HOW TO BECOME A VETERINARY ASSISTANT

WHAT IS A VET ASSISTANT AND WHAT DO VET ASSISTANTS DO?

With the recent explosion of organic pet foods, handsewn costumes, and psychiatric medicines for people’s furry, feathered, and scaly companions, it’s clear that pets hold a privileged position in many households. In fact, an annual survey by American Pet Products Association (APPA 2017) found that 68 percent of US households have pets, up from 56 percent in 1988. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC 2017) has repeatedly emphasized the positive effects of animals on lowering people’s blood pressure, cholesterol, triglyceride levels, and feelings of loneliness. For animal-lovers seeking a career with minimal training, becoming a veterinary assistant can be a fulfilling option.

So what is a veterinary assistant? And what do these animal care specialists do? According to O*NET (2017)—a data organization affiliated with the US Department of Labor—vet assistants are on the front lines of animal caretaking, taking on responsibilities such as managing the everyday needs of animals (e.g., feeding, bathing, exercising); restraining animals during examinations and procedures; assisting with non-invasive medical procedures; disinfecting cages and kennels; scheduling medical appointments with pet-owners; sterilizing equipment and surgical rooms; monitoring veterinary patients’ health status (e.g., taking weight or temperature); and educating pet-owners. They may help veterinary technicians and veterinarians in more advanced capacities such as administering medication, processing laboratory samples, and performing medical tests (e.g., x-rays). Veterinary assistants are typically employed by animal clinics and veterinary hospitals, sometimes working nights, weekends, and holidays to meet the needs of their veterinary patients.

While veterinary technicians and technologists may need state registration, certification, or licensure in addition to a two- to four-year degree prior to seeking employment, veterinary assistants require less formal training.

Read on to discover how to become a veterinary assistant—including interviews with the experts and information on requirements, education, and professional certification—as well as how much money these animal caretakers can make, their projected career outlook, and how they can join related professions.

A DAY IN THE LIFE OF A VET ASSISTANT

I was fortunate enough to be part of Windward Community College’s distance education VETA program which allowed me to stay on Maui, work full-time, and gain an education along with skills in veterinary care.
Diana Tevaga (Lahaina, Hawaii)

Two outstanding veterinary assistants graciously agreed to speak with VetTechColleges about their careers and passion for taking care of animals. From opposite sides of the country, these exemplary animal healthcare professionals shared what to expect in a typical day as an animal assistant, as well as some of the challenges they face in this important and growing field.

Diana-Tevaga
Diana Tevaga, Veterinary Assistant & Student at Windward Community College (Lahaina, Hawaii)

Diana was born and raised on Maui and finishing up her Veterinary Assistant Certification program at Windward Community College. She’s employed part-time as a vet assistant through the Animal Care Hospital and Wellness Center located in Kula Maui and full-time as a PBX (i.e., telephone system) operator at the beautiful Westin Nanea Ocean Villas in her hometown, Lahaina. In addition to her passion for helping animals, she enjoys spending time with family, attending church, volunteering, traveling, zumba, volleyball, and adventurous sports. She has two male cats named Kenzie and Nugget, former strays she has given a loving home.


What does a day in the life of a vet assistant look like?

My favorite clinic responsibilities are comforting animals; interacting with and caring for patients; educating clients on proper caretaking; collecting samples such as blood, urine, fecal or other types of tissue for testing; preparing specimens for lab examination; and performing medical tests. In addition to those duties, a day as a vet assistant consists of multitasking and prioritizing our daily activities. We try doing it all with professionalism, care and aloha. Some of the other responsibilities include assisting the doctor(s) and veterinary technicians; welcoming and checking in patients; obtaining patient information in the exam room; restraining animals; taking vitals; cleaning and disinfecting cages, kennels, and operating rooms; maintaining inventory; filing and organizing; monitoring and caring for animals after surgery; preparing prescriptions; sterilizing equipment and tools; answering phones; scheduling appointments; administering oral and topical medications; and preparing animals for surgery.


What are some of the greatest challenges in the profession? And how do vet assistants overcome them?

