Animal laboratory attendants care for lab animals and perform basic research functions. Specialized training is required, usually in the form of an associate's degree program or a paid apprenticeship. State veterinary technology credentials and certification are also typically required for animal laboratory attendants, and certification is offered at three levels depending on experience.
Animal laboratory attendants are key in the world of veterinary science and biomedical research. These trained individuals are not only responsible for the care and keeping of animals in their charge, but also for performing basic research requirements and lab functions.
Animal laboratory attendants, also known as veterinary technologists or assistants, may work in veterinary offices or research laboratories. Promoting the health of subject animals is their primary concern. Animal lab attendants may assist veterinarians in research projects or work in biomedical research facilities. These paraprofessionals are instrumental in the research of public health issues, food safety, disease control and human health.
|Required Education||Associate's degree and/or paid apprenticeship|
|Other Requirements||Veterinary technology credential, professional certification|
|Projected Job Growth (2018-2028)||19% increase for all veterinary technologists and technicians*|
|Annual Median Salary (2018)||$34,420 for all veterinary technologists and technicians *|
Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
Generally, animal lab attendants must have some sort of formalized training. Usually this comes in the form of an associate's degree and sometimes in the form of a paid apprenticeship.
Associate of Applied Science in Veterinary Technology
Many two-year colleges offer an associate's degree program in veterinary technology that is accredited by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AMVA). Courses are taught using live animals in a clinical environment, and instruction includes veterinary emergency management, small and large animal science and specialty practices.
Students who wish to enter these competitive programs must have a solid background in math and science from either high school or another degree program. Though not required, some experience working with animals is an asset when applying for admission.
An aspiring animal lab tech can expect to take courses such as:
- Animal science basics
- Introduction to agribusiness
- Veterinary pathology
- Animal pharmacology
- Animal anatomy
The U.S. Dept. of Labor sponsors a Laboratory Animal Apprenticeship program that allows animal lab attendants to acquire their training on the job. A product of collaboration between Temple College and the Scott & White Memorial Hospital, both in Temple, TX, this program qualifies its graduates to sit for industry-standard certification by the American Association for Laboratory Animal Science (AALAS).
This competency-based program takes a year to complete and requires apprentices to log 2000 hours of work experience and 146 hours of instructional experience. In addition to industry-recognized certification upon completion, graduates also receive the U.S. Dept. of Labor Certificate of Completion of Apprenticeship.
Though state regulations may vary, all states do require animal lab techs to have professional credentialing. The majority of states rely on the National Veterinary Technician (NVT) exam, which is transferable between states.
Employers in the research arena also prefer AALAS certification. This certification has three levels, all of which are considered to be the industry standard and are required by many employers.
The Assistant Laboratory Animal Technician (ALAT) credential requires either a high school diploma and a year of experience or an associate's degree and six months of experience. The Laboratory Animal Technician (LAT) certificate is more demanding, requiring either a high school diploma, an associate's or a bachelor's degree or ALAT certification and up to three years of experience working with laboratory animals. The highest of the three, the Laboratory Animal Technologist (LATG) certificate, has the same educational requirements as the LAT and requires up to five years of experience.
Entry-level jobs in this field are usually trainee positions. After working under the direct supervision of veterinarians or research scientists, animal lab attendants may advance to lab management positions. Standard duties for an animal lab attendant might include:
- Examining animals for signs of illness or injury
- Disinfecting cages
- Equipment sterilization
- Administration of medication
- Preparation of lab samples
- Basic medical testing
- Research colony supervision
- Implementation of research projects
Any animal lab attendant needs to recognize the special risks of working with live animals. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that the injury rate is higher in this field than in many other professions because of the risk of bites or scratches. This job can be physically demanding, often requiring the lifting and moving of cages, restraining animals and moving feed and other supplies. It's also not unusual for the work to be done in inclement weather and at odd hours (www.bls.gov).
Salary Info and Job Outlook
According to the BLS, employment of veterinary technologists and technicians was expected to increase much faster than the national average through 2028. In May 2018, the BLS reported that professionals in the 90th percentile or higher earned $50,010 or more per year, whereas the bottom 10th percentile earned $23,490 or less per year.
Animal laboratory attendants ensure the comfort and care of the animals under their charge. They may be responsible for sterilizing supplies, administering medication, preparing lab samples and assisting in research projects. The certification and credentialing required for animal laboratory attendants requires completion of an associate's degree program or apprenticeship and experience in the field.