Certified Animal Health Technician: Education and Career Roadmap

Oct 20, 2021

Learn how to become an animal health technician. Research the job duties as well as education and licensing requirements and find out how to start a career in veterinary technology.

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Should I Become an Animal Health Technician?

Supervised by licensed veterinarians, animal health technicians, also known as veterinary technicians, help vets with various tasks, including getting animals ready for surgery, administering first aid or prescribed medicines, monitoring the condition of animal patients, performing nursing tasks and doing medical tests. They may work in private veterinary practices and animal hospitals. Techs might also hold research jobs, helping vets and scientists with animals used in biomedical research facilities. Some may find this occupation to be emotionally trying, with the need to sometimes euthanize animals or deal with those who have been abused.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported a median annual salary of $34,420 for veterinary technologists and technicians in May 2018.

Career Requirements

Degree Level Associate's degree
Degree Field Veterinary technology
Licensure/Certification Licensure, certification or registration required
Experience Varies by position
Key Skills Manual dexterity; communication skills; kindness to animals and compassion for pet owners; proficiency with office and veterinary medical software; familiarity with various veterinary medical instruments and animal restraint devices
Salary $34,420 (2018 median for all veterinary technologists and technicians)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, O*NET OnLine

To work as an animal health technician, you need an associate's degree in veterinary technology. States require licensure, certification, or registration. Prior experience requirements will vary by employer. You will need to have manual dexterity, communication skills, kindness to animals, compassion for pet owners, proficiency with office and veterinary medical software, and familiarity with various veterinary medical instruments and animal restraint devices.

Steps to Become an Animal Health Technician

Let's learn about the steps that need to be taken to become an animal health technician.

Step 1: Earn a Degree in Veterinary Technology

Prospective animal health technicians generally pursue a 2-year associate's degree in veterinary technology. In addition to classroom studies, degree programs accredited by the American Veterinary Medical Association give students clinical experience working with animals at a veterinary practice. Students gain hands-on experience practicing not only on cats and dogs, but also with livestock, birds and rodents. Students can expect to take classes in veterinary medical terminology, animal anatomy, veterinary diagnostics and animal nursing care. Other study topics include surgical techniques, animal anesthesiology, lab animal management and veterinary pathology.

Step 2: Meet State Credentialing Requirements

Regulations for animal health technicians differ by state but generally require some form of certification, licensure or registration. Most states use the Veterinary Technician National Examination (VTNE) administered by the American Association of Veterinary State Boards (AAVSB). To be eligible to take the national exam, candidates typically must be graduates of an accredited veterinary technology program. After taking the VTNE, candidates must apply to their state for credentials to work as an animal health technician. Some states mandate that applicants take a state exam in addition to the VTNE. Aspiring animal health technicians should contact their state's regulatory agency to learn about requirements for credentials.

Many state credentialing boards mandate that certified animal health technicians earn a specific number of continuing education credits to renew their licensure. This additional training helps keep vet techs abreast of advances in the field.

Practice taking the VTNE. Individuals preparing to take the VTNE can prepare by taking a practice version first. The AAVSB offers two versions of a VTNE practice test online. Taking a practice test can show candidates if they have any weak areas that might be improved with further studies before undertaking the actual VTNE. Candidates must pay a fee for taking each practice exam.

Step 3: Acquire Specialized Certifications

Veterinary technicians can choose to specialize in zoological medicine, anesthesia, dental care, internal medicine and other areas. Numerous professional organizations, such as the Academy of Internal Medicine for Veterinary Technicians or the Academy of Veterinary Behavior Technicians, award the Veterinary Technician Specialist title to vet techs who meet their certification requirements.

Similarly, veterinary technicians who opt for careers in research facilities might pursue certification from the American Association for Laboratory Animal Science. This group awards the Assistant Laboratory Animal Technician certification to entry-level applicants. Laboratory Animal Technician and Laboratory Animal Technologist designations are also available.

To become an animal health technician you'll need to obtain an associate's degree, must meet state requirements, and consider specialties.

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