I feel that some of the greatest challenges in our profession are clinic mismanagement, dysfunctional team dynamics, burnout, compassion fatigue, and the low salary range. To overcome clinic mismanagement, dysfunctional team dynamics and burnout, I would recommend that you communicate your concerns with your employer and be part of making things better. If you find that with all your efforts that there is no change for the positive, have the courage to then pursue a position elsewhere.


Many individuals do not go into veterinary care field for the money but unfortunately if you are not able to make a salary to support yourself, you will need to look at other options that will do so. You may need to go into a different field of work or like myself, find a balance of work in veterinary care, volunteer work and an additional job. It’s all about finding that right balance that works for you. I am blessed to work for two businesses that help me to keep this balance as they work with my schedule and availability.


In our line of work, compassion fatigue is very common. When we choose a career in veterinary care, we become part of a workforce that is consistently helping others (e.g., clients, patients, team members) and in doing so, it can be at a great cost to our self-care. I feel what has helped me with this is first acknowledging it. There were times where I have told myself to toughen up and to ignore my thoughts and feelings, but they are real and others in our field experience it. I think if we are able to talk about it with our team members and others, we can find ways to combat the problem.


Any advice for aspiring vet assistants?

I would recommend that they volunteer or intern at different clinics, shelters or rescue facilities in their area. Doing so will give an individual a valuable experience of the realities of working in animal care and how each specific clinic or facility is run, as well as knowledge of the average salary for a veterinary assistant. I would advise aspiring vet assistants to pursue higher education because doing so gives the important knowledge and skills that will be very beneficial when they begin working in a clinic or animal care facility. I was fortunate enough to be part of Windward Community College’s distance education VETA program which allowed me to stay on Maui, work full-time, and gain an education along with skills in veterinary care.


Kenichiro Yagi
Daisy Filion, Veterinary Office Team Lead at Plattsburgh Animal Hospital (Plattsburgh, New York)

Daisy has been working at Plattsburgh Animal Hospital for almost ten years. In addition to working full-time, she maintains a farm where she has five dogs, a couple of cats, and seven horses. Her primary hobby is horseback riding and she does dressage as well as some jumping. She also enjoys hiking, skiing, and spending time with her two children.


Did you enroll in any program prior to becoming a vet assistant or did you learn most of your skills on the job?

I’m not a licensed veterinary assistant. I was in high school and lived with a veterinarian, learning a lot from her. I went to SUNY for a year and didn’t finish, but I bought a house and I worked in some shelters, finally joining another another clinic for seven years before I moved to my current employer. I learned all of my skills on the job.


What does a typical day look like as a veterinary assistant?

I’m a technical lead in a management position. My role is to be in whatever position needs to be filled. There’s a lot of times I’m filling in for pet care coordinators, who organize patient histories, get clients taken care of, and take phone calls, et cetera. Similar to the vet assistants here, they aren’t licensed, but they bring a lot of skills and experience to their work. I bounce around from role to role depending on who calls in. Whatever the need is, I’m that go-to person and on a day-to-day basis, it changes. There’s no routine or norm. It’s definitely a learning experience. As long as I’ve been doing this, not a day goes by when I don’t learn something new. It’s one of my favorite things about the job.


Since your days vary widely, what are some of your favorite responsibilities?

Taking care of the patients. The opportunity to work with animals is what brought most people to this field and is still my favorite part of this job.


What are the greatest challenges in your role and how do you work to overcome those?

It’s the money, especially with some of the more complicated cases. In my position, the staff comes to me when a client can’t pay their patient’s fees. Some of the clients check out and say they don’t have the money after we’ve already completed the procedures. We try to give accurate estimates and options to set expectations, but the doctors don’t look at the financials: they examine the patients and determine what needs to be done. Unfortunately, the client doesn’t always know what that means for them financially.


What do you do when clients can’t pay?

We have a care credit card and we go through the application with them. We try to get something in hand like a bank card or a post-dated check to hold them accountable. Also, we expect half of the money down prior to the bigger surgeries, so at least we can cover costs if the pet is left abandoned. We have had some of those instances.


Do you have any advice for aspiring veterinary assistants or office support staff in your multi-functional role?

