Veterinary Radiology Technician - Vet X-Ray Tech

Pets have become an intrinsic part of modern day society. They have always had a place in our culture, but younger generations like Millennials and Generation Z have embraced pet ownership more so than ever before. According to the American Pet Products Association, nearly 70 percent of all American homes (85 million households) have a pet—up from 56 percent 30 years ago. When comparing generations, 32 percent of pets are owned by Baby Boomers and 62 percent are owned by younger generations.

Furthermore, the human-pet bond is stronger than ever. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) writes that “the bond between people and their pets can increase fitness, lower stress, and bring happiness to their owners.” Research has shown this to be true especially with disabled persons, war veterans, and those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

Cats and dogs are the most common household pets—two out of five households have a dog, and one in three have a cat. These pets account for nearly 90 percent of veterinary service visits, according to a report by the American Veterinary Medicine Association (AVMA).

As such, the pet industry has boomed. The elevation of pets to the status of family members has ushered in new businesses in food and treats, technology, and services like pet grooming, transportation, care, and boarding.

According to the BLS (2019), the average annual household spending on pets has increased by 35 in the last decade mainly due to increased spending on pet food and vet care. Specifically, the BLS report shows that spending on vet services has grown from one-quarter of total pet spending by households to one-third. Furthermore, many industry experts predict a boom in technology both on the consumer side as well as within the veterinarian space, opening up new opportunities for veterinarians and veterinarian technology specialists.

Veterinarian technologists or technicians are similar to nurses who care for humans. They have related duties, such as performing routine tests, collecting blood samples, and giving vaccinations. Like nurses with doctors, vet techs work closely with veterinarians to support them.

Sometimes ill or injured animals need testing that goes beyond a routine veterinary examination. In this case, veterinary radiology technicians can perform advanced diagnostic testing, such as x-rays, computed tomography (CT), nuclear imaging, digital fluoroscopy, and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). As diagnostic imagery is increasingly used for pets and animals, practices will have more specialized and technical equipment specifically designed for animals.

Those wishing to pursue a career in veterinarian radiology can enroll in a vet tech program where they will learn about specific diagnostic equipment. Read on to explore the career outlook and academic requirements for this role.

Veterinary Radiology Technician Career & Salary Outlook

According to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data, over the 2016 to 2026 decade, vet job openings are expected to increase 19 percent nationwide—nearly three times faster than the average for all occupations. These jobs include veterinarians, veterinary assistants and laboratory animal caretakers, and veterinary technologists and technicians.

When it comes to veterinary technologists or technicians, their job outlook falls in line with the industry as a whole. The U.S. will see a 20 percent uptick in vet tech positions—including veterinary radiology—in the decade preceding 2026, resulting in more than 20,000 more positions in the field.

For the most part, vet tech employment is concentrated in the veterinary services industry where nine out of ten vet techs work. The rest are either self-employed, employed by the government, academia, or other sectors.

While the sheer number of pets is one of the reasons for growth in the industry, the other main drivers are pet owners’ demand for care and the expanded treatment options in diagnostics. As we make advances in human healthcare and technology, demand for veterinary medicine advances as well.

Like humans, pets are prone to certain diseases and illnesses, such as cancer, internal organ failure, and other ailments, and vet techs will need to help treat them. This has opened the door to new specializations in the industry, such as advanced diagnostic services, internal medicine, dentistry, cardiology, nutrition, pharmacology, and radiology.

Despite these advancements, the specializations are still new, meaning that there is not yet precise data on job growth for radiology vet techs. However, according to salary database Payscale, vet technicians with radiology skills earn on average $32,000 a year (about $14.30 an hour). Entry-level technicians can earn about $27,000 while an experienced technician can earn more than $35,000, showing a positive trend in pay according to experience.

Veterinary Radiology Technician Job Requirements

As previously mentioned, vet techs have similar duties to nurses; they just perform medical tests on animals instead of humans. They work closely with veterinarians to support them in diagnosing animal injuries or illnesses. For this reason, vet techs must complete a postsecondary degree in vet technology. Technicians typically need at least a two-year associate’s degree, while technologists need a four-year bachelor’s degree. Both must be licensed and certified according to the state in which they are employed.

According to the AVMA, which recognizes 22 vet organizations and 41 distinct specialties, vet techs who specialize in radiology “focus on the study of x-ray, ultrasound, computed tomography (often called CAT scans), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and other imaging procedures that allow us to see ‘inside’ an animal’s body.”

Veterinary imaging technicians may want to keep in mind that they could be working with a diverse range of animals in their career. As such, they might seek first to be an animal lover and to possess many of the qualities listed as important by the BLS for a vet tech career. These include high manual dexterity, an excellent ability to communicate, and a tendency to be a compassionate individual.

