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Veterinary Technician (Small Animals): Career Overview

Learn how to become a small animal veterinary technician. Find information about the job description and education and certification requirements that can help you start a career in small animal care. View article »

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  • 0:42 Career Information
  • 1:36 Step 1: Find a Program
  • 2:21 Step 2: Complete Coursework
  • 3:13 Step 3: Complete Clinical Work
  • 3:44 Step 4: Get Certified…
  • 4:00 Step 5: Get Connected

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Video Transcript

Veterinary Technicians

Veterinary technicians who specialize in small animals assist veterinarians in providing medical care to dogs, cats, birds, reptiles and rodents. Technicians record animals' medical history, administer prescribed medication, take x-rays, draw blood, collect samples for testing, monitor animals under anesthesia, and nurse animals in emergency situations. Precautions must be taken with animals that are scared or in pain to prevent bites or scratches. Injuries and illnesses for workers in this field are higher than the national average, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Career Information

Degree Level Associate's degree
Degree Field Veterinary technology
Licensure/Certification Varies by state
Experience Varies by position
Key Skills Critical thinking, complex problem-solving, judgment and decision making, speaking, service-oriented, active listening, and reading skills; proficiency with Microsoft Access, Outlook, Office and Excel; experience with x-ray, surgical, and laboratory equipment; manual dexterity
Salary $31,800 (2015 median salary for all veterinary technicians)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, American Veterinary Medical Association job postings (August 2012), ONet OnLine, Payscale.com

An associate's degree in veterinary technology is usually required to obtain a job as a veterinary technician. Licensing and certification requirements vary by state. Technicians should be compassionate and detail-oriented and have good communication and problem-solving skills. They should also have the manual dexterity necessary to administer anesthesia, perform dental procedures and take x-rays, in addition to handling lab and medical equipment. Veterinary technicians and technology in general earned a median annual salary of $31,800 in May 2015, as reported by the BLS. They can look forward to a 19% or faster-than-average increase in job openings from 2014-2024, also according to the BLS. Let's explore the steps involved in becoming a small animal veterinary technician a little further.

Step 1: Find a Program

Veterinary technicians must complete a veterinary technology program, preferably one that has been approved by the American Veterinary Medical Association. Most programs culminate in an associate's degree. A small number of schools offer bachelor's degrees or distance learning options.

Admission requirements usually include a high school diploma or GED. While in high school, aspiring technicians should take biology, math and other science classes. Extracurricular activities that involve the care of animals may also be helpful.

Find a Compatible Program

Some veterinary technology programs don't focus on small animals. Applicants should find a program that matches their veterinary interests.

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Step 2: Complete Coursework

Most veterinary technology programs take about two years to complete. General education and prerequisite coursework can include topics in biology, chemistry, math and writing. Veterinary courses common to most programs include the study of animal anatomy and physiology, animal nutrition, microbiology, parasitology and clinical lab techniques. Animal behavior, handling, and management are important courses that teach students how to understand the animals they'll work with, and how to stay safe when interacting with them.

Students also learn how to use x-ray machines and other diagnostic imaging equipment, administer medication and anesthesia, assist in surgical situations, and perform a variety of laboratory tests and procedures. In addition, students take courses focused on small animals and office management.

Step 3: Complete Clinical Coursework

Clinical experiences expose students to animals and real life veterinary situations at veterinary hospitals or on site if a school has the facilities to keep certain animals. Students observe healthy or sick animals, suggest techniques for disease prevention, demonstrate proper handling of animals, and practice using imaging equipment.

Many programs culminate in internships at veterinary clinics and hospitals. During their internship, students work with animal patients, animal owners and veterinarians.

Step 4: Get Certified or Licensed

Graduates from an accredited program in veterinary technology can take the Veterinary Technician National Exam, administered by the American Association of Veterinary State Boards (AAVSB), as required by most states.

Step 5: Get Connected

When you join a veterinary technicians association, you connect with other professionals in the region, read news about the field, and have access to continuing education resources. One example of such an organization is the National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America (NAVTA).

Remember, you can start preparing for a career as a veterinary technician in high school by taking classes in biology and other sciences and working with animals, which can help you prepare for an accredited associate's degree program in veterinary technology. In May 2015, veterinary technicians and technology in this faster-than-average growing field, earned a median annual salary of $31,800.

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