the equivalent.

Although there are some formal training programs offered by community colleges and vocational training centers, most employers will provide on the job training to a new employer.

This makes this job very attractive to individuals who are currently interested in the animal care field, but who are unable to complete a veterinary technician program.

Salary and Employment Options

As of 2010, there were over 73,000 veterinary assistants and over 80,000 vet techs employed in the United States. These numbers continue to grow, with the number of veterinary assistants expected to rise by at least 14 percent between 2010 and 2020.

Veterinary technicians are expected to see dramatic job growth, with a 52 percent increase between 2010 and 2020. In both cases, attrition due to retirements and other factors, combined with the natural job growth, will see a strong and continuing demand for new employees.

In terms of salary, both fields enjoy competitive wages when compared to other jobs with similar educational requirements. Veterinary assistants can expect to earn a median salary of over $22,000, with the best-compensated individuals earning nearly $34,000. The annual median salary for vet techs is nearly $33,000, with the top 10 percent earning over $44,000. In addition, both fields may enjoy competitive health benefits, depending on their employer.

Ultimately, the choice to become a vet tech or veterinary assistant is one that each individual must decide on his or her own. No matter the choice, these professions offer excellent salary and employment opportunities in America’s rapidly growing veterinary care sector.