Emergency Veterinary Technicians: Working at a Pet Hospital

Published on March 15, 2019 by

Emergency veterinary technician examining a dog in animal hospitalBecoming an emergency veterinary technician at a pet hospital is the perfect career opportunity for someone who loves animals but craves a daily dose of excitement.

Small animal emergency care is a growing field for veterinary technicians. In this role, emergency veterinary technicians have a high level of responsibility. Like a human hospital, when sick or injured pets arrive, it’s all hands-on deck, and veterinary technicians lead the way. From triaging injured animals and providing owner education, emergency veterinary technicians are the core of emergency pet medicine.

Direct Care Responsibilities in A Pet Hospital

Small animal emergency care facilities respond to most illnesses or injuries, but unlike healthcare facilities for people, roles among staff are more fluid. Veterinary technicians are often compared to nurses, however there are key distinctions.

Emergency veterinary technicians may take X-rays, do lab tests, assist with surgery, order medical supplies, maintain equipment and clean exam rooms. Because emergency pet hospitals are usually open 24/7, they also have administrative and management roles. An emergency veterinary technician’s first duty is always to the direct care for animals.

An emergency veterinary technician’s responsibilities include:


In emergencies, triage is the process of deciding patients’ order of treatment. It’s a top priority in a busy hospital and ensures that veterinarians see pets with the most severe conditions first.

Emergency veterinary technicians are usually the first person to see an ill or injured pet and look for life-threatening symptoms. They assess the animal upon arrival and in some cases, may initiate emergency interventions if the wait is long.

Everything they do as part of the triage process prepares the small animal to save the veterinarian valuable time, starting with taking vital signs.

Vital Signs

A pet’s vital signs includes temperature, pulse and respiratory rate. Because pets can’t speak, a pet’s vital sign indicates stability and stress level.  An abnormal reading offers clues about the severity and possible cause of illness.

Emergency veterinary technicians also try to weigh animals at check-in. If your pet needs medications with doses based on weight, it speeds up the care process.

Gathering Information

An emergency veterinary technician reviews medical files about a pet’s general health, allergies, and medications list from pet owners. The more information veterinary technicians get, the better care they can provide for the animal.

Emergency veterinary technicians are skilled professionals, and they use their expertise in animal behavior to help interpret symptoms. Through observations and interviews, emergency veterinary technicians can help narrow down the potential causes of illness. That helps them better understand what’s going on with the animal and what types of equipment and medications should be ready before the exam.

Helping the Veterinarian

After sharing the pet’s information, veterinary technicians assist the veterinarian with care. For safety, pet owners are usually discouraged from handling their pets. Animals that are anxious or in pain may be fearful and aggressive. Veterinary technicians learn animal restraint techniques in classes. In an emergency, restraints keeps the pet, its owner and staff safe without sedatives.

If a pet needs surgery, a veterinary technicians may prepare the operating suite. Specifically, the vet tech checks the equipment is in good working order, and that surgical instruments are sterile and ready to use. During the procedure, veterinary technicians monitor vital signs and anesthesia.

Performing Diagnostics

When a pet needs laboratory testing, licensed veterinary technicians assist to obtain blood samples. They may also do other diagnostics, like X-rays, under the supervision of the veterinarian.

Treatment and Monitoring

Animals admitted to the hospital for treatment need constant care and monitoring. Veterinary technicians administer medications and treatments as ordered, apply casts and splints, change bandages, track vital signs, monitor for symptoms of pain and keep the veterinarian informed of changes in condition. They also help feed pets, keep them clean and give them the reassurance they need to stay relaxed, an essential part of their recovery. In overnight facilities, veterinary technicians are on staff around the clock.

Patient Education

Owner education is a large part of what veterinary technicians do. Like nurses, they support the doctor-patient relationship by acting as a professional liaison and educational resource. During pet care emergencies, owners are worried, stressed and need both information and reassurance about the attention their pet is receiving. While the veterinarian usually takes the lead and explains diagnostic decisions, hospital veterinary technicians help pet owners understand more about treatment. When they’re well and ready to go home, veterinary technicians provide the necessary aftercare instructions about medications, diet, and mobility restrictions.

