Caring for Zoo Animals: A Zoological Vet Tech Guide
Published on October 4, 2019 by arothstein
Veterinary technicians work with veterinarians and perform many of the same functions that nurses do for human patients. Hands-on care for large or small animals and exotic animals may include taking the animal’s medical history, observing the animal’s behavior, monitoring vital signs, taking samples, and administering medications.
To obtain the necessary licensing to work as a vet tech, a student must first earn a degree at a vocational school or college accredited by the American Veterinary Medical Association. Most programs can be completed in two years or less. Afterwards, you must pass the VTNE (Veterinary Technician National Exam) to be licensed in the state in which you live.
Is Becoming a Zoo Vet Tech Right For You?
One of the best reasons for a person who loves animals to become a vet tech is that there are so many specialty fields that allow veterinary technicians to work with a variety of species in different settings. If the idea of working with and caring for a variety of wild and exotic animals intrigues you, a career as a zoological veterinary technician may be right for you. A vet tech who cares for zoo animals is among the most appreciated in the field of veterinary medicine.
A zoo vet tech assists and supports zoo veterinarians and cares for exotic, endangered, and wild animals. The vet tech is a specialist who works independently of a veterinarian and must know how to approach and handle a variety of wild and endangered species.
Expertise and Places of Work
A zoo vet tech must have more expertise in caring for a wide range of breeds and species than any other vet specialist since they care for animals from unique habitats around the world and must be knowledgeable about treatment options for exotic species.
Zoo vet techs care for large and small animals in aquariums, wildlife parks, and zoos. Because of this, a veterinary technicians requires specialized training to care for the vast array of animals including bears, lions, giraffes, birds, monkeys, reptiles, and all kinds of wild animals that make zoos and wildlife sanctuaries their habitat.
What Kind of an Education Does a Zoological Vet Tech Need?
The first step toward becoming a Zoo Vet Tech is to earn your associate degree and pass the VTNE. In order to pursue a career as a vet tech that works in zoos, you must first gain experience in the field. Additional coursework approved by the Association of Veterinary Zoological Medical Technicians is a requirement before you begin working with zoo animals.
Continuing education courses are required to work as a Zoological Veterinary Technician and includes:
- You must have at least 10,000 hours of experience as a Licensed Veterinary Technician and documented proof of your work experience.
- You must have completed at least 40 hours of specialty courses and have documented proof of class attendance.
- Documented proof of handling at least 40 zoological medical cases is required.
- You must also obtain two letters of recommendation from Zoological Veterinarians.
Residency Training Programs for Zoo Vet Techs
A residency training program is also necessary to become a licensed Zoological Veterinary Technician. The college must approve all residency programs of Zoological Medicine. The residency usually lasts between three and four months. The purpose of a residency is to provide more concise training and improve clinical and research skills.
As a licensed zoo vet tech, you can become a member of the Associations of Zoo Veterinary Technicians, which allows you the opportunity to participate in conferences and other events, network with other zoo vet techs and be informed about new medical advances in the field.
What Does A Zoological Vet Tech Do?
When you care for zoo animals, each day presents different challenges and allows you to care for a lot of different species from around the world.
Among the daily tasks of a zoological vet tech are:
- Administering intravenous fluids
- Assisting veterinarians with wellness exams
- Changing dressings on wounds or incisions
- Collecting samples
- Filling prescriptions
- Giving intramuscular or intravenous injections
- Inserting catheters
- Performing dental procedures
- Prepping animals for surgery
- Taking radiographs
While vet techs who work in a private practice usually work with domesticated animals like cats and dogs, a zoo vet tech must handle animals that are wild and more unpredictable. Although a zoo vet tech usually cares for animals like rabbits, ducks, or goats, some species can be dangerous if they aren’t handled properly.
The Zoo Environment and Daily Procedures
Most people don’t think about this, but a zoo is much more than a place where exotic species live. A zoo is actually a living laboratory in which veterinarians and scientists learn about the best medical treatments for wild animals.
Vet techs may be required to complete a variety of tasks including:
- Processing samples to be sent to the lab for analysis
- Entering information to medical records for supervisors to review
- Maintaining animals holding spaces and the hospital
- Maintaining an inventory of clinic supplies
- Understanding the dietary requirements of animals and design nutritious feeding plans
- Performing diagnostic tests
- Training interns, externs, and volunteers about protocol and procedures
- Cleaning and feeding animals and handle any necessary maintenance
- Following all guidelines for a safe work environment for humans and animals
How Environments Make a Difference
First of all, the working environment of a zoo vet tech can vary considerably between zoos. Some facilities don’t have funds for multiple surgical suites and recovery areas, while others feature fully equipped procedure rooms, surgical and radiology suites, and state-of-the-art technology.
