When it comes to what you want to be when you grow up, you still aren't sure. There are so many careers that seem interesting. You aren't just looking for something that pays a decent wage: You're looking for something that you can passionately pursue. If you aren't going to enjoy the work and feel moved by it in some way, you don't want to consider it. Of course, you aren't going to know with certainty if you'll love it unless you try it.
In honing in on your choices, you decide to do a little research about jobs caring for animals. You need to make some money, but you're also realistic; being a veterinarian is probably not in the cards. Your science grades are probably just a little too average to allow that to happen. However, you come across a vet tech salary and short fact sheet and are intrigued. This little blurb has you hooked, and now you want to read more about it.
If you're looking for a job working with animals and their owners, a vet tech may be an excellent option for you to explore.
What Does a Vet Tech Do?
If you have a pet, you've no doubt made at least an annual pilgrimage to the veterinarian's office for a checkup and immunizations. If you have done this, you have encountered a vet tech or veterinarian assistant. You may have been greeted by one, and your pet was weighed by one.
Vet techs are essential team members in a successful veterinarian practice. They take on a lot of the "small stuff" so that the vet can concentrate on the larger more serious medical issues. However, the small stuff consists of essential tasks that are essential in keeping pets of all types happy, healthy and safe. In this way, a vet tech isn't too different than a nurse in a medical doctor's office. In fact, a lot of the duties performed by vet techs are similar to those done by nurses, except vet techs don't dabble with human patients.
Typical duties performed by a vet tech include:
When you bring your pet in, even for an annual exam, certain vitals are always taken, and information gathered. First, your pet is weighed. This information helps the vet to see how much your pet has grown over the course of the previous 12 months. If your pet is at the average weight for a breed that age, then this checks one of the "healthy" boxes in the chart. There are instances where a lack of thriving or weight loss can be concerning. You may not have noticed it because you see your pet every day, but if there is a drastic loss, it may raise an alert that the vet tech should speak with the vet before the examination to see if any additional tests need to be performed.
Other vitals gathered during an intake may include heart rate, temperature and a general "once over." The tech will also ask you questions about your pet's eating and sleeping habits, what kind of activity level the pet has, is there anything that has changed and is medication such as heartworm prevention being regularly administered. The vet tech gathers the answers to these and inputs them into the chart for the vet to review before entering the room. If there is anything, such as unexplained weight loss, the tech flags this information for the vet to evaluate. Further intake may also be required.
In the face of uncertainty, much like human nurses, a vet tech will draw a sample of blood. Unlike human nurses, however, the tech may have the ability to analyze that blood through a battery of tests right there in the office. This isn't always the case and is mostly dependent on what kind of practice the tech works in. If the practice is an animal hospital or can double as one, it is likely to have more comprehensive testing available. There is, at the very least, some basic tests that are performed in the office:
- Heartworm detection
- Red and white blood cell count (helps detect active infection)
- Tick and mosquito-related illnesses, especially if there is an active outbreak in your area
If the lab in the office or hospital can run a comprehensive panel measuring function in the liver, kidneys and electrolyte levels throughout the body, it will be done. Otherwise, it may be sent out to be analyzed further.
If there is any cause for concern with the dog's current health, the vet will order more comprehensive blood testing.
One of the grosser requests by a vet before your annual visit may be to gather a fecal sample and bring it in. There is a lot a vet can tell by the waste your animal produces, including the detection of the presence of parasites in your pet's intestines. Parasites can be blamed for many conditions or symptoms an animal may present with, especially weight loss. Most parasitic outbreaks can be treated, but some warnings accompany an outbreak such as some of those parasites that may be transmitted from pets to humans. It is essential to know if your dog has fallen victim to these unsightly and dangerous organisms.
If you didn't collect a fecal specimen before arriving, your vet tech might have the honor of trying to make a go at doing it. Obviously, this is not the most pleasant task at a vet's office, but it is pretty crucial in making sure a pet is healthy.
A sample of urine may be collected at the exam for analysis to see if there are any kidney stones or urinary tract infections. A vet tech can obtain the sample, either by catching it when the pet urinates while at the office or through the use of a catheter. The tech can collect the urine with a catheter without the supervision of the doctor.
One of the best indications of a pet's health, whether it is a dog or a cat, is the coat or current condition of the skin. If the coat is clumpy or balding in sections, this may be cause for further investigation. The coat should be pretty shiny, springy and not clumped. You may think that your dog or cat's fur isn't exactly gorgeous simply because of the thick undercoat some breeds present with. A vet tech will be able to tell the difference between a reasonable level of shedding and too much hair loss. The tech may then perform some further testing, such as additional blood draws or note any abnormal condition on the patient's chart.
The initial examination of your pet is used as a baseline with which any further visits will be compared. If you have had your pet at the same veterinarian's office for many years, the comparison is already being made behind closed doors. Much like with humans, fluctuation in weight, the condition of the fur, skin, appearance of the eyes and other necessary test results will give your vet a glimpse into the overall health of your pet.
What Can't a Vet Tech Do?
It may sound from the above description that a vet tech can do many things. While this an accurate statement, there are a few things a tech can't do that are reserved just for the veterinarian. Namely, a tech can't perform surgery, make a diagnosis or prescribe medication. Even routine maintenance medication such as heartworm prevention must be prescribed by the veterinarian. There isn't much a vet tech can't do.
What Kind of Education Does a Vet Tech Have?
In order to become a certified veterinarian tech or assistant, you would have to enter the licensed veterinarian technician (LVT) program at either at a community college, technical center or some universities. This program usually entails getting an associate degree or higher in veterinary technology in a school that is accredited with such a program. Be warned: Online programs are not legitimate. As part of the LVT program, students must spend time in both a clinical and lab environment working with animals. You can't get that through an online school.
How Much Does a Vet Tech Earn?
The average vet tech salary in 2016 was $32,490. While this isn't quite as high as it should be or can be (some LVT's earn upwards of $50,000 a year), it is a position that becomes more about what you gain by giving. In fact, this job is more about caring for animals than money. The salary might not be equivalent to what a nurse caring for human patients might make (although it isn't far off the $39,000 earned by a licensed practical nurse (LPN) yearly), but if you choose to train for this position, the reward comes in a higher form than just payment. You must have a passion for working with animals and improving their lives by keeping them healthy and safe. If this is a career that interests you, then don't let the vet tech salary be the thing that keeps you from having a job in a field that drives you to be a better version of yourself.
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