Veterinary Assistants and Laboratory Animal Caretakers

Summary

Veterinary assistants and laboratory animal caretakers
Veterinary assistants may hold or restrain animals during procedures.
Quick Facts: Veterinary Assistants and Laboratory Animal Caretakers
2014 Median Pay $23,790 per year
$11.44 per hour
Typical Entry-Level Education High school diploma or equivalent
Work Experience in a Related Occupation None
On-the-job Training Short-term on-the-job training
Number of Jobs, 2014 73,400
Job Outlook, 2014-24 9% (Faster than average)
Employment Change, 2014-24 6,600

What Veterinary Assistants and Laboratory Animal Caretakers Do

Veterinary assistants and laboratory animal caretakers look after animals in laboratories, animal hospitals, and clinics. They care for the animals by performing routine tasks under the supervision of scientists, veterinarians, and veterinary technologists and technicians.

Work Environment

Veterinary assistants and laboratory animal caretakers work mainly in clinics, animal hospitals, and research laboratories. Their work may be physically and emotionally demanding.

How to Become a Veterinary Assistant or Laboratory Animal Caretaker

Most veterinary assistants and laboratory animal caretakers have a high school diploma and learn the occupation on the job.

Pay

The median annual wage for veterinary assistants and laboratory animal caretakers was $23,790 in May 2014.

Job Outlook

Employment of veterinary assistants and laboratory animal caretakers is projected to grow 9 percent from 2014 to 2024, faster than the average for all occupations. In addition to fast employment growth, high occupational turnover should result in very good job opportunities.

State & Area Data

Explore resources for employment and wages by state and area for veterinary assistants and laboratory animal caretakers.

Similar Occupations

Compare the job duties, education, job growth, and pay of veterinary assistants and laboratory animal caretakers with similar occupations.

More Information, Including Links to O*NET

Learn more about veterinary assistants and laboratory animal caretakers by visiting additional resources, including O*NET, a source on key characteristics of workers and occupations.

What Veterinary Assistants and Laboratory Animal Caretakers Do

Veterinary assistants and laboratory animal caretakers
Veterinary assistants may hand tools to veterinarians during surgery.

Veterinary assistants and laboratory animal caretakers look after animals in laboratories, animal hospitals, and clinics. They care for the animals by performing routine tasks under the supervision of scientists, veterinarians, and veterinary technologists and technicians.

Duties

Veterinary assistants and laboratory animal caretakers typically do the following:

  • Feed, bathe, and exercise animals
  • Clean and disinfect cages, kennels, and examination and operating rooms
  • Restrain animals during examination and laboratory procedures
  • Maintain and sterilize surgical instruments and equipment
  • Monitor and care for animals after surgery
  • Help provide emergency first aid to sick and injured animals
  • Give medication or immunizations that veterinarians prescribe
  • Assist in the collection of blood, urine, and tissue samples

Veterinary assistants and laboratory animal caretakers are responsible for many daily tasks, such as feeding, weighing, and taking the temperature of animals. Other duties may include giving medication, cleaning cages, and providing nursing care before and after surgery and other medical procedures.

Veterinary assistants and laboratory animal caretakers play a large role in helping veterinarians and animal scientists with surgery and other minor procedures. They may prepare equipment and pass surgical instruments and materials to veterinarians during surgery. They also move animals and restrain them during testing and other procedures.

Veterinary assistants typically work in clinics and animal hospitals, helping veterinarians and veterinary technologists and technicians treat injuries and illnesses of animals.

Laboratory animal caretakers work in laboratories under the supervision of a veterinarian, scientist, veterinary technician, or veterinary technologist. Their daily tasks include feeding animals, cleaning kennels, and monitoring the animals.

Work Environment

Veterinary assistants and laboratory animal caretakers
Veterinary assistants move animals and prepare equipment before procedures.

Veterinary assistants and laboratory animal caretakers held about 73,400 jobs in 2014. Eighty-five percent were employed in the veterinary services industry, which includes private clinics and animal hospitals. Most others were employed in colleges, universities, and research facilities.

The work of veterinary assistants and laboratory animal caretakers may be physically and emotionally demanding. Workers may handle sick or abused animals and may assist in euthanizing animals.

Injuries and Illnesses

Veterinary assistants and laboratory animal caretakers have a higher rate of injuries and illnesses than the national average. When working with scared and aggressive animals, workers may be bitten, scratched, or kicked. A worker also may be injured while holding, bathing, or restraining an animal.

Work Schedules

About 1 in 3 veterinary assistants and laboratory animal caretakers worked part time in 2014. Many clinics and laboratories operate 24 hours a day, so veterinary assistants and laboratory animal caretakers may be required to work nights, weekends, and holidays.

How to Become a Veterinary Assistant or Laboratory Animal Caretaker

veterinary assistants and laboratory animal caretakers image
Veterinary assistants provide basic care for sick animals.

Most veterinary assistants and laboratory animal caretakers have a high school diploma and learn the occupation on the job. Experience working with animals can be helpful for jobseekers.

Education

Most workers entering the occupation have a high school diploma or its equivalent.

Training

Most veterinary assistants and laboratory animal caretakers are trained on the job, but some employers prefer candidates who already have experience working with animals.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Although certification is not mandatory, it allows workers to demonstrate competency in animal husbandry, health and welfare, and facility administration. Employers may prefer to hire candidates who have certification, and it may be required for advancement.

The National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America (NAVTA) offers the Approved Veterinary Assistant (AVA) designation for veterinary assistants. To qualify for the designation, candidates must graduate from a NAVTA-approved program and pass an exam.

