What’s a Vet Tech?

I, like some of my colleagues, have been asked multiple questions by clients and friends that don’t quite know or understand what a veterinary technician or a “vet tech”, for short, is.  I often get questions like:

  • Are you studying to be a veterinarian?
  • What does a veterinary technician do?
  • Are you like an “animal” nurse?

To answer the first question briefly, no we are not studying to be vets, the vet tech program is a course on its own, usually a 2-3 year program. Although there is no obligation for a technician to be registered in Canada yet (except in Ontario), the majority of us do get registered.   This means that we meet all the registration requirements by our vet tech association and that we keep up with continuous education. You can never stop learning when it comes to animal health care!

On to the second question, a vet tech is, in my opinion, pretty close to a superhero.  We are taught to do a multitude of skills; here are a few with a brief explanation:

  • Assisting in surgical procedures: We get to scrub in and gown up with the vet, assist with anything the doctor needs us to do during the surgery.
  • Preparations for surgical procedures: We anesthetize the animal, and do any shaving or scrubbing required in preparation for the surgery.
  • Anesthetist: We put the animal under anesthesia and monitor their vital signs throughout the procedure or surgery. We monitor the heart rate, breathing, oxygen in blood, blood pressure, temperature, depth of anesthesia…
  • Radiologist: We are trained to take x-rays and develop them.
  • Dental hygienist: We can do a full scaling and polishing of the animal’s teeth, just like at a human dentist’s office. Some clinics, like ours, even offer dental x-rays.
  • Emergency and basic nursing care: We are trained to know how to respond and what to do in cases of emergencies to things as simple as applying a bandage or do basic physiotherapy in non-emergency situations.
  • Administer medications and treatments: We can give medication or a treatment as the veterinarian prescribes.
  • Restrain and handle animals: We have the skills and technique to safely restrain animals. The animal needs to be safe and not hurt itself, the person doing the treatment or examining the animal needs to feel safe that they won’t get bit or scratched, and the person holding should feel confident that they won’t get hurt as well.
  • Taking blood, inserting intravenous catheters: We are taught how to take blood samples and also how to insert IV catheters to administer some medications that can only be given in the vein or to give the pet IV fluids.
  • Perform laboratory procedures: We can do many diagnostic tests in our laboratory. We can run blood tests, urine tests, look at cytology under the microscope…
  • Maintain animal husbandry: While doing all of these other tasks, we have to make sure the pets are comfortable, that is our main concern. We have to feed the animals, clean their kennels as needed, clean litter boxes, and bring the dogs outside… Sometimes even a little tender loving care like grooming the pets, playing with them, belly rubs (my personal favourite J)…
  • Public education: We have a lot of knowledge so we can answer client’s questions. We have knowledge about medication, different diseases, nutrition, explaining surgery procedures and treatments…

The big rule that separates the vets from the vet techs is that we are not qualified to prescribe, diagnose or do surgeries.

With all of the above tasks, it would be impossible to tackle them all at once so we divide out tasks between our technicians. One technician will be the out patient tech, so they will start appointments for the day; they check the vital signs of the pet and get a general history on the pet’s health before the doctor goes into the room. They also triage in emergency situations. Then they help by drawing up vaccines, getting medication or information pamphlets ready for the doctor, doing diagnostic tests amongst other things.

Another technician will be responsible of taking care of the patients staying in the hospital and helping out with any procedures or surgeries going on in the treatment room.

The third technician will be the surgical technician. They check-in the surgery patients first thing in the morning and get them prepped and ready for surgery one by one. Once in the surgery room, this technician takes on the role of anesthetist and monitors the vital signs. Once the surgery is done, the tech will comfortably wake the patient up from anesthesia and keep monitoring them until they are wide awake. At our clinic, we do surgeries all morning long and then the surgery doctor will do appointments as well in the afternoon so the surgical technician can then help that doctor with his or her appointments.

I hope this will shed some light on what a vet tech is and what they do. What I love the most about being a vet tech is that you never know what will come next. No day is like another and it keeps my job exciting!