The Difference Between a Vet Tech vs Vet Assistant

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What Is the Difference Between a Vet Tech vs a Vet Assistant?

Vet techs and vet assistants may share many responsibilities. They may both work with animals and as an aid to the veterinarians in a practice. It’s not unusual for outsiders to assume that both jobs are similar. But the two positions have different responsibilities and, in turn, a different earning potential.

A vet tech often has more education and professional opportunities than a vet assistant. They might work under the doctor in a research institution, clinic, kennel, or animal hospital. Techs may work with pets, livestock, zoo animals, lab animals, and military animals. A vet assistant may be often limited to administrative daily tasks in local clinics. Assistants may earn more responsibilities as they continue to log professional hours.

Comparing Vet Techs vs Vet Assistants

Here’s a quick breakdown of the two positions in the fields below. Please note that the median pay is based on the national average.

Job TitleJob DescriptionEducation Requirements2019 Median Annual PayNumber  of Jobs in 2019
Vet Techvet tech may perform a variety of medical tests to diagnose and treat animals. They may also provide general animal care.Associate’s degree$35,320/year109,400 
Vet Assistantvet assistant may help vets, scientists, and other veterinary medicine professionals complete a variety of tasks related to the care of animals.High school degree (or equivalent)$28,590/year92,200

Role of Vet Techs vs Vet Assistants

Knowing the roles of vet techs vs. vet assistants may make it easier to decide which one is the perfect path for you. As you read through the expectations, keep in mind how you would respond to each task.

Vet Assistant Duties

A vet assistant may pursue work directly out of high school. Families with cats, farmers with goats, and lab workers with rats will fuel the profession for years to come. Those who attended a program may have a head start, but much of what is learned is often through hands on experience. This is why it’s so important for assistants to dive into a new position.

Each veterinarian may have their own comfort level when it comes to how much they need their assistant to do.

But for the most part, assistants may be asked to perform the following tasks:

  • Provide basic care: This may mean feeding, grooming, bathing, or exercising the animals.
  • Safety checks: A vet assistant may need to keep things safe and clean for the animals, clients, and staff. This may include disinfecting the waiting room or washing surgical instruments.
  • Prep work: The assistant may prepare the room for a variety of medical procedures. They’re also expected to properly store everything away after the vet has finished.
  • Restraint: Assistants may have to restrain difficult or unruly animals. They may need to remain calm and professional under these stressful situations.
  • Admin work: Vet assistants may fill out intake paperwork and file document. They also may set appointments for clients.

Every clinic or hospital may have its own strengths and limitations. They may have to feel comfortable with the physical and emotional demands of a job. Working with unpredictable pets and animals involves plenty of pressure.

In short, this amounts to vet assistants being willing to fill in wherever they may be needed. On one day, they may be  asked to assist a vet when taking blood samples. On the next, they may spend the majority of their time setting up and dismantling surgical rooms. As a vet witnesses an assistant’s commitment to the job, the assistant stands a better chance of moving up.

Vet Tech Duties

Many of the vet tech duties may mirror those of the vet assistant. The duties of each vet tech may vary from one practice to the next.

It may be some combination of the following:

  • Restraint: Vet techs may need to prevent animals from hurting themselves. They may also need to look out for the safety of other people during exams and procedures.
  • Take X-rays: The technician may operate standard X-ray equipment. They may produce clear and readable images for the veterinarian to diagnose their patients.
  • Perform lab tests: Vet techs may run analyses in the lab. They should feel comfortable working with bodily samples taken for testing (e.g., blood, stool, etc.).
  • Monitoring: Hospitalized animals may need consistent monitoring. This way, vets understand how they’re responding to treatment. This means checking vitals, changing bandages, and alerting staff to major changes.
  • Prep work: Vet tech may need to get animals ready for procedures and set up surgical and exam rooms. They should anticipate common problems and work to prevent them whenever possible.
  • Anesthesia: The vet tech may administer anesthesia to animals during surgery. They may also need to track the animal’s response to the drugs.
  • Emergency aid: Technicians may perform emergency first aid to animals. This usually occurs when the veterinarian is unavailable. They may also be asked to come to the vet’s aid when needed.

Vet techs are generally given more job responsibilities. They may need to know how tests are performed and what equipment is needed for each procedure. They should be comfortable working in a lab setting and be able to run tests and analyze results. Also, they may supervise vet assistants and assign tasks. Time management skills may be important for vet techs.

