Veterinary assistants and laboratory animal caretakers look after animals in laboratories, animal hospitals, and clinics. They care for the well-being of animals by performing routine tasks under the supervision of veterinarians, scientists, and veterinary technologists and technicians.
Veterinary assistants and laboratory animal caretakers typically do the following:
- Feed, bathe, and exercise animals
- Clean and disinfect cages, kennels, and examination and operation 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 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 work mainly in clinics and animal hospitals, helping veterinarians and veterinary technicians and technologists 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 general well-being of laboratory animals.
Veterinary assistants and laboratory animal caretakers held about 74,600 jobs in 2012. About 82 percent were employed in the veterinary services industry, which includes private clinics and animal hospitals. Most others were employed in laboratories, colleges and universities, and research facilities.
The work of veterinary assistants and laboratory animal caretakers may be physically and emotionally demanding. Workers may witness abused animals and may assist in euthanizing sick, injured, and unwanted 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, and kicked. A worker also may be injured while holding, bathing, or restraining an animal.
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.
Most veterinary assistants and laboratory animal caretakers have a high school diploma and learn on the job. Experience working with animals can be helpful for jobseekers.
Most workers entering the occupation have a high school diploma or its equivalent.
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 not required by employers, veterinary assistants can become certified as an Approved Veterinary Assistant (AVA) through the National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America (NAVTA).
For laboratory animal caretakers seeking work in a research facility, the American Association for Laboratory Animal Science (AALAS) offers three levels of certification: Assistant Laboratory Animal Technician (ALAT), Laboratory Animal Technician (LAT), and Laboratory Animal Technologist (LATG).
Although certification is not mandatory, it allows workers at each level to demonstrate competency in animal husbandry, health and welfare, and facility administration. To become certified, candidates must have work experience in a laboratory animal facility and pass the AALAS exam.
Compassion. Veterinary assistants and laboratory animal caretakers must treat animals with kindness and be compassionate to both the animals and their owners.
Detail oriented. These workers 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.
Physical strength. Veterinary assistants and laboratory animal caretakers must be able to handle, move, and restrain animals.
The median annual wage for veterinary assistants and laboratory animal caretakers was $23,130 in May 2012. 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 $17,150, and the top 10 percent earned more than $35,510.
Veterinary assistants and laboratory animal caretakers working in research positions often earn more than those in clinics and animal hospitals. In May 2012, the median annual wages for veterinary assistants and laboratory animal caretakers in the top three industries employing these workers were as follows:
|Colleges, universities, and professional schools||$30,760|
|Scientific research and development services||29,710|
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.
Employment of veterinary assistants and laboratory animal caretakers is projected to grow 10 percent from 2012 to 2022, about as fast as the average for all occupations.
Although veterinary assistants and laboratory animal caretakers will be needed to assist veterinarians and other veterinary care staff, many veterinary practices are expected to increasingly replace veterinary assistants with higher-skilled veterinary technicians and technologists, thus requiring fewer veterinary assistants.
However, there will be demand for laboratory animal caretakers in areas such as public health, food and animal safety, national disease control, and biomedical research on human health problems.
Overall job opportunities for veterinary assistants and laboratory animal caretakers are expected to be good.
Although some establishments are replacing veterinary assistant positions with higher-skilled veterinary technicians and technologists, growth of the pet care industry means that the number of veterinary assistant positions should continue to increase.
Furthermore, veterinary assistants experience a high rate of job turnover, so many positions will become available from workers who leave the occupation each year.
For more information about certification as a laboratory animal caretaker, visit
For more information about certification as a veterinary assistant, visit
For more information about becoming a veterinary assistant, including career opportunities, visit