What is a Veterinary Technology Degree?

Are you someone who has a deep love and respect for animals? Do you feel passionate about caring for animals and providing them with the best possible care? Then getting a veterinary technology degree may be something you'd like to consider.

After graduating with a degree in veterinary technology, veterinary technologists are able to work under the supervision of a licensed veterinarian to treat or to help veterinarians diagnose the illnesses and injuries of animals. They work in private clinics, laboratories, or animal hospitals.

Veterinarians rely on the skills of veterinary technologists, who do many of the same tasks for a veterinarian that nurses would for a doctor. They conduct a variety of clinical and laboratory procedures, including postoperative care, dental care, and specialized nursing care.

As a veterinary technology student you will be taught all aspects of medical and surgical nursing care for animals. You will learn how to:

  • Observe the behaviour and condition of animals
  • Provide nursing care or emergency first aid to recovering or injured animals
  • Administer anesthesia to animals and monitor their responses
  • Collect laboratory samples, such as blood, urine, or tissue, for testing
  • Perform laboratory tests, such as urinalyses and blood counts
  • Take and develop X-rays
  • Prepare animals and instruments for surgery
  • Administer medications, vaccines, and treatments prescribed by a veterinarian
  • Collect and record patients’ case histories

Note - there is a difference between a veterinary technologist and a veterinary technician. Veterinary technologists have completed a four-year bachelor’s degree in veterinary technology, while veterinary technicians have completed a two-year associate degree. Earning an associate degree can be a good first step into the field. It allows you to enter the workforce sooner and quickly learn entry-level job duties. If you decide to pursue more education, you’ll find your responsibilities as a veterinary technologist will be more advanced. Both technologists and technicians must become registered, licensed, or certified depending on their state requirements.

Program Options

High school students interested in becoming a veterinary technologist should take classes in biology, other sciences, and mathematics.

After graduating high school, those interested in providing care to animals can earn either an Associate or Bachelor's Degree in Veterinary Technology. Students are also able to choose a specialization in a particular discipline such as dental technology, anesthesia, emergency and critical care, and zoological medicine.

Associate of Applied Science (AAS) in Veterinary Technology - Two Year Duration
This is a two-year degree program that is typically offered by vocational schools and community colleges. Earning an Associate Degree in Veterinary Technology can be a good first step into the field and allows you to enter the workforce sooner as a technician, and quickly learn entry-level job duties.

The curriculum focuses on surgical assisting, nursing and laboratory testing procedures necessary to animal care services, as well as veterinary office management skills. Most states require that veterinary technicians pass the Veterinary Technician National Examination (VTNE) administered by the American Association of Veterinary State Boards.

Common courses are: laboratory animal management, animal behaviour, animal nutrition, administrative veterinary procedures, veterinary medical terminology, animal anatomy and physiology, anesthesiology for veterinary techs, veterinary technology, and veterinary pharmacology.

Bachelor of Science in Veterinary Technology - Four Year Duration
To become a veterinary technologist, one must complete a four-year Bachelor’s Degree in Veterinary Technology. It is also necessary to pass a credentialing exam and become licensed, registered, or certified depending on the state of employment. For certification, one must accumulate work experience in a laboratory animal facility and pass the AALAS (American Association for Laboratory Animal Science) examination.

Note: for technologists seeking work in a research facility, the American Association for Laboratory Animal Science (AALAS) offers three levels of certification: Assistant Laboratory Animal Technician (ALAT), Laboratory Animal Technician (LAT), and Laboratory Animal Technologist (LATG).

General course material necessary for a veterinary technologist degree is applied mathematics, biological science, communication skills, and the fundamentals of chemistry.