The man-made environments in zoos and wildlife habitats are designed for the comfort of the animals. Vet techs must also acclimate themselves to cold, heat, and humidity even if the environment is uncomfortable. In addition, some zoos and wildlife sanctuaries mandate that veterinarians and vet techs must have vaccinations against zoonotic diseases.
Sanitation and Cleanliness
Most importantly, one of the duties of vet techs in zoos is to keep the animal enclosures clean and sanitary. The proper handling of potentially hazardous chemical substances is mandatory for the safety of the animals and those caring for them. In addition to the routine care of animals that includes teeth cleaning, handling diagnostic procedures like radiography and ultrasounds, and monitoring animals during and following surgery.
What Kinds of Animals Do Zoological Vet Techs Care For?
Zoo vet techs care for hundreds of different species of animals that may include:
- Aquatic animals
- Small mammals
Differences Between Zoos and Private Practice
A lot of students interested in becoming vet techs want to know what is different in a zoo and a private practice for a vet tech. In contrast, a veterinary technician who chooses to work in private practice primarily cares for dogs, cats, and other small animals. Some private veterinary practices, especially in rural areas, may care for small and large animals.
Different Species Require Different Care
Although a zoo vet tech cares for different species of animals than a veterinary technician in a small animal practice, the basic needs of the animals are the same. Even though the settings of private practice vet techs and zoo vet techs are much different, many of the duties are the same.
A zoo vet tech may also have to act as a nurse, anesthesia technician, therapist, or surgical technician. Zoo vet techs have the option of further specialization by working as an anesthesiologist, in a particular setting, or with a specific species of animal.
Another aspect of working as a zoological vet tech is the hours they may have to work. In private practice, most vet techs work an eight or nine-hour day. Some practices are open on Saturdays but usually keep shorter hours. A vet tech may also work an erratic schedule if working in an emergency clinic.
What Are the Benefits of Working at a Zoo?
Every person who chooses zoo vet tech as their career path does it for different reasons. Most people have a genuine love for animals of all species and want to care for them. Zoological vet techs wish to make a contribution by helping animals and learning more about different species. However, there are benefits that most people don’t think about.
Zoo Veterinary Medicine Teams Share a Common Goal
Working with a team of people who share a common goal of providing the best possible care for endangered and wild animals is not only beneficial to the animals, but it brings people closer together. Because of this bond, members learn from each other to improve the care the animals receive.
The team that works at a zoo and the guests who visit also share a common love for animals and want to learn more about how to protect them. Because of their strong sense of community, this brings people closer together.
Animals With Unique Needs
Another perk of working as a zoo vet tech is that they care for so many different species with unique needs. They will develop new skills required to take care of these animals. They may have the opportunity to participate in events the zoo holds for the public to teach them about the animals in their care.
What Skills Are Needed to be a Successful Zoo Vet Tech?
Special precautions must be in place when caring for large and potentially dangerous animals. Overall physical health is an absolute necessity for a zoo vet tech. For that reason, a unique method of restraint is necessary to keep large animals still during exams and medical procedures.
Manual dexterity is also a much-needed skill working in a zoo and caring for large animals. Lifting heavy objects, standing for long periods, and bending and restraining animals are all part of the job. Because of this, a vet tech who chooses to work in a zoo can expect irregular and sometimes long hours. Emotional stamina is just as important as being physically fit.
Personal Qualities of a Zoological Vet Tech
Having the education and proper credentials to practice as a vet tech is a must, but a vet tech is like a nurse for human patients, and whether they are working in private practice or a zoo, certain personal qualities are the difference between a good vet tech and a great vet tech.
First of all, compassion is one of the most essential traits for a zoo vet tech. They must have a genuine love for all animals, no matter what species they are caring for. Animals are very perceptive and can sense when a human is tense or scared. A zoo vet tech must gain the trust of all kinds of animals, large or small, domestic and wild.
Additionally, excellent communication skills are a must for a zoo vet tech. When they are attempting to restrain a large animal during an examination or assisting in an emergency, it’s essential that the lines of communication between the attending veterinarian and the vet tech are open and the zoo vet tech understands the instructions they are given. The lives of animals are at stake, and there’s no room for error.
Want to Learn More?
Did learning about caring for zoo animals 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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