You may wonder who assists your veterinarian when you bring your pet to our clinic. As in human medicine, doctors can’t carry out all their duties without support staff like nurses, assistants, and receptionists, who all play important roles. In veterinary medicine, we have our own support team to lend our veterinarians a helping hand. Our kennel attendants, receptionists, veterinary assistants, and veterinary technicians ensure our days run smoothly and that every pet receives personalized care.
One crucial team member is the veterinary technician. Like nurses in human medicine, our vet techs wear many hats throughout a typical day, and at any given moment, you can find them performing these skilled tasks:
- Taking X-rays
- Running a urinalysis
- Checking a fecal sample for parasites
- Performing diagnostic tests
- Preparing pets for surgery
- Assisting in surgery
- Monitoring anesthesia
- Helping pets recover from anesthesia
- Cleaning surgical instruments and sterilizing equipment
- Administering vaccines, medications, or treatments
- Observing and reporting on their patient’s condition
- Assisting the veterinarians
- Performing dental cleanings
- Educating pet owners
- Collecting and recording patient histories
- Restraining pets for exams or treatments
- Providing nursing care or emergency first aid
This list may seem lengthy, but it barely scratches the surface of what our vet techs can do. Legally, a certified veterinary technician cannot perform only four tasks—they cannot prescribe medication, give a diagnosis, form a prognosis, or perform surgery. In every other aspect, they are invaluable in caring for your beloved pet.
A day in the life of a vet tech
Veterinary technicians perform much of the behind-the-scenes work. Check out these examples of a vet tech’s typical day:
- A vet tech grabs the phone to silence the unending ringing. It’s the day after a holiday and everyone seems to have an emergency. She’s swamped, but she carefully listens to the pet owner’s worries and description of her new puppy’s signs. As she talks with the owner, she discovers the puppy hasn’t been vaccinated, although she’s 16 weeks old. The puppy was slightly lethargic yesterday and now has begun to vomit and have bloody diarrhea. Our experienced vet tech puts together the signs and tells the owner to come in immediately.
As suspected, the puppy is positive for parvovirus, a nasty virus that attacks the gastrointestinal tract. Parvo puppies require intensive nursing care to pull through—an IV catheter, anti-nausea medications, antibiotics, proper nutrition and hydration, and waste cleaning are part of the treatment plan carried out by our vet techs.
- A vet tech provides critical nursing care to a diabetic cat. Routine blood glucose checks are important to ensure the cat is responding appropriately to treatment. Cats are already nervous coming to a veterinary clinic, but our vet tech does her best to keep the cat calm and relaxed, and she takes special measures to ensure that the blood glucose readings she needs to get throughout the day to help formulate treatment are accurate.
She first gets a baseline blood glucose, using gentle restraint methods and the blood collection technique that is the most comfortable for the cat. Once she gathers a baseline glucose level, she feeds the cat a prescription diet for diabetic cats, ensuring the cat eats the correct amount. Many pets are reluctant to eat at a veterinary clinic and require every trick in the book to coax them into eating enough food for an accurate blood glucose curve. Our vet tech succeeds by hand-feeding the kitty. Then, she administers the appropriate insulin dose and ensures the kitty is comfortable with a hiding area, cozy bed, water dish, and litter box.
As the day goes on, our vet tech will get more blood samples to see how the cat’s glucose level fluctuates based on her insulin metabolism. She is the first to alert our veterinarian for any change in the cat’s behavior, attitude, and glucose level. She will also monitor urine output and drinking habits. Uncontrolled diabetic pets drink and urinate excessively, so these signs are good clues to a cat’s response to treatment.
At the end of the day, our veterinarian makes a slight change in the cat’s insulin dosage. Our vet tech goes over the new instructions with the pet owner, double checking that the cat is being given the insulin correctly and fed an appropriate diet, and explaining the signs to watch for should the cat’s blood sugar drop too low. Diabetes is a challenging disease, but our vet techs are excellent educators and communicators about successful management of a variety of diseases.
A rewarding, fulfilling career
A career as a veterinary technician is exciting and fulfilling. Becoming a vet tech, which requires a two- or four-year college degree, certification, and continuing education, is no easy task, but the rewards are incredible for the person and the pets she helps. Our veterinarians couldn’t provide our patients with such wonderful care without the aid of our support staff, and especially our vet techs.
At your pet’s next appointment, be sure to thank your vet tech, who has such an important role in your beloved pet’s health. Give us a call so we can help keep your pet happy and healthy for many years to come.