Animal careers: Veterinary technicians

Veterinary technicians combine science and snuggling to help animal patients.


“Caring for animals is more than cuddling,” said Jill Smith.

“Sometimes you have to hurt animals to help them, and some people get squeamish at that,” added Karen Schroer.

Smith and Schroer are technicians at Milford Animal Hospital, (Milford Ohio, USA). Smith, a mother of two children, has been a technician for 15 years, all but one of them in the practice owned by veterinarians Gary Clemons and George Wright. Schroer has been a technician for 10 years. Both are graduates of the veterinary technology program at the University of Cincinnati, (Cincinnati, Ohio, USA).

Veterinary technicians combine a love of science with a love for animals in this important job at veterinary clinics. A technician's day is a busy one. In some clinics, technicians do everything from x-rays to cleaning cages, and lots in between. They cannot diagnose disease but they can draw blood and do lab tests. They are not allowed to prescribe medicine, but they can get prescriptions ready for the client. They are prevented from doing surgery by law, but they can prepare an animal for surgery and assist the veterinarian if necessary.

Like many other vet techs, Schroer and Smith always wanted to work with animals.

“I love being able to take care of animals sick or healthy,” Smith said. “There's nothing else I would rather do. We try to treat all animals the way we want our own animals treated.”

Veterinary technicians do not always have an easy job. Some animals are neglected; others are badly hurt and have little hope of survival. Some days on the job are very difficult.

“I didn't expect maggots,” Schroer said. Sometimes flies lay eggs in open sores and wounds on the animals, and the fly larva — maggots — feed on the dead flesh. Technicians must clean these wounds and get rid of the maggots to help the veterinarian save the pet.

However, these cases are balanced by the puppies, kittens, and baby rabbits that come to the clinic and by the return to health of a sick or injured patient, Schroer said.

Veterinary technicians may get angry at owners who neglect their pets, but they cannot show their anger. Instead, they must help the animal without blaming the owner. Some owners neglect their animals because they do not know how to properly care for them. Veterinary technicians can help these people learn proper management of their pets.

To become a veterinary technician, students must take college preparatory algebra or geometry, biology, and chemistry courses in high school, all with an average of “C” or better, and graduate in the top half of the class. The veterinary technician course is two years. The first year is a typical college freshman science program with courses in English, humanities, and basic life sciences. The second year is all science and animal handling.

(More on veterinary technician careers)

Norma Bennett Woolf

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