People go into this profession for the animals and not to deal with people, but the truth is that you end up dealing with people just as much (if not more) than the pets. A lot of people don’t realize that you can’t have one set of responsibilities without the other. Customer service is a huge part of this field. Also, getting a degree can really further your opportunities. That’s one thing that I didn’t do. It wouldn’t make a difference for me now in my role since this is a rural area with only four clinics in the whole town. I got in “old school,” where I moved up the ladder but most practices these days want licensed technicians. Being versatile is also important, having the ability to fill multiple roles when the need is there. People have to be willing to change; this is not the type of business that is going to be the same when you get into it and when you finish.


Marisa-Perring
Marisa Perring, Technician Assistant & TA Manager at DoveLewis Veterinary Emergency and Specialty Hospital (Portland, OR)

Marisa has a big heart for animals. Her favorite duties at DoveLewis include making comfortable beds for patients; bathing them; and making ink paw prints as keepsakes for clients. She has two rescue dogs: a 15+ year old toothless chihuahua named Rambo and Foxy (pictured here), who came into DoveLewis as a stray two years ago. Marisa loves camping and exploring swimming holes.

What does a day in the life of a vet (or tech) assistant look like?

A day in the life as a TA is quite remarkable and can be stressful. The best way to describe our job is: “Technician Assistant: Because ‘Multitasking Ninja’ isn’t an actual job description.” We are considered the backbone of the hospital. We are responsible for the cleanliness of the facilities, which includes laundry, cleaning kennels, mopping floors, doing dishes, and cleaning exam rooms while following our protocols. We also stock most every aspect of the hospital floor along with doing all of the aftercare on our deceased patients. In addition to our cleaning and stocking duties, we assist the technicians and DVMs with restraint, obtaining vitals, running non-collaborative blood work, setting up for certain procedures, filling medications, and going over discharge instructions with clients. TAs do some treatments but are limited. We can administer SQ fluids, give activated charcoal (prevents toxin absorption), and can give oral and topical medications. We can also do minor clip and cleans on wounds.

What are some of the greatest challenges in the profession? And how do vet (or tech) assistants overcome them?

The greatest challenges we face as a TA is how demanding our role is. We get pulled in so many directions while having to provide upkeep throughout the hospital. Being able to prioritize, multitask, and stay calm and focused in stressful situations are all ways to overcome the challenges we face as TAs. Also, due to the fact that we are an emergency hospital and are open 24 hours, our days are never the same, which also makes each day more interesting.

Any advice for aspiring vet (or tech) assistants?

The TA is an entry-level position here. It’s a great opportunity for anyone who may be interested in becoming technician or wanting to go to vet school. TAs are exposed to so much knowledge here at DoveLewis. We learn from the cases that come in and the surgeries we assist. And we get an education from our technicians and DVMs, which is why our TAs are so successful. The majority of them either end up as CVTs or go to vet school.

Eddie-Guevara
Eddie Guevara, Veterinary Assistant at Adobe Animal Hospital (Los Altos, CA)

Eddie has been a vet assistant in Adobe Animal Hospital’s ICU since November 2016. Born and raised in nearby Sunnyvale, CA, he graduated from Homestead High School in Cupertino in 2012. He then attended De Anza College, but decided to leave in the middle of his third quarter. He returned to his formal academic studies recently and shared, “Through years of experience in a handful of different fields, I have acquired a background in training and development and an appreciation for coaching and teaching. After four years of absence, I have resumed my studies with the goal of becoming a veterinary technician because of a passion for healing the helpless and in pain.” He lives with his wife, Rebecca, and two cats: Norma Jean and Morella.

What does a day in the life of a vet assistant look like?

My shifts start quite similarly every day; I clock in at 7:00 am and help my co-workers with the various treatments that each patient needs for that specific treatment hour. Usually, while the techs are busy drawing up medications or pulling blood for whatever tests the doctors ordered, they request my assistance walking the animals or changing out the bedding that the poor creature soiled. Once all the animals have been attended to for the meantime, I commence restocking the entire ICU with all the supplies we will need to run smoothly for the day. And yes, this definitely includes folding enough towels and blankets to make sure each patient is as comfortable as possible, although the supply never seems to suffice for the demand. Along with my daily routine of tidying up the ICU, the technicians take the time out of their days to help and instruct me on more technical tasks like drawing small samples of blood from patients or practicing simple math calculations for medication administration.

