Veterinary technicians and veterinary assistants

Veterinary technicians are educated in the care and handling of animals, the basic principles of normal and abnormal life processes, and in many laboratory and clinical procedures. In general, veterinary technicians obtain 2-4 years of post-high school education and have an associate's or bachelor's degree in veterinary technology. They must pass a credentialing examination and keep up-to-date with continuing education to be considered licensed, registered, or certified (the term used varies by state) veterinary technicians.

All veterinary technicians work under the supervision of a licensed veterinarian. While a veterinary technician can assist in performing a wide variety of tasks, they cannot diagnose, prescribe, perform surgery, or engage in any activity prohibited by a state's veterinary practice act.

In a clinical practice setting, such as your local veterinary hospital, veterinary technicians handle many of the same responsibilities that nurses and other professionals perform for physicians—and, like veterinarians, they are trained to work with several species of animals. They are trained to obtain and record patient case histories; collect specimens and perform laboratory procedures; provide specialized nursing care; prepare animals, instruments, and equipment for surgery; assist in diagnostic, medical, and surgical procedures; expose and develop radiographs (X-rays); advise and educate animal owners; supervise and train practice personnel; and perform dental prophylaxes.

In addition to the responsibilities above, veterinary technicians employed in a biomedical research facility perform other duties under the supervision of a licensed veterinarian, a biomedical research worker, or other scientist. These duties include supervising the humane care and handling of research animals and assisting in the implementation of research projects.

While the majority of veterinary technicians are employed in private practice, there also are job opportunities in human and animal health-related areas and specialties such as military service, food safety inspection, teaching, zoo animal and wildlife care, diagnostic laboratory support, veterinary supply sales, animal control and humane society animal care, and drug and feed company technical service and sales.

Veterinary assistants support veterinarians and/or veterinary technicians in their daily tasks. The veterinary assistant may be asked to perform kennel work, help restrain and handle animals, feed and exercise the animals, or spend time on clerical duties. There are training programs for veterinary assistants, and some are trained on the job. At this time, there is no credentialing exam for veterinary assistants.


Students interested in a career in veterinary technology should have an aptitude for general science, math, and biology, and demonstrate basic language and communication skills.

The AVMA accredits veterinary technology programs throughout the United States and Canada through the AVMA Committee on Veterinary Technician Education and Activities®. Most accredited programs lead to an associate's degree after two years, but some lead to a four-year bachelor's degree. Veterinary technicians with bachelor's degrees usually receive higher salaries and greater level of job responsibilities. Find an accredited accredited veterinary technician education program.

All students in accredited veterinary technology programs must complete a period of clinical experience in a veterinary practice. This hands-on training is called a preceptorship, practicum, or externship and is a critical component of the veterinary technology program.

Distance learning

To accommodate work and family obligations, distance learning is an option for many students wishing to earn a degree in veterinary technology from home. The AVMA accredits several distance-learning courses that meet the same standards of accreditation as traditional programs and include a clinical component. Students fulfill the clinical training through sponsorship by a licensed veterinarian.


Veterinary technicians earn salaries that compare favorably to those in other fields requiring similar education. Salaries vary according to experience, responsibility, geographic location, and employment type.

Professional regulation

The majority of states have regulations that provide for veterinary technician credentialing (certification, licensure, or registration). Candidates typically are tested for competency through an examination regulated by the state veterinary board. Most states require candidates to pass the Veterinary Technician National Examination (VTNE).

Veterinary technician specialties

Some veterinary technicians decide to specialize in a certain area. According to the National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America (NAVTA), an academy is a group of veterinary technicians who have received formal, specialized training, testing and certification in a specific area. The recognized specialties include dental technology, anesthesia, internal medicine, emergency and critical care, behavior, zoological medicine, and equine veterinary nursing.

Continuing education

Many state licensing boards require a certain number of hours of continuing education (CE) to renew professional licenses. In addition, with ongoing advances in technology and treatments, most veterinary technicians find it important to continue taking advantage of educational opportunities to keep their skills and knowledge up-to-date.

See also:

National Veterinary Technician Week
AVMA policy: Veterinary technology
Accredited veterinary technician education programs


Get the career brochure Veterinary Technicians to educate your clients about the skills and role of veterinary technicians. Available in both English and Spanish (Técnicos Veterinarios).