When you were reciting your future occupations as a child, there's a decent chance that you mentioned veterinarian. If you've held onto that dream of a career in animal care but you don’t have to spend eight years in school or spend your life savings to get there, there's good news. You might be interested in becoming a vet tech or vet assistant. While the two sound similar, these positions are actually quite different. Knowing the differences can help you find the occupation of your dreams.
Although vet techs and vet assistants may perform many of the same tasks, there are fundamental differences between the two positions. At the most basic level, they both assist a veterinarian with the care of animal patients. However, a vet tech is specially trained to complete certain tasks that a vet assistant is not.
These tasks include drawing blood, taking and developing X-rays, intubating surgical patients, and administering anesthesia. Vet techs are also responsible for performing and sometimes interpreting laboratory tests such as fecals, urinalysis, and blood counts. They may be responsible for maintenance of laboratory machinery and ordering inventory. Vet techs can also assist in surgery, administer emergency care, and perform dental cleanings on anesthetized patients.
In contrast, a vet assistant is typically responsible for feeding, watering, and administering medications to patients as well as maintaining a clean hospital. Much of a vet assistant's time will be spent sterilizing surgical equipment, disinfecting cages, and restraining animals while they are examined or treated by a veterinarian. Vet assistants may also provide post-surgical monitoring and care once properly trained, and they can also prepare laboratory samples and medications under supervision of the vet tech or veterinarian.
The educational requirements of these two positions are very different. There is no educational requirement or certification needed to become a vet assistant, and all of your training will be done on the job. The education required of a vet tech is more stringent. Vet techs must graduate from either a two- or four-year program from a school accredited by the American Veterinary Medical Association. Upon graduation, a vet tech must pass the Veterinary Technician National Examination. Most states then require a vet tech to obtain a license with the state’s own board of veterinary medicine, although some states waive this step.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median income for a vet tech is $14.56 hourly for a salary of $30,290 per year. As a vet assistant, you can expect to make an average of $11.12 per hour for a salary of $23,130 per year.