As well, veterinary radiology techs will want to keep in mind that part of their job will be working with equipment that gives off radiation that can be dangerous to both animals and themselves. They should be sure to take the steps necessary to be safe at all times and must be comfortable working in a setting where x-rays are taken.

Much of this diagnostic imagery creates pictures for veterinarians by the use of x-rays or sound waves. X-rays are known to give off radiation and, as part of their training, students in veterinary x-ray technician schools will learn what amount of radiation is safe and permissible and what they need to do to take protective measures. The IDEXX Learning Center provides additional information about radiation safety steps for vet technicians.

Continue reading for a step-by-step guide towards becoming a veterinary radiology technician.

How to Become a Veterinary Technician in Diagnostic Imaging

1. Complete high school (four years).

Those who know they want to pursue a career in pet care are encouraged to take biology and other science classes in high school. If not, they will need to take prerequisite courses ahead of their postsecondary program as all vet tech schools require that students have a foundational understanding of biology and natural science.

It may also be wise at this stage to volunteer or work in a veterinary clinic to learn more about the day-to-day operations in this setting.

2. Obtain a postsecondary degree (two to four years).

Most veterinary diagnostic techs need to complete at least a two-year, AVMA-accredited associate of science degree to be able to work as a vet tech. Some schools offer specific radiology or X-ray programs, while others offer vet tech programs with specialized coursework in radiographic and sonographic diagnostic assessment.

The vet tech program available through Columbus State Community College in Ohio, for example, offers radiology coursework as part of its instruction. Lehigh Carbon Community College in Pennsylvania also offers students in its vet tech program coursework in diagnostic radiology. Students should also look for internship or externship opportunities that provide them with even more opportunities to learn more about x-rays and diagnostic radiology as it relates to animal care.

3. Get national credentialing through the American Association of Veterinary State Boards (timeline varies).

All graduates of vet tech programs, including those of veterinary radiology technician schools, need to follow a series of steps to obtain credentials or licensing. Often, the first step is to take the Veterinary Technician National Examination offered through the American Association of Veterinary State Boards (AAVSB).

This exam assesses the understanding and comprehension of applicants whose results are then sent to a state panel, often the likes of a state veterinary board. Most applicants need to have graduated from a vet tech program accredited by the American Veterinary Medical Association.

After becoming a registered vet tech, professionals should consult their state’s veterinary medical board for state-specific licensing conditions as licensing is under the jurisdiction of each state. Typically, the additional requirement includes passing a state exam. Vet techs can find their state’s Veterinary Medical Board terms here.

4. Get work experience to prepare for veterinary technician specialist credential (at least five years, 10,000 hours).

Once trained and certified, aspiring vet radiology techs can find opportunities at the American College of Veterinary Radiology website and look through its list of certified veterinarians to find which provide diagnostic services for animals in an area. These veterinarians might be more likely to need veterinary radiology techs in their employment.

Of course, any veterinary office could need the services of a veterinary imaging technician as could a university, research center, or wildlife rescue facility. These could all be places to look for a job. Additionally, the American Veterinary Medical Association hosts a job board featuring employment opportunities for vet techs as well as veterinarians and other trained specialists working in the field.

5. Get specialized certification through the Academy of Veterinary Technicians in Diagnostic Imaging (timeline varies).

The Academy of Veterinary Technicians in Diagnostic Imaging offers a five-year vet tech specialist certification in diagnostic imaging (VTS-DI). In addition to passing a written exam, a VTS-DI candidate must:

  • Have graduated from an AVMA-accredited program
  • Passed the VTNE exam
  • Have five to seven years of work experience (at least 10,000 hours) with a minimum 75 percent of that in diagnostic imaging
  • Have two letters of recommendation
  • Complete the vet diagnostic imaging skills form
  • Submit one year of case record logs (including at least 45 cases and six detailed case reports)
  • Show proof of at least 40 hours of continuing education
  • Offer five exam questions for future use

6. Join a professional organization.

After meeting the requirements to work in a state and becoming a registered vet technician (RVT), licensed vet technician (LVT), or certified vet technician (CVT), graduates of veterinary technician schools or similar programs may want to join a professional organization such as the National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America. This organization offers tiered-membership levels, including active, associate, and student. It provides networking opportunities, information on continuing education, and news on upcoming conferences and events.

The Academy of Veterinary Technicians in Diagnostic Imaging and the American College of Veterinary Radiology also offers various membership categories for vet radiology tech professionals. The ACVR Society sponsors other sub-specialty societies including the Ultrasound, CT/MRI, Nuclear Medicine, and Large Animal Diagnostic Imaging Societies. Members can benefit from networking opportunities, case-based learning materials, a subscription to the Journal of Veterinary Radiology & Ultrasound, reduced registration fees to the annual ACVR conference, and other perks.