Groomers. Trainers. Kennel operators and veterinary assistants. There are so many different types of animal care technicians, it’s hard to know which path to pursue for a career. One of the potential careers that students may want to consider is that of the animal laboratory technician. Although these employees can work at shelters, animal hospitals, or other sites, they can also work in research labs, helping to maintain sanitary conditions, preparing food and feeding animals, and checking on animal conditions and behavior. They may also help with cage repairs, maintenance of animal housing, and animal restraint. Most often, time on the job and experience working with animals leads to qualification to work as a laboratory care technician. At a more advanced level, these technicians might help with management in a technical specialty, such as mice or primates, assist with research or during emergency procedures, and even oversee the administration of medication or specific diets. A high school degree or GED may be needed for some jobs, but for other positions, certification through the American Association for Laboratory Animal Science could be required.
Skills & Traits of the Successful Animal Care Technician
Many people who work with animals have a high degree of empathy and patience. Working in a research lab may present its own challenges, and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics describes the characteristics below as important to the laboratory animal caretaker.
- Compassion: Animal care technicians need be able to treat animals with kindness and show understanding to them, their owners and anyone else involved with or responsible for their care.
- Detail-oriented: Technicians need to understand the specific procedures used to provide care to animals in their facility. Whether this is how to provide them with medicine or food, sterilize equipment for use or keep a watchful and consistent eye on them, paying attention to details helps provide a safe environment.
- Dexterity: Because they can handle medical and laboratory equipment, technicians must be careful in its maintenance, storage and use. Equipment may be expensive or could even lead to small delays in research or care when damaged. Some types of equipment that might be used on the job include animal razors and electric clippers, digital X-ray equipment, injection equipment and urinalysis analyzers, according to O*NET OnLine.
- Physical strength: Laboratory care technicians need to be able to move animals as well as to help with restraint. Often, when seeking employment, they need to be able to lift a certain maximum weight. For example, to become an Animal Lab Technician I at Emory University, in Atlanta, Ga., applicants need to be able to lift up to 75 pounds.
A blog post on the site speakingofresearch.com talks more about the need to care for animals in research laboratories as much as anywhere else. Although written from the perspective of a veterinarian, it gives some insight into the care that is necessary in the setting and how employees, from the technician to the veterinarian, are helpful in providing that care.
Requirements for Becoming an Animal Care Technician
Most people need time on the job and experience with animals to be qualified to work in a laboratory setting. However, certification can be helpful to gaining some employment opportunities and the American Association for Laboratory Animal Science (AALAS) provides three levels of certification, described in more detail below:
- Assistant Laboratory Animal Technician (ALAT). To be eligible, students must meet one of the following criteria: No high school diploma or GED and two years of lab animal science experience, a high school diploma or GED and one year of experience, or a college degree of two or more years and a half year of experience.
- Laboratory Animal Technician (LAT). To be eligible, applicants must meet one of the following requirements: High school diploma and three years of animal lab experience, a two-year degree and two years of lab animal science experience, a four-year degree or higher and one year lab animal science experience, ALAT certification and high school diploma or GED and a half year experience after receiving ALAT certification, or ALAT certification with no high school diploma or GED and an college degree and two years of lab experience after having ALAT certification.
- Laboratory Animal Technologist (LATG). For this certification, students must have one of the following: High school diploma or GED and five years laboratory animal science experience, any two-year degree and four years of experience, any four-year degree or higher and three years of experience, or LAT certification and high school diploma or college degrees and half-year experience after receiving ALAT certification.
These timed tests (of different lengths depending on the certification) usually ask questions about general knowledge, animal husbandry, health and welfare, and facility administration and management. Test fees are also required for the certification and vary in price for members and non-members. As well, a management certification, called Certified Manager of Animal Resources (CMAR), is available through the AALAS and designed to increase competency in the management field.
There are a number of different training programs offered regionally to help students pass these certification tests. For example, the Washington state branch of AALAS offers study classes for ALAT certification. The multi-week class requires outside study and reading and helps students to learn more about federal, state and local regulations related to animal research, care of animals in a safe and sanitary lab environment, common signs of clinical illness and many other topics. Vet tech programs at colleges can also help prepare students for certification. For example, at Yuba College, in Marysville, Calif., students in the veterinary technology program should be prepared to sit for ALAT/LAT certification given they meet other certification requirements.
Finally, Front Range Community College, in Westminster, Colorado, offers an associate of applied science degree that helps train students to care for and manage lab animals in biomedical research as well as provide humane care, and also to prepare for AALAS certification. Students can also complete one of two certificates, in basic laboratory animal care or laboratory animal care and management, which can be later applied toward the associate degree. Other schools, like Thomas Edison State College, in Trenton, N.J., offer a bachelor’s of applied science and technology degree in laboratory and animal science. The degree is aimed toward mid-career adults who want to advance in their education and training. Students interested in four-year degrees may also want to pursue bachelor’s degrees in animal science that tie in interests in both biology and the life sciences.