What Does a Vet Assistant Do? (With Average Salary)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated January 27, 2023

Published May 7, 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

If you enjoy working with animals and interacting with them, becoming a veterinary assistant may be a good fit for you. Under the guidance of a veterinarian or veterinary technician, veterinary assistants provide care for animals. Understanding what veterinary assistants do may assist you in determining whether this is a career path worth pursuing. In this article, we explain what veterinary assistants do, provide their average salary, list their educational requirements, discuss the skills needed, describe their work environment and steps for career advancement, and answer some frequently asked questions.

Answering "What does a vet assistant do?"

To answer “What does a vet assistant do?” you may consider how their role is essential for a team of animal care specialists. They usually communicate with pet owners and assist veterinarians by setting up their tools and workspace to work efficiently. Their duties frequently combine clerical and office work with hands-on animal care. Additional duties of a veterinary assistant may include the following:

  • Assisting veterinarians and veterinary technicians with animal treatment and care

  • Greeting patients and owners upon their arrival, registering them and directing them to the examination areas

  • Getting required documentation from pet owners

  • Helping pet owners with insurance paperwork and getting records from previous facilities

  • Assisting in the taking of pets' vital signs and weight

  • Cleaning and disinfecting equipment and tools, and preparing examination and operating rooms for procedures

  • Sterilization and cleaning of kennels and cages

  • Maintaining a pet food inventory and monitoring the feeds of animals

  • Assisting with medication acquisition and explaining how to dose pets

The average salary of a vet assistant

Veterinary assistants may work on a part-time or full-time basis. Their salaries vary according to their experience, the size of the company in which they work, and the province in which they live. The national average salary of a vet assistant is $16.77 per hour.

Veterinary assistant requirements

To work as a veterinary assistant, you may first get the essential training and skills. These may include:

Education

This career doesn't have any established educational prerequisites for beginning a veterinary assistant educational program. Although not always required, a high school diploma or GED equivalency may assist you during the training process. Each training program is free to establish its own admissions criteria. A veterinary assistant education is available across Canada through training centres, technical institutes, vocational schools, and community colleges. Each program's curriculum may vary, but the fundamental concepts taught by instructors are relatively consistent.

For those pursuing a distance learning option, online programs are also available. Some educational institutions and centres provide the students with certifications upon completion of distance education programs.

Related: Interview Questions: Education Background Examples

Training

The majority of veterinary assistant training may occur on the job. Each practice or work environment has its own set of rules and regulations. For instance, a private veterinarian practice differs from a corporate pet store, and they may administer a university training facility differently than a city zoo. Typically, veterinary assistants learn how to manage their employer's computer systems, follow animal handling procedures, and organize rooms and equipment.

Related: Understanding the Importance of Training Employees

Certifications

Aspiring veterinary assistants may wish to pursue certification as an Approved Veterinary Assistant. You can earn the AVA designation by completing one of the many 12-month veterinary assistant programs some high schools, community colleges, and online institutions offer. Registered veterinary technologists or technicians (RVT) are professionals operating as a vital part of the veterinary medical team.

An RVT is a professional who has completed a program approved by the Ontario Association of Veterinary Technicians (OAVT) or the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA). They have passed the Veterinary Technician National Examination and complied with all provincial professional association requirements as well. A technician differs from a technologist by the province in which technicians register their certification. RVT is a popular term across Canada, recognized by all veterinarians. A licensed veterinarian usually supervises an RVT. Their education equips them with the necessary theoretical and practical knowledge to provide veterinary care.

Related: How To Become a Vet in Canada (with Steps and Duties)

Skills required for a vet assistant

Veterinary assistants require a variety of soft and hard skills to work with animals, including:

Communication skills

Veterinary assistants require excellent communication ability with animal owners, vets, technicians, distributors, and vendors. Suppose a pet owner brings in an animal with a serious condition. An assistant with superior listening skills and a gentle bedside manner can explain the situation and next steps to the pet owner. Strong listening skills may assist a veterinary assistant in adhering to a technician's or veterinarian's instructions.

Empathy skills

Many pet owners can consider their pets an integral part of their family. A veterinary assistant may show compassion for both the pet and the owner and communicate that compassion effectively. A compassionate and understanding demeanour can be critical to the well-being of a pet owner.