The following are some examples of specific course material (course material will vary by school):

  • Anatomy and physiology
  • Anesthesia, including induction, monitoring, and instrumentation
  • Animal husbandry, including restraint, behaviour, species and breed identification, reproduction, sex determination, and human-animal bonding
  • Biosecurity-safety and security issues
  • Clinical pathology and parasitology
  • Communication/interaction skills with clients and colleagues
  • Diseases, preventive medicine (including dentistry, and nursing of companion animals, food-producing animals, horses, exotic species, and laboratory animals
  • Economics in veterinary practice
  • Ethics, professionalism, and legal applications in veterinary medicine
  • Humane animal care and management
  • Introduction to laboratory animal medicine
  • Life-long learning concepts
  • Medical terminology
  • Microbiology and immunology
  • Necropsy techniques
  • Nutrition and principles of feeding
  • Orientation to the profession of veterinary technology
  • Pharmacology for veterinary technicians
  • Principles of imaging, including radiography and ultrasonography
  • Safety issues
  • Surgical nursing and assisting, including instrumentation
  • Technician utilization and team concepts of health care delivery
  • Value of professional organizations
  • Veterinary practice management

Degrees Similar to Veterinary Technology

Zoology
Some four-year bachelor's degree programs in zoology allow for specialization and others are more generalized. Core courses for most programs are general biology, chemistry, physics, and mathematics. The biology requirement is sometimes divided into courses in molecular and organismal biology. If specialization is permitted or required, options are marine biology, ecology, genetics, animal behaviour, or zoo and aquarium science. By taking certain elective courses students may be permitted to create a custom-made specialization in the subject.

Bachelor’s programs may offer both a Bachelor of Arts (BA) and a Bachelor of Science (BSc). The BSc is the preferred degree for those considering earning a master’s and/or Ph.D.

Marine Biology
Four-year undergraduate degree programs in marine biology are comprised of required and elective courses. Mandatory coursework includes general biology, cell biology, ecology, and evolution. Electives, which allow students to concentrate on particular areas of interest, might include mammal biology, vertebrae zoology, tropical ecosystems, fish ecology, aquaculture, biotechnology, environmental biology, molecular biology, toxicology, and species-specific biology.

Some universities do not offer a major in marine biology. It is therefore quite common for individuals pursuing the field to major in general biology or zoology.

Animal Sciences
A four-year bachelor's degree in animal science is useful for managerial jobs in farm-related or ranch-related businesses, such as farming, ranching, agricultural inspection, farm credit institutions, or companies that make or sell feed, fertilizer, seed, and farm equipment. Further education is needed for advanced research topics such as genetics, animal reproduction, and biotechnology, among others.

Animal Behavioural Sciences
A four-year bachelor's degree in animal behavioural sciences is being offered at more and more universities. This is an interdisciplinary major that combines psychology and biology. A growing number of animal behaviourists work in government laboratories or in private businesses. These jobs involve health-related research, such as a drug company conducting research on the behavioural effects of new drugs on animals or examining the links between animal behaviour and disease.

Skills You'll Learn

Veterinary technology graduates learn many transferable skills that they are able to take with them no matter where they are employed, such as:

  • sensitivity, empathy and compassion
  • attention to detail
  • communication
  • dexterity
  • problem-solving
  • a focus to be results-driven
  • patience
  • ability to handle stress
  • high ethical standards
  • organizational skills
  • ability to find creative solutions

What Can You Do with a Veterinary Technology Degree?

Many veterinary technologists work in clinics, laboratories, animal hospitals, and boarding kennels. However, there is no question that there are many other fields and areas that veterinary technology graduates can work in, such as:

  • animal hospital administration
  • veterinary technology
  • animal husbandry
  • private practice
  • research laboratories
  • food animal inspection
  • pharmaceutical companies
  • education
  • livestock health management
  • zoos
  • SPCA and humane shelters
  • clinic management

Veterinary technologists can also choose to specialize and work in the areas of:

  • avian medicine
  • biomedical research
  • clinical pathology
  • dentistry
  • emergency medicine
  • exotics
  • large animals
  • small animals
  • surgery

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