Educational Requirements of Vet Techs vs Vet Assistants

This is by far the most important distinction between the two. A vet assistant may perform some of the same tasks as a vet tech. But the vet tech may have received higher education. A vet assistant might be hired without any kind of formal degree or accreditation. You should know that there are programs for vet assistants though. This may help an assistant become more qualified for a position.

Vet Assistant Education Requirements

A vet assistant may need nothing more than a GED or a high school diploma. An Approved Veterinary Assistant Program may provide an edge though. If the applicant is in a competitive area, this may be enough to set them apart. The program may include instruction on the specialized tasks expected of a vet assistant. It may also require  students to pass an approved credentialing exam. The test is usually designed to show what the student has learned, but it’s more than that. Completing a course proves the person’s passion for the field, and their ability to go above and beyond.

The National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America (NAVTA) created the Approved Veterinary Assistant designation to recognize how assistants contribute to the animal health of their community. The organization’s training program is honored across the United States.

Vet Technician Education Requirements

Unlike veterinary technologists, you may  not need a bachelor’s degree to become a vet technician. However, a vet technician may need to graduate from an accredited program. The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) must approve the coursework. Vet techs may attend school from between two and four years. This is considered an associates degree and may be earned through a community college. (By contrast, the vet assistant is qualifying for a certificate or program diploma.)

The actual for registering may depend on the state. Vet techs may have to attend school. But not all vet techs may need to take and pass the Veterinary Technician National Exam (VTNE). You need to check on your state’s requirements when applying for certification. Going through the proper board or agency may ensure you have everything you need to apply. In some cases, you may need to be licensed or certified, while in others you may just need to register.

Costs of a Vet Assistant Program

As mentioned, a vet assistant may be hired with nothing more than a high school diploma. For this reason, the cost of a vet assistant program is relatively reasonable. This is especially true if you may be getting through an online platform. The number of hours you may need to complete the course may be as low as 100 and as high as 240. Working online may give you the chance to make your own schedule too. This perk may come in handy for those with demanding responsibilities.

Costs of a Vet Technician Degree Program

A vet technician may need the proper education to earn their degree in the field. But the actual costs may vary widely, depending on the program a person selects. Shopping around and checking the reputation of each curriculum may go a long way. Check with different veterinarians in the area about which schools may get preferential treatment. This may help you decide if the costs of the degree are worth the rewards.

Is There an Alternative Route I Could Take to Become a Vet Tech?

It depends on the state that you’re hoping to work in. Alaska, California, and Wisconsin may allow you to sit for the Veterinary Technician National Examination. This may be without having completed the designated coursework required in 47 other states. The vet tech must may need to meet a number of requirements to qualify though. You must provide proof by way of documentation of the veterinarians that you’ve worked with. You’ll also need to show that you have 20 hours worth of class work. This may be obtained through a state approved program.


The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) compares the job outlook for vet techs and vet assistants. Officials do this against a variety of other potential career paths. The goal is to give you an idea of what you may expect after graduating and jumpstarting your career.

There is some good news on this front. Both fields are predicted to grow at nearly the same rate until 2029. At 16%, the need for these jobs is increasing at a much faster rate than many other career choices. Job stability is huge for applicants everywhere. Investing in either position may inspire more confidence in people.

You may see this reflected in the higher earning potential of vet techs. Their median annual salary was about $7,000 more per year than a vet assistant. At a median annual salary of $35,320 per year vs. $28,590 for the year of 2019, the pay off in education is clear. The bump in salary may make it easier to repay education costs.

Job Outlook

Regardless of the path chosen though, both professions may have opportunities. Assistants might become certified in operating equipment and veterinary technology. Vet techs may take more classes in any given specialty (e.g., surgical procedures, nutrition, etc). Vet assistants may begin right out of high school before deciding that they want to advance to a vet tech. A vet techs might choose to go onto to be a vet.

As you can see the vet assistant and vet tech may share duties. But the veterinary career positions are different. You should choose between the two based on how much you want to make and how much you’re willing to invest in a vet tech program or the veterinary field. While a vet tech may spend more, they’ll also make more. Or you may choose to start as a part-time assistant at a veterinary hospital or veterinary practice and receive as much on-the-job training as possible. Check your state’s requirements to find out more about what you may expect.

© Education Connection 2020. All Rights Reserved.


Sources for school statistics is the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics.

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