Life of a Vet Tech: Roles and Responsibilities

Published on August 1, 2019 by arothstein

Veterinarian and vet tech examining dog at clinic

When a pet owner takes their dog, cat, or other pet to the animal hospital, the person they’re likely to see first is a veterinary technician. The vet tech greets the pet owner in the reception area and escorts them to the exam room. If an animal is being seen for an injury or illness, the vet tech may do a preliminary exam and inform the veterinarian of their findings.

How Vet Techs Assist Pet Owners

The vet tech will learn the reason for the visit, take the pet’s vital signs, and get information about any symptoms the pet has. In some practices, the veterinarian may conduct the initial exam. In some animal hospitals, the vet tech may be responsible for examining the pet and providing the veterinarian with the information. Vet techs don’t have the necessary licensing to provide all the care a pet needs. However, the vet tech has equal involvement with pets and their parents and are valuable members of the team.

Why Vet Techs Are Vital to a Practice

A vet tech is often compared to a nurse that cares for human patients. However, the duties of a vet tech extend far beyond nursing duties. A vet tech in the field of veterinary medicine must be able to accomplish many of the responsibilities of a licensed or registered nurse that cares for people in a hospital.

A lot of people who enter the field as a vet tech do so because of their love and compassion for animals. However, since the technology in veterinary medicine is constantly evolving, the duties and roles of vet techs are becoming more complex. Besides a love for animals, vet techs must possess an array of scientific skills to keep up with the latest technological advances in veterinary medicine.

The Roles of a Vet Tech

The veterinarian diagnoses disease or injuries and prescribes the necessary treatment for the animal. The vet tech assists the veterinarian as part of a team and provides skilled, medical care to pets. Another role a vet tech plays is to work closely with veterinary assistants. The function of the assistant is to keep kennels clean, bathe and groom animals, comfort those that are frightened, and handle non-medical tasks in the practice.

One of the first duties of a vet tech, when a dog, cat, or other pet is brought in for an exam, is to use their nursing skills when performing an exam. The vet tech will check the animal for any problems with their anatomy, do a routine check for any parasite infestation which must be treated, and check for any potential medical issues that the veterinarian should know about. The vet tech should also question the pet owner about any concerns they want the veterinarian to be aware of.  The vet techs role includes educating pet owners, performing maintenance, taking vitals, taking a pet’s medical history, analysis of samples and taking Sonograms and X-Rays.

Educate Pet Owners

Interaction with pet owners is one of the responsibilities of a vet tech. In many practices, the vet tech spends more time interacting with people and their pets than the veterinarian does. During the initial examination, the vet tech talks to the pet parent and explains all the procedures they’re doing.

The vet tech must be receptive and ready to read a pet owner’s body language. If a cat or dog isn’t feeling well or has been injured, the owner is often more stressed than the animal. The vet tech can help to manage their fears and answer questions about how to care for their pet during recovery.

Vet techs educate pet owners about their cat or dog’s nutritional needs and can recommend the best food for their pet’s age, breed, and activity level. Another way in which a vet tech can educate pet owners is to make recommendations about training and behavioral issues. Some veterinary technicians even specialize in animal behavior.

Perform Pet Services

Vet techs routinely perform services for pets that frees up the veterinarian for other duties. One of the duties a vet tech may perform is trimming the nails of a cat or dog. Pet owners usually avoid this and have a pet’s nails trimmed by a professional. The vet tech is trained to handle animals and can get this task accomplished in just a few minutes.

Administering Medications

One of the nursing duties of a vet tech is to administer medications to pets, either intravenously or orally. The vet tech may also administer vaccines which can be a tricky process, especially with an exotic species. The vet tech must know the procedure for the administration of an IV when getting an animal prepped for surgery.

Surgical Assistance

A vet tech may not perform surgery but routinely assists the veterinarian with spay/neuter. The vet tech must provide the veterinarian with the correct instruments during the procedure and monitor the pet and watch the vital signs during the surgery.

