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Difference Between Vet Tech and Vet Assistant

Veterinary technicians  and veterinary assistants  are the two most popular lower professions in veterinary field. Oftentimes, they are called interchangeably whereas they differ in many aspects including job skills, duties, professional recognition, education and salary. A vet tech has an extensive education background and often supervises vet assistants while they are all under the supervision of a veterinarian or any other high vet care professional such as a researcher.

This study explores the key differences between these two professions, viz. vet tech and vet assistant. Amongst others, educational background, job responsibility, professional recognition and potential earnings are discussed.


What is a Veterinary Technician?

A vet tech is a veterinary technician (in full) responsible for a variety of technicalities of caring and handling of animals alongside the supervision of the veterinarian. The professional assists veterinarians the same way registered nurses assist physicians in healthcare facilities. There is a vet technologist who is more knowledgeable than a vet technician and also commands a higher pay.

A vet tech would typically assist a veterinarian when performing surgeries and treating animals. However, the technician is prohibited from performing the surgery independently or diagnosing and prescribing medications for the animals the healthcare facility is entrusted with. The broad scope of a vet tech includes preparing animals, instruments, surgical procedures, conducting x-rays, surgery equipment, and many more. One can decide to specialize in a wide variety of specializations such as dental prophylaxes.

There are plenty of employment opportunities of vet technicians other than being employed in private practices. Others may be employed in biomedical research facilities, military services, zoo and wildlife animal care centers, technical services, food safety laboratories and diagnostic laboratories. There is an opportunity for a vet tech to upgrade current studies to a technologist or a veterinarian.

The educational background of a vet tech is extensive compared to a vet assistant. Normally, vet tech training lasts for 2 years and it is offered by technical colleges as well as selected 4-year universities. The training culminates into an Associate’s degree of Applied Science. A 4-year option culminates into a Bachelor’s degree in Veterinary technology and the graduate is called the vet technologist. During training, modules to study include biochemistry, veterinary pathology, animal pharmacology, animal behavior and clinical practices.

However, a vet tech is not yet done with studies after obtaining a 2-year Associate’s degree. There are licenses, certifications and registrations that may vary from state to state. A candidate must pass the 4-hour certification exam with 200 multiple choice questions. The exam is offered by the American Association of Veterinary State Boards. This exam will typically cover dentistry procedures, animal nursing, pharmacy and pharmacology, surgical procedures, anesthesia, radiography, and laboratory procedures. After obtaining the license, the vet tech must continue renewing it and upgrading knowledge about veterinary technology. An up to date knowledge is a prerequisite to renew the license.

Earning potential of vet techs is averaged to be $33000 per annum with more experienced ones getting over $44000. These earnings may vary subject to geographic location, scope of work or healthcare facility. More experienced vet techs may assume supervisory roles in some healthcare facilities but still reporting to veterinarians while supervising vet assistants.


What is a  Veterinary Assistant?

A vet assistant is typically a general worker who assists both the vet tech and the veterinarian in their work fields. The vet assistant assumes clinical and clerical responsibilities in healthcare facilities. Unlike vet techs, vet assistants’ work does not cover most of the technicalities of caring and handling animals. Their education background is also limited and it is not mandatory, but recommended to increase employment prospects.

The scope of a vet assistant would ideally include feeding and exercising animals, restraint and handling animals, setting up appointments, issuing bills to pet owners, interviewing pet owners, sanitizing examination rooms, sterilizing animal cages, collecting feces, urine and blood from animals for laboratory tests, and keeping animals records for vet techs or veterinarians.

These professionals often receive a formal training that takes a maximum of a year from vocational training centers or community colleges. Some receive on-the-job training, and there are no licenses, certifications or registrations that vet assistants are mandated to have. They can work in a plethora of veterinary facilities under the supervision of other veterinary care professionals. Generally, vet assistants are likened to certified nurse assistants in health care facilities.

The potential earnings of vet assistants are generally lower to those of vet techs. They can earn a median salary of $22000 a year while the experienced ones command higher salaries closer to $34000.


Key differences between vet tech and vet assistant

Scope of work of vet tech and vet assistant

A vet tech assists the veterinarian in technical procedures. The vet tech will collect feces, blood or urine samples to prepare for laboratory tests. He will also administer medications, conduct pre-assessment of the animal before the veterinarian conducts a full diagnosis. On the other hand, vet assistant deals with clerical and clinical duties such as keeping animal records, scheduling appointments, sterilizing animal cages, sterilizing equipment and feeding animals.

Educational background

A vet tech undertakes an extensive training for a maximum of 2 years. He also undergoes certification and registration by writing the national examination. The license is continually renewed and the technician is expected to always study. The vet assistant, on the other hand, does not need an extensive educational training. Formal trainings can take up to a year in community colleges or vocational training centers. No registration or certifications mandatory.


A vet tech earns more than a vet assistant due to extensive job skills and educational background. Earnings may differ from state to state, and also based on the experience.

Vet tech Vs. Vet Assistant: Comparison Chart


Summary of Vet tech Vs. Vet Assistant

  • A vet tech supervises a vet assistant
  • A vet tech has an extensive training from 4-year universities or technical colleges while a vet assistant has a lesser training from community colleges
  • A vet tech commands higher earnings than the assistant
  • A vet assistant assumes clinical and clerical duties whereas the vet tech is more into the technicalities of the job
  • Certifications, registrations and licenses required for a vet tech whereas a vet assistant requires none

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References :

[0]American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA (2018). Veterinary Technicians and Veterinary Assistants. Accessed at https://www.avma.org/public/YourVet/Pages/techs-and-assistants.aspx. Accessed on 09 June 2018.

[1]Paula Pattengale, Teresa Sonsthagen (28 Jan 2014). Tasks for the Veterinary Assistant. John Wiley & Sons.

[2]Linda Merrill (12 June 2012). Small Animal Internal Medicine for Veterinary Technicians and Nurses. John Wiley & Sons.

[3]Image credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/accdistrict/15207232234

[4]Image credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/accdistrict/15827202555

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