How to Become a Veterinary Technician

Find out about veterinary technician training, careers and salary.

The Basics

What you’ll do: Veterinary technicians work under licensed veterinarians to treat or help diagnose the illnesses and injuries of animals. You’ll observe the condition and behavior of the dogs, cats and critters that visit your office, provide nursing care or first aid, administer anesthesia and monitor response, collect samples and perform lab tests. You may also prepare animals for surgery.

Where you'll work: Private clinics, animal hospitals and veterinary testing laboratories. You may also work in varied environments including zoos, research facilities or animal shelters.       

Degree you'll need to practice: Associate's degree

Median annual salary: $30,290*  

Education and Training

There are two levels of training and education for those interested in working with veterinarians. A two-year veterinary technology program will allow you to begin work as a veterinary technician. You can specialize in disciplines including dental technology, anesthesia, emergency and critical care and zoological medicine.

Earning a four-year bachelor’s degree in veterinary technology allows you to become a veterinary technologist. In this role, you’ll work in lab settings and in advanced research-based positions.  

Future veterinary technicians will study courses such as:

  • Radiology
  • Pre- and post-surgical nursing care
  • Anesthesia
  • Client education
  • Medical terminology

Some courses may overlap with those taken by four-year, veterinary technologist-track students, such as:  

  • Anatomy and Physiology of Domestic Animals
  • Veterinary Clinical Pathology
  • Microbiology
  • Parasitology
  • Principles of Imaging
  • Animal Pathology 

Since licensure in most states requires you to earn a degree from an accredited program, check that your program is accredited by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA).

Licensing and Certification

Once you graduate from your AVMA-accredited program, you’ll take a credentialing exam in the state you choose to work in. The exam includes oral, written and practical portions. Upon passing the exam, veterinary technicians may become registered, licensed or certified, depending on the state.

For those seeking employment in a research facility, employers recommend American Association for Laboratory Animal Science (AALAS) certification. Although this certification isn’t mandatory, it shows your competency in animal husbandry, health and welfare, and facility administration and management to prospective employers.   

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 2014-15 Occupational Outlook Handbook.
*The salary information listed is based on a national average, unless noted. Actual salaries may vary greatly based on specialization within the field, location, years of experience and other factors. National long-term projections of employment growth may not reflect local and/or short-term economic or job conditions, and do not guarantee actual job growth.