Pet owners might not think much about how that unwanted scrap of food thrown from the dinner table can affect their dog. However, those extra calories can begin to add up as unwanted weight and have a negative impact on their pet’s health.
Extra calories from dinner scraps, for instance, can add up over time and turn into excess weight, leading to diseases exacerbated by obesity like arthritis, tumors, heart conditions, and others. These days, pet health is being taken more seriously as pet-owners realize that prioritizing good nutrition can increase pets’ life expectancies, as well as promote a better quality of life.
Poor dietary health and nutrition in pets is not a rarity; the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention reported that the majority of both cats and dogs in the U.S. were overweight or obese in 2018—60 percent of cats and 56 percent of dogs, specifically. This may be because these pets are not getting enough exercise, eating the wrong kind or too much food, or even because a medical issue has gone undiagnosed.
Veterinarians may be too busy to discuss concerns like this with pet owners and this is where veterinary nutrition technicians can step in to help. Besides completing tasks like drawing blood and assisting veterinarians in surgery, vet techs can provide more detailed guidance to animals’ owners in handling dietary matters and help them understand the true importance of good nutrition to animal health. To that end, veterinary nutrition technicians can recommend exercise programs, identify better sources of nutritional food, and educate pet owners about how to better care for their animals.
The need for animal technicians arose in the 1960s when veterinarians needed help taking care of technical and administrative tasks. Before then, vets hired students or tapped office workers to help complete tasks like feeding the animals, cleaning their cages, and managing office operations. But as the field of animal health became more complex, a need arose for a well-educated staff that could take on greater responsibilities.
VETERINARY NUTRITION TECH CAREER OUTLOOK
As pet owners’ interest in their animals’ health increases, so do the job opportunities. The total number of jobs for veterinary technicians working in the U.S. is expected to increase significantly between 2016 and 2026 according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data. During this time, it is predicted job openings will grow 20 percent nationally and result in the creation of 122,400 new vet tech positions—much faster than the average for all occupations—so it can prove a viable career option for those interested in pursuing the role.
This growth is being driven by many factors and one of the major catalysts is that veterinarians are becoming increasingly busy and need help in carrying out some of their duties. As a result, nutritional care of animals may fall to the wayside, and veterinary nutrition technicians can be called in to pick up the slack—not just with assisting in administrative and technical duties but also with helping owners plan overall pet nutrition.
Veterinary technician nutrition specialists can look to the Academy of Veterinary Nutrition Technicians to find leads on jobs or at the American Veterinary Medical Association job board that features a variety of employment opportunities available for vet techs and veterinarians.
VETERINARY NUTRITION TECHNICIAN SALARY DATA
The veterinary technician position is a happy medium between the role of veterinary assistant and veterinary technologist, which requires a four-year degree and the highest salary. Vet techs can be considered “animal nurses” and their postsecondary education typically requires 18 months to two years to complete, depending on the program.
The BLS reported that the median salary for vet techs working in the U.S. in 2018 was $33,420 with an associate’s degree level of education. This number will vary depending on factors like your experience on the job, your employer’s specialty, the state you live in, and the school that you attended.
Veterinary nutrition technicians can find employment in veterinary offices, but also in large animal shelters or even in wildlife rescue centers where specific animals lost or injured may need help being nourished back to health.
JOB REQUIREMENTS – EDUCATION & EXPERIENCE
Veterinary nutrition technician schools provide students with an education about how to keep animals healthy and meet their nutritional needs. They can turn to institutions like the American Academy of Veterinary Nutrition, which is a respected U.S.-based organization and source in the field. It allows members to stay up-to-date on upcoming seminars and to read recent articles on relevant topics (e.g., promoting longevity in animals). The organization also puts on an annual nutrition and research symposium that may be of interest to veterinary nutrition technicians.
Beyond joining relevant organizations and gaining certifications, certain qualitative skills are important for the job. Students should anticipate the challenges of working both with pets and interpersonally with pet owners in their career. A crucial part of being a veterinary nutrition technician is the ability to be persuasive in convincing pet owners to make changes in their pet’s diet, try new techniques to improve health or to integrate supplements into their pet’s dietary regime. Manual dexterity, strong communication, and compassion are also desirable skills.
HOW TO BECOME A VET NUTRITION TECH
Graduates of veterinary nutrition technician schools need to obtain licensure or become registered to work in their state.
Step 1: Complete a two-year associate of science (AS) degree in veterinary technology or a similar field.
Students can look for specific programs offering specialties in nutrition or may simply focus as much of their coursework as they can on nutrition. Students should ensure their program is accredited by the AVMA and that nutrition is offered as part of the core curriculum. Windward Community College in Hawaii is one such vet tech program that provides nutrition as part of its education.
Another prime educational option comes from the University of Wisconsin at River Falls, which offers a five-year bachelor’s degree in vet tech animal science that offers a specialization in nutrition as well as in many other fields. However, no matter what vet tech training program students choose to pursue, they should be sure to focus any internship, externship, or volunteer experience toward their specific vet tech specialization of interest.
Please note that students can also consider a four-year bachelor’s degree at this stage.
Step 2: Take the Veterinary Technician National Examination (VTNE).
This computer-based test offered through the American Association of Veterinary State Boards assesses the skills of entry-level vet techs. Results are sent to state licensing agencies such as a state veterinary board and applicants who have passed the VTNE and met other state requirements, may be on their way to becoming a registered vet technician (RVT), licensed vet technician (LVT), or certified vet technician (CVT).
Step 3: Consider the Academy of Veterinary Nutrition Technicians certification.
To seek this certification, vet techs need to have at least three years of clinical or research-based experience, 40 hours of continuing education, five case write-ups, and meet other qualifications to be considered.
It’s also worth joining the National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America (NAVTA) to stay up-to-date on industry news and networking opportunities. The organization offers associate and student memberships, provides information about upcoming events, offers continuing education, and publishes the bi-monthly NAVTA Journal, which is the only educational publication sanctioned by NAVTA.