What are some of the greatest challenges in the profession? And how do vet assistants overcome them?

The greatest challenge in this line of work would be the physically taxing nature of our trade. Technicians and assistants alike accomplish feats that test our strength and flexibility each day. Whether it is something as complicated as retraining a wiggly, 150-pound dog so the the technician could place an IV catheter or as simple as lugging around the 40-pound bags of cat litter, we are testing our bodies and pushing ourselves to the limit to make sure the patients are being taken care of.

Aside from knowing our own limits and stretching throughout the day, one of the best things you can do to protect yourself, your colleagues, and the patient, is communication. As soon as an assistant even remotely feels uncomfortable with the hold (i.e., restraint), then it is their responsibility to speak up about their concerns to whoever else is working on the patient.

Any advice for aspiring vet assistants?

Take comfort in the fact that role you play in at your hospital or clinic is absolutely vital to how the team functions. Whether it is a conveniently placed trash that allows the quick disposal of ruined bed sheets, an excess of towels to soak up the messes that our patients make, or bending your body in the least comfortable position on the face of the planet to ensure the technicians have a better chance of placing a sampling catheter, our work makes a difference for our coworkers and patients. Stay curious about everything the techs do and take every bit of coaching because sooner or later you will need it.

Last but not least, have fun with your team and make connections. Our business is often quite sad with the passing of patients that we make relationships with; even the mere sight of our patients suffering is enough to break our hearts. That is why I believe that as well as working hard, the team needs to be able to have fun and take the time to make each other’s day better.

REQUIREMENTS TO BECOME A VET ASSISTANT

In order to become a veterinary assistant, candidates typically need at least a high school diploma to qualify. O*NET (2017) found that 34 percent of responding veterinary assistants and laboratory animal caretakers has a high school diploma as their highest academic credential, and 33 percent held associate degrees.

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA 2017), veterinary assistants support the clinical activities of veterinary technicians and veterinarians by performing clerical work, animal restraint, and daily caretaking of veterinary patients. Although there are some quality training programs in this field, there is no formal credentialing exam for veterinary assistants. On the contrary, many are trained on-the-job, although the required education and scope of practice for these animal caretaking professionals varies by state (AVMA 2015). Georgia, for instance, defines a veterinary assistant as “a person who engages in certain aspects of the practice of veterinary technology but is not registered by the board for such purpose,” performing his or her work only under the direct supervision of a licensed veterinarian. Texas, by contrast, has established a state certification process for vet assistants through the Texas Veterinary Medical Association (TVMA). Other states such as New Jersey, New Hampshire, and Hawaii specify no state-mandated restrictions on the scope of practice of veterinary assistants.

Overall, for aspiring veterinary assistants, it can be advisable to pursue a formal training program to enhance one’s resume, job candidacy, and salary prospects. The renowned Ohana Pet Hospital in Ventura, California actually prefers vet assistant candidates with an associate degree in veterinary technology (or an equivalent registered veterinary technician [RVT] program). Other typical requirements to join this profession include strong communication skills, compassion, punctuality, basic math skills, and the ability to lift at least 30 lbs.

STEPS TO BECOMING A VET ASSISTANT

There are varied paths to becoming a veterinary assistant. Some choose to seek employment directly at veterinary clinics and get trained on-the-job. For those interested in greater responsibilities, opportunities for advancement, and possibly higher pay, enrolling in a training program may be a preferable alternative.

Here is one possible path to becoming a veterinary assistant:

Graduate from high school. As mentioned above, a high school diploma is a typical prerequisite to employment in this profession. Aspiring vet assistants are encouraged to excel in courses such as biology which is a prerequisite to some certificate and degree programs. At this stage, students are encouraged to volunteer in local animal hospitals, veterinary clinics, farms, laboratories, and other environments to garner hands-on experience working with animals.

