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Animal Care Technician: Job Description and Education Requirements

Animal care technician requires little formal education. Learn about the training, education, job duties and certification requirements to see if this is the right career for you.

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Pursuing an animal care technician career involves choosing from several different educational options - from the most advanced to the least advanced. You can make the best decision about this profession by considering its annual salary rate, work duties, and job growth expectancy.

Essential Information

Animal care technicians are responsible for caring for animals in the clinical or research setting. Animal care technicians duties may include maintaining animal records, cleaning cages and other equipment, administering injections and medications, and preparing laboratory samples. Depending on the specific requirements from the employer, education varies. The minimum educational requirements are a high school diploma, but many employers prefer to hire an applicant with a veterinary technician degree accredited by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA).

Required Education Associate's or bachelor's degree for veterinary technicians.
Other Requirements Veterinary Technician National Exam certification or license (dependent on state requirements)
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024) 19% (much faster than average)*
Average Salary (2015) $31,800*

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)*

Job Description

An animal care technician works one-on-one with animals, usually in either animal hospitals or research laboratory facilities. Technicians monitor and maintain the health of animals under their care and may perform duties such as receiving new animals, cleaning and changing cages and providing food and water. Some animal technicians have more complex duties that may include updating and maintaining animal records, administering injections and medications, sterilizing equipment and preparing laboratory samples.

While animal lovers in particular gain satisfaction from contributing to animal health and sometimes human health as well, in certain research settings. However, it should be noted that there are some dangers inherent in this type of work. Many aspects of this job may be physically taxing, emotionally stressful and sometimes physically risky.

Animal care technicians may have to move heavy objects such as cages or equipment and deal with distressed animals, which may them at risk for injuries, bites or scratches. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that technicians and technologists who work full-time in animal care have a higher than average rate of work injuries and illness than other professions (www.bls.gov).

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

Job openings for veterinary technologists and technicians were expected to increase by 19% from 2014-2024, reports the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), which is notably much faster than the average among all career fields. During this time, the best opportunities may be found in rural communities. The BLS notes that vet technicians and technologists made an average annual salary of $31,800 in 2015.

The number of employed veterinary assistants and lab animal caretakers was projected to grow 9% from 2014-2024, which is faster than average. These professionals earned an average annual of $24,360 in 2015.

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Education Requirements

At the minimum, a high school education is usually required to work as an animal care technician, although an associate or bachelor's degree is preferred by some employers. Educational options to consider are colleges or technical schools that offer two-year programs in relevant fields, such as veterinary technology or laboratory animal science. Most employers prefer technicians who have graduated from programs that have been accredited by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA).

Associate's degree programs in veterinary technology may require incoming students to take a physical exam, provide proof of vaccinations and acquire health insurance. Because of the popularity of veterinary tech programs, colleges may impose strict guidelines on program applicants and use a selective admissions process. Admission eligibility may rest on GPA scores, high school coursework in the sciences, previous college credits and a college placement test.

Most two-year program curriculum concentrates on small animals, such as those typically seen in veterinary practices or used in clinical settings. Coursework often includes general education topics such as biology, chemistry and natural sciences. Major coursework is often intensive in animal physiology and anatomy and can include other topics such as:

  • Veterinary surgery assistance
  • Veterinary radiology
  • Laboratory practices
  • Veterinary office procedures
  • Small animal anesthesia

Certification Options

Many states require veterinary technicians to receive professional certification or registration and all states require technicians to pass a state administered exam. Most states use the Veterinary Technician National Examination (VTNE) exam to determine if a technician has the needed skills and education to provide animal care.

There is specific certification available for technicians working in laboratory facilities. Certification is offered by the American Association for Laboratory Animal Science (AALAS) at three levels- Assistant Laboratory Animal Technician, Laboratory Animal Technician and Laboratory Animal Technologist. Each level of certification requires a certain level of education and experience and the passing of a multiple-choice exam that focuses on the topics of animal husbandry and management and administration (www.aalas.org).

Though a license is required in some states, aspiring animal care technicians can start their career on the right path by obtaining a college degree. Fortunately, job openings are continuing to grow faster than most other careers, but the job description and annual salary rate shouldn't be overlooked when making a final decision.

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