Large Animal Vet Tech Careers: Job Description & Salary Info

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A large animal vet tech's mean annual salary is about $32,000. Is it worth the training requirements? See real job descriptions and get the truth about career outlook to find out if becoming a large animal vet tech is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of a Large Animal Vet Tech Career

Large animal veterinary technicians and technologists specialize in working with larger animals, such as horses, sheep, cattle or pigs. Consider the pros and cons to see if this is the right career for you.

Pros of a Career as a Large Animal Vet Tech
High job growth (30% projected between 2012 and 2022)*
Potential for specialization (dental, emergency care or zoological medicine)*
May work in clinical or research positions*
Variety in routine (lab work, observation, diagnostic tests)**

Cons of a Career as a Large Animal Vet Tech
Low earning potential (mean annual income was about $32,000 as of May 2014)*
Potential for evening, weekend and holiday work*
Higher-than-average rate of injury/illness due to dealing with frightened or aggressive animals*
A license is generally required to work as a vet tech*

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics, **O*Net OnLine

Essential Career Info

Job Descriptions and Duties

Large animal veterinary technicians assist veterinarians with the diagnosis and treatment of large animals. In addition to typical farm animals, you could help treat alpacas, llamas, camels, deer and possibly large exotic animals. Vet technicians perform medical tests, observe behaviors, collect samples, administer medication and perform research. Veterinary technologists, on the other hand, typically work in laboratory settings and participate in conducting research. You could work indoors at a clinic or animal hospital, or outdoors. Because many clinics may be open 24 hours a day, you might have to work evenings, weekends or holidays.

Salary Information and Outlook

Job prospects for all veterinary technicians and technologists, including large animal vet techs, were expected to increase 30% between 2012 and 2022, according to the BLS. This is due in part to an increase in the complexity of veterinary services and support for animal and health-related initiatives. Prospects are expected to be best in rural areas, but the growing number of veterinary technician programs could lead to increased job competition, the BLS reports.

While salary data isn't available specifically for large animal vet techs, the BLS reported that as of May 2014, vet technicians and technologists earned an average salary of about $32,000 a year. For that same time period, most vet techs earned between $21,390 and $45,710.

Education and Training Requirements

The amount of education necessary depends on whether you want to work as a technician or a technologist, according to the BLS. Technicians generally complete a 2-year associate's degree program, while technologists earn a 4-year degree in veterinary technology. Programs are accredited by the American Veterinary Medical Association. Most veterinary technician or technologist programs include courses and labs or practicums focused on large animals.

Additionally, most states require veterinary tech candidates to be licensed or registered. Usually this can be accomplished by completing the Veterinary Technician National Examination, though it depends on the state. To work as a vet tech, you'll need to be able to perform physical activities, such as lifting up to 50 pounds or restraining heavy animals. You'll need to be flexible in your work schedule and able to communicate with animal owners and doctors.

What Employers Are Looking For

Few jobs look specifically for large animal veterinary technicians. Instead, employers prefer veterinary technicians and technologists who can work with both small and large animals. Employers want applicants who can handle stressful situations and work flexible hours. Some jobs require computer proficiency and strong communication skills. As of April 2012, the following jobs were available:

  • A pharmaceutical company in Pennsylvania was seeking a veterinary technician to draw blood and observe both large and small animals.
  • A rural veterinary practice in North Carolina wanted a veterinary technician with experience with large and small animals. The position also included some work with primates.
  • A university in Indiana was looking for a large animal veterinary technologist to assist with research projects and provide clinical instruction.
  • A Wisconsin university wanted a vet tech to work with large animals at the school's teaching hospital. Applicants needed to be able to lift 50 pounds and have at least one year of experience with large animals.

How to Get an Edge in the Field

While competition in the field is not particularly fierce, you can try to increase your chances of getting a great job by specializing in a specific field, such as emergency care, anesthesia, dental care or zoological medicine. You can also gain experience in a particular area, such as animal husbandry, or a certain type of animal. For example, the American Association of Equine Veterinary Technicians and Assistants offers a training program and certification for vet techs interested in working with horses.

Additionally, if you'd like to work in research, you can earn a certification through the American Association for Laboratory Animal Science (AALAS). There are three levels of certification: Assistant Laboratory Animal Technician, Laboratory Animal Technician and Laboratory Animal Technologist. To earn one of these credentials, you'll need to pass an exam, after which you may register your certification with AALAS.

Other Fields to Consider

Animal Service Worker

If you like the idea of working with animals, but don't want a college degree, you might find that being an animal service worker is a good fit. Animal service workers take care of pets and animals, and may work as animal trainers, kennel attendants or pet sitters. Overall, job prospects were expected to grow at a faster-than-average rate of 23% between 2010 and 2020, and the median annual salary was about $20,000 in May 2011.

Medical Technician or Technologist

If you like the medical aspect, but would prefer to work with people, consider becoming a medical technician or technologist. These positions collect samples and perform tests on biological materials. The necessary education is about the same, but the median annual salary, as of May 2011, was about $37,000 for technicians and just over $57,000 for technologists, according to the BLS.

Veterinary Assistant

Veterinary assistants work with veterinarians in clinics and animal hospitals, but usually do not need a college degree. Instead, they tend to learn their skills on the job. Often, they perform routine lab tests under supervision, clean animal cages or operating rooms and take care of animals. Veterinary assistants earned a median annual salary of $23,000 in May 2011. Job prospects were expected to increase 14% between 2010 and 2020.

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