How to Become a Veterinary Assistant in 5 Steps + Requirements & Programs

Veterinary assistants work with veterinarians and veterinary technicians to provide veterinary care.

There are a few paths to becoming a veterinary assistant.

Most states don’t require you to be certified as a veterinary assistant, but employers prefer certification.

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5 Steps to Become a Veterinary Assistant

There are two basic paths that you can choose to become a veterinary assistant.

You can learn through on-the-job training, or complete a veterinary assistant program.

To become certified, you must complete a training program.

1. Decide if Being a Veterinary Assistant Is Right for You

The very first step is to consider if being a veterinary assistant is the right path for you.

To be a veterinary assistant, you’ll need a love for animals.

You’ll also need strong communication skills because you’ll work closely with pet owners and other members of the veterinary care team.

You’ll need to be comfortable working in emergencies and assisting during veterinary procedures.

Lastly, you’ll need to determine if you want to be a veterinary assistant or a veterinary technician.

Veterinary assistants provide basic care and may complete some simple veterinary procedures.

Veterinary technicians can perform more veterinary procedures, including administering anesthesia, giving injections, and performing x-rays.

It’s important to know that you’ll need more education to become a veterinary technician.

2. Be a High School Graduate

The next step, regardless of which path you choose, is to have a high school diploma or GED.

Most employers have this as their minimum requirement.

You may also be required to be at least 18 years old.

3. On the Job Training

Most states will allow you to become a veterinary assistant without being certified.

Instead, you can learn on the job.

You’ll work closely with a veterinary tech who will likely provide most of the training, and a veterinarian.

In addition to on-the-job training, volunteering can help you gain the experience you need.

Animal shelters are often happy to accept volunteers.

This can allow you to begin your career by gaining some experience.

4. Attending a Veterinary Tech Training Program

On-the-job training is an option, but it can be difficult to find employment without getting some education or training.

Veterinary assistant programs typically take 1 year or less to complete.

These programs will teach you everything you need to know to become a veterinary assistant.

Once you’ve completed a veterinary assistant program, you may want to consider continuing your education to become a veterinary technician.

5. Get Your AVA Certification

Once you’ve completed a training program approved by the NAVTA (National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America), you can take the AVA (Approved Veterinary Assistant) Examination.

Licensing Requirements to Become a Veterinary Assistant

As mentioned before, you don’t have to become certified or licensed to become a veterinary assistant in most states.

However, some employers will prefer or even require you to have your AVA certification.

The AVA certification is provided through NAVTA.

To get the certification, you’ll need to provide proof you’ve completed an approved training program.

The exam has 100 multiple-choice questions, and you must score 75% or better to pass the exam.

You’ll also need to pay a fee of $100.

If you fail, you can take the test up to 5 times, but you’ll pay the fee each time.

You can try our vet assistant practice test to practice before the actual test.

When taking the exam, you’ll need a proctor.

This is someone qualified to give you the exam and make sure you aren’t cheating.

Any certified veterinary technician or veterinarian licensed by the state can proctor the exam.

College or technical school internal testing centers and commercially licensed on-site testing centers also qualify.

You will complete the exam online, but your proctor must be physically present while you take the test.

Veterinary Assistant Online Training Programs

All the programs listed below are NAVTA-approved.

Completing one of these programs will qualify you to take the AVA exam.

Animal Behavior College

Animal Behavior College offers a veterinary assistant program that can be completed in 9-12 months at your own pace.

The program was updated in November 2023.

You’ll enjoy up-to-date information and technology when taking this course.

Once you have completed the course, you can participate in an externship with a veterinary facility.

Animal Behavior College has partnered with more than 4,000 veterinary facilities and professionals to provide real-world training for veterinary assistants.

After you’ve completed your externship, you’ll take your final exam before graduating.

Tuition ranges from $2,999.00 to $5,630.00, depending on your payment plan.

Career Step

Career Step offers a veterinary assistant course.

It is self self-paced, and you’ll have 8 months to complete the course.

You’ll learn about veterinary office procedures and medical record-keeping, digital technology, animal behavior and restraint, animal anatomy and disease, veterinary pharmacology, and animal nursing.

While most aspects of the job are exciting or rewarding, being a veterinary assistant can also involve grief.

You’ll learn about grief, pet loss, and euthanasia as well so you can prepare for this.

Once you’ve completed the coursework, you’ll participate in an externship at a local veterinary facility.

This provides you with real-world experience.

After completing your externship, you’ll take a final exam before graduating from the program.

Once you’ve completed the program, you are ready to take the AVA exam.

Penn Foster

Penn Foster is the oldest distance education company today.

Their veterinary assistant program can be completed in just 12 months or less.

You’ll learn office procedures, communication skills, medical terminology, and examination procedures.

You’ll also learn how to prepare exam rooms, assist with exams, restrain animals, and assist with radiology and ultrasounds.

Penn Foster has partnered with many of the largest veterinary practices in the country, so you can complete an externship.

The externship is required and takes 8 weeks to complete.

Vetmed Team

Vetmed Team focuses only on veterinary education.

They offer a variety of courses, including continuing education and veterinary assistant training.

The program is self-paced. However, you’ll have 30 days to complete each module.

There’s a total of 12 modules, so you’ll have a year to complete the course.

Many students finish the program much sooner.

Once you’ve completed the coursework, you will participate in an externship.

You’ll complete 100 hours of onsite work.

You’ll have assignments to complete within the Clinical Experience course while doing your externship.

The assignments focus on the practical experience you are getting and help reinforce what you are learning.

You’ll also have a checklist that will be provided to your externship supervisor, who will guide you through your externship.

Skills on the checklist include performing a two-person lift for large animals, assisting in procedures requiring restraint, cleaning surgical instruments, and assisting patients in positioning for radiographs for a dog or cat.

You’ll have 20 weeks to complete the skills checklist and clinical assignments.

Once you’ve completed the program, you are prepared to take the AVA exam.

Vetmed Team graduates have a pass rate of 100% on the AVA exam.

Veterinary Assistant Salary

The average salary for a veterinary assistant in the U.S. is $33,315.

Most veterinary assistants will earn between $26,843 and $40,185.

How much you earn will depend on your education, certification, experience, and the facility you are working in.

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