The difference between a veterinary technician and a veterinary assistant is the difference in education and skill level for job duties required in the two positions. A veterinary technician receives more extensive training at a technical college or university than a veterinary assistant does. Salaries for vet techs are significantly higher than for vet assistants.
A veterinary technician or technologist has a wide array of job duties. They function as nurses, anesthetists, and laboratory and radiology technicians, and they often have more contact with pet owners than the veterinarian does. Vet techs administer vaccines, take blood and run diagnostic tests. They often become supervisors in larger veterinary practices and in research institutions.
Veterinary assistants help with daily tasks at the clinic such as sterilizing surgical equipment, and working in the reception area assisting clients and scheduling appointments. They assist the vet techs, feed and care for patients, set up some equipment, and do cleaning of surgical areas and exam rooms. If there is a boarding kennel, the veterinary assistant often does the feeding and dog walking. Some do kennel cleaning also.
A veterinary technician graduates from a 2-year accredited program from a technical college or university, while a veterinary technologist graduates from a 4-year accredited bachelor's degree program. Most states require vet techs and technologists to be licensed.
The veterinary assistant sometimes receives training in high school, at a technical college or through a distance learning program. Typically, however, assistants are trained on the job by a veterinarian or technician.
Full-time salaries for vet techs in 2005 were estimated at an average of about $26,000 a year, with better pay in metropolitan areas and at research laboratories, with the highest around $40,000. Salaries for veterinary assistants were about $14,000 at the low end with an average of $21,000, and topping out at about $25,000. Again, pay for the vet assistants is higher in large cities. Veterinary assistant positions often are part-time and do not include benefits, although discounts on veterinary care and boarding services typically are provided.
Both techs and assistants can expect excellent job security and increasing demand for their services. Each year more people own pets and are willing to pay more for preventive care such as spaying and neutering, and dental work, along with other health care. Both techs and assistants are expected to work odd hours, including evenings and weekends.
A vet tech may find work at a zoo, aquarium or wildlife facility, although there are high levels of competition for this work. There also are opportunities at large animal shelters, biomedical facilities and diagnostic research laboratories. Vet techs can obtain employment in pharmaceutical sales, or in teaching a technical program. Veterinary assistants almost exclusively work at clinics and hospitals, but can also find employment at animal shelters, pet stores and kennels.