For many animal lovers, choosing a career as a veterinary technician is a natural choice. It’s a field that couples the rigor of scientific laboratory testing with soft skills in patient caretaking. Furthermore, it allows people to interact with and assist animals on a daily basis in a high-growth career that doesn’t require as many years of education as becoming a veterinarian.
By illustration, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2021) predicted that openings in this field would swell 16 percent between 2019 and 2029, adding an estimated 18,300 jobs nationwide. This is much more robust than the average growth projected across all occupations during that decade at 4 percent.
So how does a person become a vet tech? It typically requires at least a two-year associate degree in veterinary technology, animal science, or a related discipline. Aspiring vet techs also are expected to adhere to all necessary credentialing requirements, which vary widely by state. After pursuing the requisite regional license, certification, or registration, some vet techs may seek some variety in their roles, embracing specialized training or working with a specific animal population.
There are various academies available to become credentialed vet tech specialists (VTSs), a number of which are explored below. Gaining specialized skills in one area not only helps someone prepare for the “coolest” careers in animal healthcare, but it can also enhance their employment candidacy or salary prospects.
Here’s a breakdown of five exceptional jobs for veterinary technicians, including information about relevant credentialing and professional associations.
Veterinary Surgical Technician
When animals are at their most vulnerable and in need of more serious treatments or invasive procedures with considerable recovery times, vet surgical techs are there to help. As a result, few careers for animal lovers can be quite as rewarding as that of a veterinary surgical technician.
Not for the faint of heart, vet surgical techs are trained to assist veterinarians during surgical procedures of all varieties, meaning that these professionals have a direct and meaningful impact on the lives of numerous sick or injured animals.
How to Become a Surgical Vet Tech
In order to become a veterinary surgical technician, an individual must first pursue education as a veterinary technician, which typically requires a two-year degree. At this point, aspiring surgical techs are advised to seek out exposure to a surgical environment in their place of work. This may entail asking veterinarians directly for the opportunity to assist with procedures in order to gain experience specifically in surgery.
The vet tech may then apply for credentialing through the Academy of Veterinary Surgical Technicians (AVST) for recognition as a surgical tech—i.e., a VTS (Surgery). This requires that applicants possess at least 10,000 hours of work as a credentialed vet tech (6,000 of those hours in a surgical environment), along with 40 hours of qualifying continuing education, an extensive case log review, two letters of recommendation, and a passing score on an exam.
How Much Do Surgical Vets Make?
Glassdoor (2021) reported that veterinary surgical technicians earned an average annual salary of $50,107. According to Zippia.com, the average veterinary surgery technician’s salary was $69,000. Talent.com stated that the average salary for veterinary surgery technicians in the USA was $40,000 per year.
Employment opportunities are also relatively abundant for those with qualifications as veterinary surgical assistants. For example, a search on Indeed (2021) for this position yielded 110 results nationwide.
Marine Veterinary Technician
For veterinary technicians who live near facilities such as the Monterey Bay Aquarium or SeaWorld, a job working with the creatures of the sea may be the perfect fit. Perhaps the most widely known controlled park for marine life, SeaWorld is home to a wide array of animals, all of which require routine checkups or additional medical care during their stay.
Marine vet techs—also referred to as aquatic vet techs if they work with both fresh and saltwater species—are tasked with assisting the staff veterinarian by collecting urine and stool samples, handling imaging equipment, giving injections to animals, and helping to maintain accurate medical records, including any preventative healthcare measures taken. They’re also responsible for assisting with surgeries and other procedures.
How to Become a Marine Vet Tech
Eligible applicants for this role must have a degree in animal health or marine biology from an accredited institution. Also, because ill or injured animals can be difficult to handle, those interested in becoming vet techs must possess the strength necessary to assist veterinarians. For example, the Marine Mammal Center reports that a Pacific harbor seal can weigh up to 300 lbs.
Graduates of veterinary technician programs, including those who wish to specialize in marine or aquatic veterinary technician services, do need to become registered, certified, or licensed as veterinary technicians, depending on the state of residence.
According to NAVTA, no academy or society offers credentialing to aquatic or marine veterinary technicians. Therefore, there is no nationwide credential that exists in this subfield.
Graduates of an accredited veterinary technician program generally take the Veterinarian Technician National Examination which is offered through the American Association of Veterinary State Boards.
How Much Do Marine Vet Techs Make?
Monterey Bay Aquarium, SeaWorld, and other facilities don’t provide any information regarding salary expectations for veterinary technicians, and instead, mention that compensation is based on the experience of the applicant.
SimplyHired (2021) notes that marine technicians earned an annual salary of $43,989.
Animal Nutrition Technician
Nutrition has become a popular focus and it’s no longer only exclusively the nourishment of human beings. In fact, there is a massive industry aimed at ensuring that animals receive the adequate diet and supplements necessary in order to thrive.
