Veterinary assistant salary & career outlook

For many Americans, animals are not just pets — they're part of the family. They are the wagging tail greeting you at the door and the soft body curling up with you while you read. Families rely on veterinarians to keep their pets happy and healthy, and veterinarians, in turn, rely on veterinary assistants to help them do their job well.

Veterinary assistants tend to the day-to-day well-being of animals in a variety of settings. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), 82 percent of veterinary assistants and laboratory animal caretakers work in settings such as private practices and animal clinics. Other professionals may be employed by laboratories, colleges and universities or research facilities.

Wherever their environment, the BLS notes veterinary assistants perform many of the following duties:

  • Caring and monitoring animals following surgery
  • Maintaining and sterilizing veterinary equipment
  • Cleaning cages, crates, and exam or operating rooms
  • Giving medication or immunizations prescribed by veterinarians
  • Helping administer emergency first aid
  • Feeding and bathing animals
  • Collecting specimens for testing

According to the National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America, assistants may find themselves working in dynamic environments where their role is constantly evolving. They may be assisting a veterinarian one minute and answering the phone or responding to client questions the next.

The BLS reports that veterinary assistants and laboratory animal caretakers must be compassionate and detail-oriented. They must also exhibit excellent dexterity and physical strength, as they are often called upon to handle or transport animals. Many of their additional skills are honed either on the job or in the classroom.

Veterinary assistant salary trends

According to the BLS, the median national veterinary assistant salary in 2013 was $23,550, with the lowest 10 percent earning up to $17,380 and the top 10 percent of workers earning up to $35,680. A number of factors can influence earnings, however, including employer, location and experience, as well as whether they've had any formal veterinary assistant training.

According to the BLS, the following states offered the highest median veterinary assistant salaries in 2013:

  • District of Columbia: $36,020
  • Massachusetts: $31,730
  • Connecticut: $29,550

In addition to variations by location, a veterinary assistant's earnings may also depend on their employer. As such, the BLS reports that the following industries had the highest median veterinary assistant and laboratory animal caretaker salaries in 2013:

  • Local government: $39,880
  • Pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing: $35,720
  • General medical and surgical hospitals: $35,500

Experience and education may also affect veterinary assistants' earnings potential. The NAVTA offers a voluntary Approved Veterinary Assistant designation which may also impact an individual's employment and salary potential.

Career outlook for veterinary assistants

According to the BLS, employment of veterinary assistants and laboratory animal caretakers is projected to grow by 10 percent between 2012 and 2022. That level of growth is about as fast as average, but the bureau cautions some veterinary clinics may be replacing assistants with more highly trained technicians and technologists.

Still, some sectors are expected to continue to show strong demand for laboratory animal caretakers and those with experience handling pets. Public health, food and animal safety, biomedical research and national disease control are all industries that may be expected to hire animal caretaking professionals in the coming years.

As with earnings, location can affect your employment outlook The U.S. Department of Labor projects that the following states will see the strongest employment growth among veterinary assistants and laboratory animal caretakers between 2012 and 2022.

  • Virginia: 30.6 percent
  • Washington: 21.7 percent
  • Colorado: 21.2 percent

Training and education

According to the BLS, because veterinary assistants and laboratory animal caretakers often learn on the job, some employers only require a high school diploma. Future assistants and caretakers who want additional experience may benefit from courses through formal veterinary assistant schools. Because of the hands-on nature of the profession, some students may be able to complete some, but probably not all of their formal veterinary assistant training online.

The BLS reports laboratory animal caretakers working in research facilities must usually become certified, earning an assistant laboratory animal technician (ALAT), laboratory animal technician (LAT) or laboratory animal technologist (LATG) certification. To become certified, candidates must pass an exam and have experience in the field.

1. Employment Trends Across States, Career One Stop, http://www.careerinfonet.org/carout3.asp?optstatus=111111111&id=1&nodeid=2&soccode=319096&stfips=01&jobfam=31&order=Percent
2. Veterinary Assistants, National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America, https://www.navta.net/assistants/veterinary-assistants
3. Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2013: Veterinary Assistants and Laboratory Animal Caretakers, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, April 1, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes319096.htm
4. Veterinary Assistants and Laboratory Animal Caretakers, "Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition," Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Jan. 8, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/veterinary-assistants-and-laboratory-animal-caretakers.htm