The vet tech assists a veterinarian with other minor surgical procedures. Before the surgery, the vet tech must prepare the necessary sterilized instruments are ready for use. The vet tech is responsible for keeping the animal calm and cleaning or shaving it before the procedure.

During the surgery, the vet tech must hand the instruments to the veterinarian as they’re needed as well as monitoring the patient’s vital signs. Some vet techs scrub in before the surgery so they are ready to assist the veterinarian with holding the pet or in any way they’re needed during the procedure.

Take Vitals

One of the duties of a vet tech is to take the vitals of a pet during an examination and when they’re undergoing a surgical procedure. The body temperature of a cat or dog is taken rectally and is carefully monitored when a pet is ill or has an injury. The normal body temperature for a dog is 100 to 102.5. For a cat, the normal temperature is 100 to 103.

It’s vital to know the normal respiratory rate for pets. Dogs usually breathe between 10 and 30 breaths per minute but can breathe much faster when the weather is hot, or they’re excited. For a normal adult cat, the respiratory rate is 20 to 30 beats per minute.

Taking a Pet’s Medical History

One of the most important lessons that a vet tech can learn is to take the pet’s medical history since the history will typically assist the diagnosis. When taking a dog, cat, or other pet’s medical history, the first thing to note is the complaint and find out when the pet owner first noticed anything abnormal.

Medical History

The vet tech needs to have information about any past illnesses, accidents, or surgeries, and determine if there has been any trauma. The vet tech will review the cardiovascular and respiratory systems, the gastrointestinal tract, the genitourinary system, the nervous system, and the musculoskeletal system.

Prescriptions and OTC Medications

It’s essential for the vet tech to determine if the pet is taking any medications at home which could be causing issues. Rather than asking the owner if the pet is taking medication, determine if they’ve been prescribed medication by the veterinarian. The owner should always be asked if they’re giving their pet any over the counter or homeopathic remedies.

Pet owners don’t always understand that OTC or homeopathic medications may cause an underlying problem that’s making their pet sick, so it’s always best to err on the side of caution to get to the root of the problem.

Analysis of Samples

Blood, urine, and tissue samples that a vet tech collects from animals are often an indicator of disease. Tissue cells can be cultured to determine if there are any abnormalities, and body fluids can be examined under a microscope for signs of parasites, bacteria, toxins, or nutritional deficiencies.

Vet techs must possess knowledge of science because performing tests on samples may involve mixing chemicals with samples to determine what’s contained in them. The process helps the veterinarian make the correct diagnosis.

Sonograms and X-Rays

Vet techs must possess a knowledge of animal anatomy to find where specific organs are located in different species. Veterinarians rely on sonograms or x-rays to determine the cause of a patient’s ailment, and they must be done accurately.

Different Types of Veterinary Practices

The animals a vet tech interacts with depends on the practice in which they work. A small animal practice is vastly different from one that treats wildlife or livestock. Each type of practice presents different challenges to the team.

A vet tech that works in a small animal practice may have to figure out how to monitor the vital signs of a bird, while in a large animals practice the vet tech may have to deal with restraints and pulleys, and determine how to get a horse positioned for an x-ray.

Vet techs that work in aquariums, zoos, or wildlife facilities face unique challenges each day and may spend a lot of time in rehabilitating wild animals to prepare them to be released back into the wild.

Whether a vet tech works in a general practice or chooses to specialize depends on the environment in which they want to work and their educational background. A vet tech who wants to the fast-paced environment may choose to work in a 24-hour emergency clinic, while a vet tech that works in a small animal practice with a small staff may care for animals but handle non-medical tasks as well. In a full-service hospital with a large staff, a vet tech may choose to specialize in internal medicine, anesthesia, surgery, dental care, or animal behavior.

Want to Learn More?

Did learning about what a vet tech does 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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