As the Academy of Veterinary Nutrition Technicians states: out of the three influences that affect the life of an animal (genetics, environment, and nutrition), nutrition is the one factor that animal healthcare professionals—including veterinary nutritionists and veterinary nutrition technicians—can impact.
Veterinary nutrition technicians provide detailed and proper guidance to animal owners handling dietary matters and understanding the true importance of good nutrition to animal health. To that end, these nutrition technicians may be involved in recommending exercise programs, identifying better sources of nutritional food, and educating pet owners about how to take care of their animals in a better way.
How to Become an Animal Nutrition Tech
The main credentialing entity in this field is the Academy of Veterinary Nutrition Technicians. To qualify at a VTS (Nutrition), an individual must first hold certification as a veterinary technician by completing a two-year associate degree in the field.
After that, he or she must obtain at least 4,000 hours of work experience in the field of animal nutrition—clinic- or research-based—along with 40 hours of continuing education related to veterinary nutrition. Additionally, they must have proof of competencies in the form of case logs or letters of recommendation from supervisors.
How Much Do Animal Nutrition Techs Make?
Employment opportunities are quite plentiful for veterinary nutrition technicians. For example, a search on Indeed (2021) targeting job opportunities for animal nutrition technicians yielded 12,478 results nationwide. And although exact compensation is difficult to determine, vet nutrition techs can expect to earn as much as—if not more than—non-specialized vet techs, who according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2021), earned a median salary of $36,260.
According to Salary.com (2021), the average animal nutritionist’s salary in the United States was $74,272. Payscale (2021) stated that the average animal nutritionist’s salary was $75,023 a year.
Veterinary Zoological Technician
For many veterinary technicians who enjoy working with animals of all varieties, a career as a veterinary zoological medicine technician proves to be one of the most rewarding options available. These veterinary technicians are tasked with assisting a staff veterinarian in a zoo environment with a variety of animal species.
Their responsibilities may include helping with surgeries, routine checkups, facilities sterilization, patient record-keeping, or emergency procedures, depending on the needs of the refuge, zoo, or wildlife park. Due to the nature of the job, veterinary zoo technicians will often work with exotic and dangerous animals and may have an erratic schedule depending on resident animal needs, as well.
How to Become a Vet Zoo Tech
The path to becoming this type of vet tech is fairly straightforward; like with other specialties, the individual must first possess credentials as a licensed veterinary technician. The interested party should also consider applying for membership to the Association of Zoo Veterinary Technicians (AZVT), an organization dedicated to providing continuing education and support for these professionals.
Upon receiving membership and garnering significant experience in the field, the aspiring VTS (Zoology) may then apply for the certification examination from the Academy of Veterinary Zoological Medicine Technicians. To be eligible, the candidate must have:
- A minimum of 10,000 hours of work experience in the field of zoo medicine
- A minimum of 40 hours of continuing education in zoological medicine or related topics
- Completed the advanced skills list for veterinary zoo technicians
- A case log of at least 40 medical or surgical cases recorded
How Much Do Vet Zoo Techs Make?
In general, salary expectations for a zoological technician vary widely depending on the location and size of the zoo, as well as other factors.
That said, the added knowledge and expertise required of these professionals will likely lead to higher compensation than that of a general technician. In addition, opportunities are relatively scarce for these workers; a search on Indeed (August 2021) yielded only 10 results for zoo veterinary technicians across the country.
Animal Behavior Technician
Veterinary technicians with an interest in animal training and behavior may consider becoming veterinary behavior technicians. These specialists often deal with social or training problems of animals relating to their mental states, personalities, or environments.
These animal-caretaking professionals offer established behavioral therapy techniques to promote healthy, pro-social habits among their patients. Notably, they are analogous to psychologists in that they treat animals’ mental as opposed to physical ailments.
How to Become an Animal Behavior Tech
Aspiring vet behavior techs must first become credentialed as veterinary technicians and are encouraged to join the Society of Veterinary Behavior Technicians in order to receive access to continuing education opportunities and other benefits.
After doing so and garnering some experience, prospective candidates may apply for certification in this specialization through the Academy of Veterinary Behavior Technicians (AVBT); to be eligible for credentialing as a VTS (Behavior), candidates must have at least 4,000 hours of work experience in the field of animal behavior, 40 hours of relevant continuing education, a clinical case log, five case reports, and two letters of recommendation, among other requirements.
How Much Do Animal Behavior Techs Make?
Job opportunities are relatively less in this subfield; a search on Indeed (2021) for “animal behavior techs” yielded just 42 results, not to mention additional opportunities for “vet behavior techs” and other synonymous job titles. Please note that similar to other specialties, salary is typically commensurate with experience and varies widely by education level, region, credentialing, and other factors.
According to Salary.com the average animal behavior specialist salary in the United States was $31,736 as of August 2021. Comparably (2021) states that an average animal behaviorist in the US makes $49,641 per year.