Laboratory animal caretakers can become certified through the American Association for Laboratory Animal Science (AALAS). AALAS offers three levels of certification: Assistant Laboratory Animal Technician (ALAT), Laboratory Animal Technician (LAT), and Laboratory Animal Technologist (LATG). For AALAS certification, candidates must have experience working in a laboratory animal facility and pass an exam. 

Important Qualities

Communication skills. Veterinary assistants and laboratory animal caretakers often communicate with pet owners, veterinarians, veterinary technologists and technicians, and other assistants. Good communication skills are especially important when dealing with an emergency, such as an ill or injured animal needing immediate attention.

Detail oriented. Veterinary assistants and laboratory animal caretakers must follow strict instructions. For example, workers must be precise when sterilizing surgical equipment, monitoring animals, and giving medication.

Dexterity. Veterinary assistants and laboratory animal caretakers must handle animals and use medical instruments and laboratory equipment with care.

Empathy. Veterinary assistants and laboratory animal caretakers must treat animals with kindness and be empathetic to both the animals and their owners.

Physical strength. Veterinary assistants and laboratory animal caretakers must be able to handle, move, and restrain animals.

Pay

Veterinary Assistants and Laboratory Animal Caretakers

Median annual wages, May 2014

Total, all occupations

$35,540

Healthcare support occupations

$26,440

Veterinary assistants and laboratory animal caretakers

$23,790

 

The median annual wage for veterinary assistants and laboratory animal caretakers was $23,790 in May 2014. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $17,500, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $36,200.

About 1 in 3 veterinary assistants and laboratory animal caretakers worked part time in 2014. Many clinics and laboratories operate 24 hours a day, so veterinary assistants and laboratory animal caretakers may be required to work nights, weekends, or holidays.

Job Outlook

Veterinary Assistants and Laboratory Animal Caretakers

Percent change in employment, projected 2014-24

Healthcare support occupations

23%

Veterinary assistants and laboratory animal caretakers

9%

Total, all occupations

7%

 

Employment of veterinary assistants and laboratory animal caretakers is projected to grow 9 percent from 2014 to 2024, faster than the average for all occupations. Veterinary assistants and laboratory animal caretakers will be needed to assist veterinarians and other veterinary care staff.

Although some establishments are replacing veterinary assistant positions with veterinary technicians and technologists, growth of the pet care industry means that the number of veterinary assistant positions should continue to increase.

Demand for laboratory animal caretakers is expected to grow in areas such as public health, where organizations work to protect the health of an entire population; food and animal safety, where organizations work to prevent foodborne contaminations and diseases in animals; national disease control; and biomedical research on human health problems.

Job Prospects

Overall job opportunities for veterinary assistants and laboratory animal caretakers are expected to be very good. Veterinary assistants experience a high rate of job turnover, so many positions will become available from workers who leave the occupation each year.

Employment projections data for veterinary assistants and laboratory animal caretakers, 2014-24
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2014 Projected Employment, 2024 Change, 2014-24 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections program

Veterinary assistants and laboratory animal caretakers

31-9096 73,400 80,000 9 6,600 [XLSX]

State & Area Data

Occupational Employment Statistics (OES)

The Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) program produces employment and wage estimates annually for over 800 occupations. These estimates are available for the nation as a whole, for individual states, and for metropolitan and nonmetropolitan areas. The link(s) below go to OES data maps for employment and wages by state and area.

Projections Central

Occupational employment projections are developed for all states by Labor Market Information (LMI) or individual state Employment Projections offices. All state projections data are available at www.projectionscentral.com. Information on this site allows projected employment growth for an occupation to be compared among states or to be compared within one state. In addition, states may produce projections for areas; there are links to each state’s websites where these data may be retrieved.

Career InfoNet

America’s Career InfoNet includes hundreds of occupational profiles with data available by state and metro area. There are links in the left-hand side menu to compare occupational employment by state and occupational wages by local area or metro area. There is also a salary info tool to search for wages by zip code.

Similar Occupations

This table shows a list of occupations with job duties that are similar to those of veterinary assistants and laboratory animal caretakers.

Occupation Job Duties ENTRY-LEVEL EDUCATION 2014 MEDIAN PAY
Animal care and service workers

Animal Care and Service Workers

Animal care and service workers provide care for animals. They feed, groom, bathe, and exercise pets and other nonfarm animals. Job tasks vary by position and place of work.

High school diploma or equivalent $20,610
Dental assistants

Dental Assistants

Dental assistants perform many tasks, ranging from providing patient care and taking x rays to recordkeeping and scheduling appointments. Their duties vary by state and by the dentists’ offices where they work.

Postsecondary nondegree award $35,390
Nursing aides, orderlies, and attendants

Nursing Assistants and Orderlies

Nursing assistants, sometimes called nursing aides, help provide basic care for patients in hospitals and residents of long-term care facilities, such as nursing homes. Orderlies transport patients and clean treatment areas.

See How to Become One $25,090
Surgical technologists

Surgical Technologists

Surgical technologists, also called operating room technicians, assist in surgical operations. They prepare operating rooms, arrange equipment, and help doctors during surgeries.

Postsecondary nondegree award $43,350
Veterinarians

Veterinarians

Veterinarians care for the health of animals and work to improve public health. They diagnose, treat, and research medical conditions and diseases of pets, livestock, and other animals.

Doctoral or professional degree $87,590
Veterinary technologists and technicians

Veterinary Technologists and Technicians

Veterinary technologists and technicians perform medical tests under the supervision of a licensed veterinarian to assist in diagnosing the injuries and illnesses of animals.

Associate's degree $31,070
Suggested citation:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Veterinary Assistants and Laboratory Animal Caretakers,
on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/veterinary-assistants-and-laboratory-animal-caretakers.htm (visited February 13, 2016).

Publish Date: Thursday, December 17, 2015