Enroll in a veterinary assistant program (1 year). According to the National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America (NAVTA 2017), there are currently 33 programs—including three distance-based options—approved by NAVTA to become an Approved Veterinary Assistant (AVA). Although this credential is not essential for employment, it can enhance one’s job prospects among employers. Typical application requirements for these programs include having a high school diploma or GED and completing prerequisite courses either before or concurrently with the program (e.g., biology, medical terminology). Here are four exemplary veterinary assistant programs:

SchoolOnline?Description
Animal Behavior College (ABC)
Santa Clarita, CA
NoWith 10 discrete stages of training in animal restraint, examination room procedures, small animal nursing, and radiology & ultrasound imagining, this program exposes students to the basics of veterinary technology. Additionally, students must complete a local externship at the end of their program to put their newfound abilities to practice. It typically takes one year.
Ashworth College
Norcross, GA
YesThis NAVTA-approved online veterinary assistant program comprises five units: orientation, office management, veterinary anatomy & pharmacology, small animal nursing, and clinical procedures. The program includes a one-year membership to NAVTA and “virtual field trips” to enhance training, in addition to a 120-hour supervised externship.
Front Range Community College
Fort Collins, CO
NoFRCC offers a variety of on-campus veterinary technician and laboratory animal care programs, including a 1-2 semester certificate for aspiring veterinary assistants. With classes such as veterinary medical terminology, surgical nursing & care, and a 72-hour internship, this 13-credit program gives an introductory overview to veterinary medicine.
Carroll Community College
Westminster, MD
NoThis on-campus veterinary assistant certificate program has core courses in outpatient care, diagnostics & pharmacy, and surgery & anesthesia.

Seek professional certification (timeline varies). Following the completion of a qualified NAVTA-approved veterinary assistant program, students receive a code to take the exam for the Approved Veterinary Assistant (AVA) credential. Students enter the code into the VetMedTeam website, which provides a proctor for the 100-question exam. Students have 150 minutes to complete the test once the exam window has been opened and must pass with a score of at least 75 percent. The AVA credential is valid for two years. Although professional certification is not mandatory, it can serve as an indicator of a job applicant’s knowledge of veterinary caretaking. As mentioned above, some states provide veterinary assistant certification. For example, the Texas Veterinary Medical Association (TVMA) offers the certified veterinary assistant (CVA) designation. Similarly, the Florida Veterinary Medical Association (FVMA) provides a CVA credential to qualifying vet assistants. Please check with local state boards of veterinary medicine to verify requirements and scope of practice restrictions, a list of which is provided by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA 2015).

Maintain AVA certification (every 2 years). In order to keep AVA certifications active, vet assistants must complete 10 credits of continuing education (CE). Opportunities for CE include attending classes, conferences, online courses, and onsite seminars.

CAREER OUTLOOK FOR VET ASSISTANTS

There’s good news for aspiring veterinary assistants. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS Dec. 2015), openings in this profession are expected to swell 9 percent between 2014 and 2024, a stronger growth projection than what’s anticipated for all occupations during that time period (7 percent). The expected addition of 6,600 positions in this field is enhanced by increasing rates of pet ownership and pet expenditures across the US. By illustration, the American Pet Products Association (APPA 2017) found that 84.6 million homes have pets and in 2016, an incredible $66.75 billion was spent on American pets.

In addition to veterinary assisting, there are several careers which animal-lovers can pursue with additional education, training, and professional certification. Here are a few animal healthcare careers for ambitious veterinary assistants to consider.

Laboratory Animal Technician or Technologist

The American Association for Laboratory Animal Science (AALAS) offers three specialized certifications: assistant laboratory animal technician (ALAT), laboratory animal technician (LAT), and laboratory animal technologist (LATG). Each of the certifications requires a mix of education and experience on-the-job. Candidates with a high school diploma, for instance, can qualify for ALAT certification with one year of laboratory animal science experience, LAT (three years), and LATG (five years). Qualified candidates must pass an exam. Certification is not mandatory to work in this field, but can enhance a person’s candidacy for a job.