Physical strength

As a veterinary assistant, you may need physical strength. Larger animals may require retraining, and all animals may require regular cleansing and exercise. Employers may need an assistant to transport a medicated or sleeping animal to bed, requiring adequate strength and stamina.

Patience skills

This job can require serenity and patience, especially when handling and managing agitated or distressed pets. An assistant may maintain composure in the face of pet reactions, owner queries, and veterinarian guidelines. Patience can be essential to perform well as each animal may require more than one procedure.

Veterinary assistant work environment

Whether you work in a veterinary clinic, a school, or in research, you may work several hours in outdoor enclosures, laboratories, and operating rooms. Some of your patients may be anxious and to avoid any type of accident with the animals is beneficial to wear protective clothing and gear, as these can help mitigate the risk. You can assist veterinarians by euthanizing animals, disposing of their remains, and consoling grieving owners. Some animals can arrive at the store or centre without an owner, or they may be very ill and require special care.

Veterinary assistants work in a variety of different industries, including the following:

  • Animal hospitals

  • Veterinary practices

  • Pet clinics

  • Pet stores

  • Pet resorts

  • Zoos

  • Animal rescue facilities

  • Animal education programs

  • Animal shelters

  • Animal rehabilitation centres

  • Research facilities

Career advancement

As a veterinary assistant, you can take the first step toward success in the veterinary field. Veterinary assistants usually gain important field experience that may pave the way for a career as a veterinary technician. That is commonly the next step in the career progression of veterinary assistants. This may eventually result in a more prominent position as a practicing veterinarian. The opportunities are limitless, as the veterinary field requires an increasing number of employees each year. Continuing education is a great way to advance your career while remaining employed.

There is an abundance of continuing education available, including regular seminars, and workshops held across the country. The more credentials veterinary assistants obtain, the more valuable they become in the field and gain more bargaining power.

Related:

  • How to Write an Effective Veterinary Assistant Cover Letter

  • How to Write a Job Description (With Template and Example)

FAQs

Here are some FAQs about veterinary assistants:

Is formal training required to work as a veterinary assistant?

Not always. Many employers may hire assistants without formal credentials if they have practical experience working in a veterinary office or other customer service role. Finishing a formal training program can assist you in developing critical skills that employers value.

How can you prepare for a veterinary assistant program?

You may need a high school diploma or equivalent to apply for a veterinary assistant program. Some of these programs require certain courses in high school, such as English, biology, or math. Some programs may require you to endure a criminal background check, pass an entry exam, and provide evidence of immunization against certain diseases. It's advisable to gain volunteer experience at a local veterinary clinic or animal shelter. This may provide you with an excellent understanding of how such organizations function and what it's like to operate in animal care.

What distinguishes veterinary assistants from veterinary technicians?

While the two roles share some similarities, they also have significant distinctions. Vet techs usually qualify to perform a broader range of animal health-related duties. For example, while assistants can administer medications orally, technicians can also administer them intravenously. Educational requirements can vary, as veterinary assistant programs typically last only a year, but tet techs may complete a two to a three-year program. While employers may not require licensed assistants, they require veterinarian technicians to register in certain provinces to practise.

What characteristics do effective veterinary assistants possess?

Usually, employers look for vet assistants that are compassionate, trustworthy, and dependable. This can be essential as the position may require you to manage different situations, clients, and animals. Other characteristics employers may want to see in their assistants can include:

  • Have excellent attention to detail skills and enjoy working in a team environment

  • Possess excellent interpersonal and communication skills

  • Have remarkable laboratory skills and be comfortable handling urine, blood, and feces samples

  • Possess the strength and stamina necessary to lift, carry, and confine animals of different sizes

Please note that none of the companies, institutions, or organizations mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed. Salary figures reflect data listed on Indeed Salaries at time of writing. Salaries‌ ‌may‌ ‌‌vary‌‌ ‌depending‌ ‌on‌ ‌the‌ ‌hiring‌ ‌organization‌ ‌and‌ ‌a‌ ‌candidate's‌ ‌experience,‌ ‌academic‌ background‌, ‌and‌ ‌location.‌

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