“So… it’s like a nurse for pets?” is the response I usually get when I talk about my experience as a vet tech. And yes, the role is a lot like being an animal nurse, but it’s also so much more. Vet techs are essentially anesthesia nurses, phlebotomists, pharmacy techs, social workers, and more, all wrapped up into one job. If you’re thinking about becoming a vet tech or just want a little more insight into what these heroes do, I’m going to let you in on everything, including the good, the bad, and the stinky (hello, anal glands).
What Does a Vet Tech Do?
Vet tech duties go well beyond just cuddling cute animals. I mean, that’s definitely part of the job, but far from the biggest. Depending on what type of clinic or institution you work in, your responsibilities and skill set as a credentialed vet tech might include the following:
- Collect patient histories
- Collect and record vital signs (temperature, heart rate, respiratory rate, etc.)
- Write and update medical records
- Comfort patients
- Take x-rays
- Administer vaccines
- Fill prescriptions
- Run laboratory tests
- Draw blood
- Place IV catheters
- Administer anesthetic drugs
- Intubate patients
- Monitor patients under anesthesia
- Scrub in and assist with surgery
- Perform dental extractions (in some states)
- Suture skin (in some states)
- Assist with humane euthanasia
Vet techs cannot diagnose patients, prescribe medications, or perform surgery.
Patient Care Is a Big Part of the Job
Veterinary technicians spend a lot of time with their patients, which means you get to form a very deep connection with these pets. Many come to you as puppies or kittens for their first several sets of shots, and you get to watch them grow up.
But along with healthy patients are the ill ones. It can be difficult to see animals in pain, but watching them improve with your help is so rewarding. What about the ones who don’t make it? You can rest easy knowing you did everything you could to help them.
Realities of the Job
Even though being a vet tech is one of the most fulfilling and exciting jobs on the planet, there are certainly some downsides.
1. Poor Pay
Vet techs don’t make a whole lot considering the skills and energy needed for the job. The average salary is currently $44,940, but it varies from state to state based on the cost of living and other factors. Even so, this is definitely not a job you do solely for the money, because the satisfaction of helping pets is truly priceless.
2. Long Hours
Most vet tech shifts are 10 hours long, which is pretty exhausting. For consistency's sake, the team will usually want you to work with the same patients all day, so that’s why they have 10-hour shifts. The great thing about this is that you’ll only need to work four days each week rather than five! Woohoo; 3-day weekend!
3. Putrid Smells
Bodily fluids are a daily occurrence in the vet clinic. Well, I should say an hourly occurrence. You’ll need to be comfortable seeing (and smelling) blood, urine, vomit, feces, and other fluids I won’t even mention here. Just learn to breathe through your mouth, and you’ll be fine!
4. Physical Strain
Most job descriptions say you “must be able to lift 50 lbs,” but very few actually require you to do that, except the vet tech job. You’ll be restraining patients and lifting them onto tables day in and day out, which can take a toll on the body. Intentional stretching and strengthening movements are really important here to keep your body safe.
5. Compassion Fatigue
Working with ill, injured, and dying pets can be super emotionally taxing. A lot of vet techs experience what’s known as compassion fatigue, which is basically giving so much to your patients that you become burned out. That’s why it’s critical for vet techs to take care of themselves. Get enough sleep, exercise, eat well, keep your stress to a minimum, find a support system outside the hospital, and leave work at work.
Being a Vet Tech Takes a Special Personality (& Strong Stomach)
Working as a vet tech isn’t for everyone, and that’s perfectly OK. There are plenty of other jobs that help animals without some of the unpleasantness of the vet hospital, like dog walking, pet sitting, or even writing about pets. But if you love the thrill of working hands-on with animals and have a strong stomach and mental resilience, this might be the perfect career for you. I wouldn’t change my experience as a vet tech for the world.