Veterinary technicians are an essential part of the animal medicine world. They provide highly skilled assistance to veterinarians. Veterinary medicine would fall apart without their passion, effort, and energy. And just as tiny pets need time and attention, so too do large animals and horses. Because big animals require specialized care, large animal and equine (horse) vet techs are trained to handle the big responsibility that comes with caring for these massive creatures.
Large animal and equine vet techs will often work directly with a veterinarian by helping restrain an animal, inserting catheters, floating (filing) horse teeth, or assisting in surgery. They may find themselves dressing wounds, helping with post-surgical care, or giving shots or injections. They help assess animals for lameness, provide mass injections to animal herds, or help with dehorning.
Large animal vet techs could also be involved with processes such as cleaning hooves or wrapping knees, legs, and tails to accelerate healing. A large animal or equine vet tech needs to be well prepared to respond to urgent calls and be calmly able to handle any situation, including helping with livestock birth. In addition, large animals are huge. A horse can weigh anywhere between 880 and 2,200 pounds, and the average weight of a dairy cow is 1,400 pounds. The capacity to handle and restrain these massive creatures means that good physical strength will be necessary.
These types of vet techs might be employed at ranches, breeding centers, research institutes, wildlife refuges, or zoos. They may find work at a university as part of an agricultural department or they could work in a clinic where the services are geared toward large animals or horses. Those who like the idea of working outside an office or traveling for work may find their home in big animal care. Since it’s pretty difficult to put a horse on an exam table, big animal and equine techs are likely to spend some of their time traveling to the patient, instead of the other way around.
For vet techs whose spirits are up to the enormous challenge that comes with caring for large animals and horses, the following article provides information on career outlook and earning potential, educational and experience requirements, and the path to becoming a certified large animal or equine veterinary technician.
Career Outlook for Large Animal And Equine Vet Techs
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2021) predicts that nationwide job opportunities for vet techs will swell 16 percent between 2019 and 2029, adding 18,300 fresh openings to the 109,490 that existed in 2019. This rate of growth is four times the expected average for all occupations during the same period (4 percent).
According to CareerOneStop (2021), the veterinary technician occupation is the fifth fastest-growing job across the United States for those whose highest level of educational attainment is an associate’s degree.
While this information is not specific to big animal or equine techs, what is good for the whole industry applies to these positions as well. The overarching trend in veterinary medicine points toward the acknowledgment that highly skilled techs are becoming more and more critical to the functioning of the animal medicine system. Animals big and small, veterinarians, and patients all need the nursing-style touch that vet techs bring to the animal medicine world.
Large Animal Equine & Vet Tech Salary Data
According to the BLS (May 2020), the average annual salary for veterinary technicians across the United States was $37,680. Since factors like experience can play a role in salary, the following chart demonstrates how the 109,490 vet techs in the United States earned across various earning percentiles:
|Average annual salary||$37,860|
|50th percentile (median)||$36,260|
Because specialties within the veterinary technician role have only been formally recognized for a relatively short time period, most salary aggregators and studies don’t dig deeper into how much vet techs make when they specialize. However, when searching on ZipRecruiter (June 2021) for veterinary technician jobs focused on large animal care, the majority of salaries fell within a range of $50,000 to $60,000. When searching for equine vet tech positions, the salary range was $32,000 to $50,000 per year.
While large and equine vet techs may have higher earning potential than generalists, higher salaries may also be a sign of a higher cost of living. For example, the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center (MERIC 2021) provides a ranked list of how much it costs to live in every region in the United States. The cost of living in the most affordable state of Mississippi is nearly half the cost of living in the most expensive state of Hawaii.
While some of the higher salaries for large animal vet techs may be due to the specialized skill set, it’s also possible that those salaries exist to ensure the vet tech has the monetary resources needed to pay for the basic expenses of life in their region.
Education and Certification Requirements for Equine and Large Animal Vet Techs
The requirements to work as a veterinary technician vary depending on the state in which a tech works. For some states, a vet tech needs no formal education and can become a vet tech simply through opportunity and hands-on experience. This reality is currently the exception to the rule, as the majority of states require a vet tech to obtain veterinary technician licensing, registration, or certification in order to legally practice. In these states, the minimum educational attainment is an associate’s degree from an accredited program.
The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) Committee on Veterinary Technician Education and Activities (CVTEA) is the accrediting body that ensures college programs are training veterinary technicians to an industry-useful standard. The programs listed on the AVMA CVTEA’s list of accredited vet tech schools are those that will deliver either an associate or bachelor’s degree to the student, ensuring that graduates have the skills, knowledge, and attitudes necessary to contribute constructively to a veterinary medicine team.
In addition, all of these schools prepare students to sit for the Veterinary Technician National Examination (VTNE), the national exam vet techs must pass to practice in states that require licensure, registration, or certification.
Most vet tech programs are generalist programs—they train vet techs for any possible tech position in vet medicine. As a result, the majority include coursework on large animals. The University of New Hampshire in Durham, for example, has coursework on large animal handling and offers an on-campus large animal experience within its associate of applied science program.
Less frequently, there are programs that focus fully on large animals or equine care for those that are sure that large animals are their career path. For example, Otterbein University of Westerville, OH offers a four-year bachelor’s degree in equine veterinary technology. Even in regions where there aren’t equine or large-animal specific programs, most vet tech programs have a practical component like an externship or internship.
Students interested in working with horses or large animals can leverage this requirement by choosing internships or externships where they work with big creatures.
Veterinary Technician Specialist Certifications for Large Animals and Horses
Once a vet tech graduates from an accredited two- or four-year program, and passes their VTNE, they are considered registered, licensed, or certified veterinary technicians (RVT, LVT, CVT). At this point, they can become large animal and/or horse specialists simply through experience.
However, those who are interested in holding themselves to the highest standard possible for veterinary technicians with specialized skills may consider becoming certified veterinary technician specialists (VTS) in the subfields that intersect with their large animal skills. With the exception of the VTS (Equine) certification, the 15 National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America (NAVTA) Committee on Veterinary Technician Specialties (CVTS) recognized or provisionally recognized specialties aren’t directly focused on large animals. With that said, an LVT could choose to fulfill the requirements of each of those fifteen specialties in an environment where they’re working with large animals.
Becoming a VTS is a years-long process that demonstrates to the industry that a vet tech has achieved certain experiential and skill-based milestones that differentiate them from the generalized pool of vet techs. Earning a VTS may lead to higher pay, expanded responsibilities, or a more competitive resume in a competitive job market. Each VTS certification is administered by a separate NAVTA-recognized academy, and therefore each certification has different requirements. The requirements to sit for the certification test to become a VTS (Equine) through the Academy of Equine Veterinary Nursing Technicians (AEVNT), are as follows:
Proof of at least 5,000 hours (three years) of work experience, including 3,750 hours working in equine nursing
A completely filled out advanced skills checklist
50 CE hours completed in the previous four years, ten of which need to be in the year previous to the exam
50 to 75 cases documented in a case log
Five detailed case reports
Proof of LVT/CVT/RVT
One letter of intent
Two letters of recommendation
While not exactly the same, each VTS certification has similar requirements of a certain number of years of experience, proof of knowledge and skills, and recommendations from certified mentors. Details on the requirements to become certified in the other 15 veterinary technician specialties can be found in the guide to becoming a vet tech specialist.