Administrative and Managerial Responsibilities in a Pet Hospital

Veterinary technicians play a significant role in the overall function of a pet hospital. Administrative and managerial tasks in this setting require above average knowledge of animal medicine and are often assigned to veterinary technicians rather than laypersons. These functions include answering telephone calls, equipment maintenance, exam room preparation, ordering supplies, medical record keeping, processing insurance and maintaining regulatory compliance.

Answering Telephone Calls

Veterinary receptionists can answer non-medical calls for general information like hours, prices and product availability. Veterinary technicians take the reins when the call is healthcare related. Triaging symptoms over the phone is a top responsibility for veterinary technicians as well as answering in-depth questions about procedures, aftercare, medications and pet behavior.

Equipment Maintenance

Veterinary technicians maintain a variety of equipment in an animal hospital. Some, like automated blood chemistry analyzers, require daily or weekly quality control tests to ensure they’re working correctly and are producing the correct values within expected reference ranges. Pressure sterilizers, known as autoclaves, must be checked periodically to be sure they are reaching the high pressure and temperature needed to kill microorganisms on surgical instruments. Veterinary technicians must check refrigerators maintain specific temperatures to keep vaccines and other medications cold on least daily. Anesthetic vaporizers, electronic IV pumps, oxygen equipment, and incubators are other examples of equipment that need regular maintenance.

Exam Room Preparation

Examination rooms must stay clean and well-stocked. Veterinary technicians understand how disease is transmitted and know the importance of sanitary conditions. Disinfecting exams rooms between patients is a standard duty as well as stocking cabinets with the medications and supplies required during exams. Because veterinary technician must restrain pets for simple procedures, having the necessary items within quick reach is important.

Ordering Supplies

Pet hospitals are all-in-one medical offices, pharmacies, surgical suites, kennels, and nutrition centers. The list of supplies needed to keep all these functions on track is extensive. Clerical staff can order office supplies, but veterinary technicians have the knowledge necessary to purchase supplies from medications and equipment to prescription pet diets and kennel needs.

Medical Record Keeping

Like human hospitals, keeping a record of everything that happens in a pet hospital is a must. Beyond the notes the veterinarian takes during an exam, veterinary technicians record the medications and vaccinations administered or dispensed. They note how pets progress before, during and after surgical procedures, how they respond to treatments and how pet owners respond to teaching.

Keeping meticulous records is crucial. It helps the veterinarian make the best treatment decisions based on a pet’s medical history and protects the hospital in the event of litigation. Small facilities may still rely on paper records, but record keeping in larger hospitals is usually done on computers.

Processing Insurance

Advances in healthcare for small animals increase costs, and pet owners are responding by buying pet insurance. For policies that reimburse the owner directly, veterinary technicians may fill in forms that describe a pet’s illness or injury and the type of care provided. However, veterinary hospitals are offering full service when it comes to insurance, handling claims submissions and billing insurers directly. It’s a value-added service that keeps veterinary technicians busy, helps pet owners fund care and decreases delays in payment.

Maintaining Regulatory Compliance

Veterinary hospitals are regulated at the state level. More than half of states have specific guidelines that facilities must follow to receive an operating permit, while others consider the failure to maintain sanitary facilities as a violation of the Veterinary Practice Act.

Regulations ensure the well-being of pets and govern issues such as sanitation, kennel size, surgical facilities, staff qualifications, building maintenance and the use of potentially hazardous materials. Veterinary technicians take a leading role in ensuring regulatory compliance as well as maintaining safety protocols designed to keep staff and visitors safe.

Small animal emergency medicine is a rapidly evolving field. Once, pets that were seriously ill or injured were euthanized, but today, both the technology and the willingness to provide advanced medical care are present. For veterinary technicians, it is an opportunity to improve the lives of small animals with cutting edge equipment and top-notch skills. It’s a major responsibility, but it always exciting and guaranteed to be personally gratifying.

Did learning about small animal emergency care at a pet hospital interest you? Ready to start a program to become a veterinary technician? With an associate degree in veterinary technology, you’ll gain the knowledge and skills you need to start an entry-level career as a veterinary technician. Broadview University has been part of the community for more than 40 years, so we’ve developed connections that can help move your career forward. After completing our accredited degree program, you’ll be eligible to sit for the Veterinary Technician National Exam (VTNE). Passing the VTNE allows you to become a Certified Veterinary Technician (CVT), a designation that will give you a competitive advantage when you enter the job market.

Contact us today to learn more about becoming a veterinary technician and working in veterinary technology.

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