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Animal Health Technologists Needed for our Four-Legged Friends

Animal health technologists assist veterinarians and scientists by performing more routine tasks. This lets the veterinarian or scientist spend their time on specialized activities.

Other terms for animal health technologists include animal health technicians, laboratory animal technicians, veterinarian assistants, veterinary technicians and veterinary technologists. In some locations, the work might differ somewhat depending on the title, but all care for animals.

Vet Clinics, Zoos and Other Opportunities

These technologists work at veterinary clinics, animal hospitals, animal shelters, zoos and wildlife rehabilitation organizations. They also work in research labs, government labs, and for the pharmaceutical industry.

Dennis Lively is the president of the National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America (NAVTA). He also teaches animal health technology at the National American University in Rapid City, South Dakota.

"We find that the veterinary clinic is where the veterinary clinician will get experience and then maybe move into other areas," he says.

Many animal health techs dream of working in a zoo. Zoos offer a chance to work with a wide variety of exotic animals. However, there are not a lot of zoos in the country, so these jobs are popular.

Lively says that zoos tend to hire people who start at the bottom and work their way up. "I see a future trend where we will see a few more opportunities in zoos. But it takes dedication to find a zoo and then move to the area."

Veterinarian or Animal Health Technologist?

Lively thinks that the veterinarian profession is more attractive to some people because vets earn more money than animal health technologists.

However, veterinarian training is very competitive. It takes eight years of study, and graduates often have a huge student debt.

Animal health technology is a great alternative for people who want to work in veterinary medicine. Animal health techs train for two to four years. They earn $25,000 to $30,000 a year in the U.S., according to Lively.

The need for animal health techs is increasing. David Sedgman is a doctor of veterinary medicine, and a university chair of an animal health technology program.

"I don't know if it will be the same in 20 years. But right now, there is quite a demand for high quality technical care," says Sedgman.

Trends Creating Demand for Animal Health Techs

Various trends are affecting the career's growth.

First, more people own pets than ever before. Cats are popular pets because they are easier to care for than dogs. You can leave a cat alone in an apartment or condo for a weekend and it will entertain itself.

Diana Guerrero is an author, speaker and animal expert based in California. She says that 65 percent of American homes have pets. Many households have more than one pet.

"This means that pet spending is up," explains Guerrero. "Pet industry figures show that spending has doubled over the past ten years."

Guerrero also points out that veterinarians now treat animals that they would have euthanized (put down) in the past. Now people view pets as part of their family. They are willing to pay for long-term care and preventative care rather than lose their pet.

There is another reason for the increasing demand for animal health techs. Vets are starting to realize that these technologists make their practice more efficient. The animals receive more attention, the pet owners are pleased, and the practice gets better. "That's the trend we're seeing!" Lively confirms.

Lively adds that animal health techs are even more important in rural areas. Rural areas have difficulty attracting veterinarians. Many of them prefer to work in animal clinics in the city. Therefore, busy rural vets hire technologists because they need the help.

Universities and private laboratories are also increasing the demand for these technologists. "Not many students come in wanting to work in research," Sedgman says. "But about a quarter of our students decide to work in that area by the time they graduate."

Training Becoming More Complex

Most animal health technologists train for two years or more. Some states require licensing or certification. In other locations, this is voluntary but some employers require credentials.

Lively has been a registered technician for 25 years. "It's important to me that I am recognized by my peers and clients as being a step above a person who is not credentialed," he says.

The training for animal health technology is becoming more complex. Standards of animal care are rising. When human health care advances, animal owners expect the same kind of treatment for their animals.

For example, there are specializations in human medicine. Animal health technology specializations are also emerging. Animal health techs can specialize in dentistry, critical care and anesthesia. Internal medicine will be the next specialty. Specialist technicians get additional training.

Technological advances also affect training. Today's animal health techs know how to work with ultrasound and different types of imaging, for example.

Distance learning offers another new opportunity for people wanting to become animal health techs. Some universities offer online training in veterinary technology. The student must work in a veterinary clinic under supervision so he or she can learn on the job. It takes longer, but it is a way for an employer to help a valued employee get their training.

Techs Need More Than a Love of Animals

Lively says you must love animals to work in this field. However, you must also be a people person. Animal technologists deal with pet owners. They teach pet owners about various conditions like heartworm. They also help the pet owner understand the alternatives and options that are available.

Before entering the training, it's a good idea to work or volunteer at a veterinary clinic. A lot of people love animals but are not suited for working in this field. You also need some ability with mathematics and chemistry.

"When you're calculationg drug dosages, you have to know the difference between a 2 percent solution and a 5 percent solution," Sedgman explains. "You'll kill the animal if you get it wrong."

Sedgman also says veterinarians need technologists who can think for themselves. Vets can make mistakes. The technologist needs to be able understand the directions from their veterinarian and double-check the instructions if they feel that there is a potential problem.

"I tell them as animal health techologists they are paid to worry. That's their job!" Sedgman concludes.


National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America (NAVTA)
Check out the Vet Tech as a Career section

Ark Animals
An animal career expert provides pet care tips and more

Back to Career Cluster


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