Veterinary Technician or Veterinary Technologist

The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA 2017) distinguishes between vet assistants and vet techs, stating that vet techs typically pursue two to four years of postsecondary education and have a greater scope of practice than vet assistants, giving support to veterinarians during complex surgical procedures and performing laboratory analyses to help diagnose medical conditions. Technicians generally have associate degrees, whereas technologists have bachelor’s degrees, and both are encouraged to seek out veterinary technology programs accredited by the AVMA. These programs feature courses such as mammalian anatomy & physiology, veterinary pathology, parasitology, animal nursing, diagnostic imaging, and research methods. Following the completion of a qualifying program, prospective vet techs typically take the national Veterinary Technician National Examination (VTNE), a test administered by the American Association of Veterinary State Boards (AAVSB). Additionally, depending on the region of practice, vet techs may have to become certified, licensed, or registered by the state. Here is a comprehensive guide to vet tech licensing and renewal by state. These credentials must be maintained with renewal applications and the fulfillment of continuing education (CE) requirements. Finally, there are various specialties for veterinary technicians and technologists to consider, which can be pursued following the completion of additional coursework, training, experience, and passing an exam. Once a vet tech has fulfilled all credentialing requirements, he or she may qualify as a vet tech specialist (VTS) in dentistry, nutrition, radiology, emergency & critical care, or equine nursing, among others. For more information, please check out the how to become a VTS page.

Veterinary Technician Anesthetist

After becoming a veterinary technician or technologist, a person may seek out opportunities to administer anesthesia. Following the completion of 6,000 supervised working hours in a veterinary clinics—75 percent of which (i.e., 4,500 hours) must be used giving anesthesia—a person may qualify for the credentialing exam through the Academy of Veterinary Technician Anesthetists (AVTA). For more information on how to join this career, please visit the how to become a vet tech anesthetist page.

Animal Psychologist or Behaviorist

This subfield of veterinary science typically requires at least a two-year graduate degree in animal behavior or a related field. The Animal Behavior Society (ABS) provides two levels of certification to experience-qualified candidates who pass an exam: the associate certified applied animal behaviorist (ACAAB) credential to master’s-prepared candidates, and the certified applied animal behaviorist (CAAB) credential to doctoral-prepared candidates. For more information on this subfield of veterinary medicine, please visit the how to become an animal psychologist page.

Veterinarian

Finally, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), veterinarians must complete a doctor of veterinary medicine (i.e., DVM or VMD)—the terminal degree in the discipline—as well as pass the North American Veterinary Licensing Examination (NAVLE) and applicable state licensure exams. Additionally, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) recognizes 38 specialties, including surgery, neurology, microbiology, virology, and internal medicine. Please note that advanced certification requirements vary by specialty.

HOW MUCH DO VET ASSISTANTS MAKE?

The salary for veterinary assistants varies by level of experience, region, employer, and even source of data. Since this is a profession requiring minimal formal qualifications, the average annual salary is somewhat lower than the average for all occupations. By illustration, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS May 2016) found that among 79,990 veterinary assistants and laboratory animal caretakers, the annual average salary was $26,810. The national salary ranges were:

  • 10th percentile: $18,540
  • 25th percentile: $21,170
  • 50th percentile (median): $25,250
  • 75th percentile: $30,460
  • 90th percentile: $37,810

In hourly terms, these equates to:

  • 10th percentile: $8.91 per hour
  • 25th percentile: $10.18
  • 50th percentile (median): $12.14
  • 75th percentile: $14.64
  • 90th percentile: $18.18

By comparison, Salary.com (2017) found slightly different salary percentiles among its HR-reported data as of April 2017:

  • 10th percentile: $18,374
  • 25th percentile: $23,542
  • 50th percentile (median): $29,218
  • 75th percentile: $35,243
  • 90th percentile: $40,729

Finally, Payscale (April 2017)—an aggregator of self-reported salaries in common professions—found the highest salary ranges among its 76 vet assistant respondents:

  • 10th percentile: $17,000
  • 25th percentile: $23,000
  • 50th percentile (median): $26,034
  • 75th percentile: $36,000
  • 90th percentile: $60,000

Not surprisingly, Payscale (2017) also found that pay tends to increase with time on the job, with late-career veterinary assistants making 39.1 percent more on average than entry-level professionals. Here are the self-reported median annual salaries of respondents according to years of experience:

  • Entry-level (0-5 years): $23,000
  • Mid-career (5-10 years): $26,000
  • Experienced (10-20 years): $29,000
  • Late-career (>20 years): $32,000

As mentioned above, veterinary assistant salaries also vary substantially by region, with higher salaries generally located in coastal regions. The BLS (May 2016) found that the top-paying states in this field were concentrated on the east coast:

  • Connecticut: $36,240 annual mean salary
  • Massachusetts: $34,900
  • Maine: $32,950
  • New Jersey: $31,750
  • Rhode Island: $31,460

These states, however, were not necessarily the top-employing states for vet assistants, a factor which tended to vary more by state population size (BLS 2016):

  • California: 11,690 vet assistants employed
  • Texas: 5,140
  • Florida: 4,870
  • New York: 3,690
  • Virginia: 3,040

It’s important to note that while geographical differences in pay seem stark, the cost of living also varies considerably between regions. In fact, the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center (MERC 2016) found that the top five most costly states were Hawaii, District of Columbia, New York, California, and Massachusetts. The most affordable states were Mississippi, Indiana, Michigan, Arkansas, and Oklahoma.

Here’s a detailed breakdown of the numbers of vet assistants employed and the expected salary ranges by state.

VET ASSISTANT EMPLOYMENT & SALARY BY STATE (2016)

StateVet Assistants Employed (May 2016)2016 Salary Data
Annual 10th Percentile WageAnnual Median Wage (50th Percentile)Annual 90th Percentile Wage
Alabama1,010$16,670$22,340$30,900
Alaska 120 $21,080 $29,130 $42,380
Arizona 1,840 $19,640 $25,080 $36,450
Arkansas 810 $17,420 $20,970 $28,730
California 11,690 $21,590 $28,260 $40,850
Colorado 500 $19,430 $26,220 $34,060
Connecticut 670 $20,700 $30,470 $61,820
Delaware 220 $19,940 $24,460 $36,310
District of Columbia N/A $21,850 $27,140 $34,100
Florida 4,870 $18,480 $23,620 $35,810
Georgia 2,060 $17,580 $23,020 $33,990
Hawaii 270 $19,200 $25,530 $42,730
Idaho 380 $16,820 $25,900 $35,720
Illinois 2,150 $18,590 $25,470 $38,820
Indiana 2,020 $18,300 $25,260 $36,320
Iowa 820 $18,270 $25,030 $37,100
Kansas 910 $18,510 $24,620 $32,100
Kentucky 1,060 $16,630 $21,530 $32,120
Louisiana 1,540 $16,730 $22,090 $34,230
Maine 590 $24,310 $30,790 $46,430
Maryland 1,560 $18,550 $24,680 $38,690
Massachusetts 1,780 $22,000 $33,200 $49,480
Michigan 2,490 $19,210 $24,650 $32,240
Minnesota 1,040 $20,140 $29,350 $39,150
Mississippi 800 $17,440 $22,460 $29,210
Missouri 2,020 $17,450 $23,100 $32,470
Montana 310 $19,210 $26,380 $35,010
Nebraska 420 $19,020 $23,170 $35,420
Nevada 700 $19,550 $24,110 $34,510
New Hampshire 290 $16,620 $25,360 $37,290
New Jersey 1,100 $19,220 $29,420 $48,700
New Mexico 520 $17,860 $24,340 $37,380
New York 3,690 $20,450 $27,660 $41,720
North Carolina 2,920 $17,290 $24,970 $37,990
North Dakota 160 $20,320 $27,630 $39,370
Ohio 2,750 $18,320 $23,650 $32,290
Oklahoma 1,530 $16,810 $23,630 $31,160
Oregon 1,510 $21,370 $28,240 $38,080
Pennsylvania 2,640 $18,140 $23,800 $38,440
Puerto Rico 400 $16,100 $18,100 $22,810
Rhode Island 200 $20,540 $24,980 $48,240
South Carolina 910 $18,410 $23,310 $31,740
South Dakota 200 $20,540 $26,040 $32,450
Tennessee 3,020 $17,780 $23,160 $31,270
Texas 5,140 $16,860 $22,900 $31,860
Utah 450 $16,570 $19,960 $29,400
Vermont N/A $20,120 $27,340 $33,440
Virginia 3,040 $17,990 $25,270 $38,170
Washington 2,970 $21,990 $28,590 $37,780
West Virginia 490 $18,520 $21,190 $29,650
Wisconsin 1,480 $16,950 $23,650 $37,590
Wyoming 130 $19,470 $26,440 $45,290
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS May 2016)