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what is the differences between a veterinary assistant and a laboratory animal caretaker?

I am trying to learn the differences between those two trades to understand better and see how each one does and see it as possible that is a good career and put myself there or not

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Nedra’s Answer

Hi Noel:

I am going to assume that you are asking about the husbandry side of things and do not necessarily want to be a part of the medical/nursing team. Also, some states blur the lines between a veterinary assistant and a veterinary technician, depending on location, their scope of knowledge and responsibilities are different. I will only focus on the veterinary assistant and laboratory animal caretaker. Both positions are important for the day-to-day care of the animals in your facility. As a veterinary assistant, you have the option to work in a clinic, whether it is a general practice, emergency, or a specialty hospital. Depending on your location, you will be responsible for the cleanliness of the hospital, stocking/inventory, and husbandry of animals. You might also do outpatient procedures, dispense medications, record vitals during anesthesia, assist doctors with appointments, etc. It's a great opportunity to work alongside a veterinarian and veterinary technicians/nurses.

Laboratory animal caretakers are different. Depending on the size of the facility, they tend to be in a separate department from veterinary services. While they may alert the veterinary staff of sick animals, they are usually not responsible for their health care. As a caretaker, you work mainly in the vivarium, which is where the animals are located. You are responsible for food and water, temperature and humidity checks, doing daily rounds, and making notes of any sick or dead animals. You may have to wean rodents from their mothers and the more labor-intensive part of the job includes changing racks and doing cage wash, as well as cleaning the rooms, checking air vents, and preparing for inspection. You will rarely get to do any procedures or teach the research staff how to do procedures. However, you can earn your laboratory animal technician certificates. There are 3 levels. From there you would be able to apply for a veterinary services position since some facilities do not require you to be a licensed veterinary technician (or a vet nurse). I do have to stress there is a difference between a licensed veterinary technician and a laboratory animal technician. You do not need to attend tech school to be a laboratory animal tech but you will not be able to do nursing in a clinical setting since the scope of knowledge between the two is different.

There are also some cool paths you can follow if you decide to work as an animal caretaker and like the research setting. You can become a lead caretaker, or facility manager and even look into compliance/quality control. If you network with the researchers in the facility, you can even apply to be their animal user (that is the person who does the animal work for the lab's research) or work in the scientist's lab. And the coolest thing about working in lab animal medicine, are the animals of course. I've worked in research facilities for 5 years and I've worked with all animals, pigs, ferrets, monkeys, rabbits, mice, and rats. You definitely won't get to do that in a regular vet's office.

This was a little long but I hope it cleared a couple of things up.
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Elise’s Answer

Hi Noel!
In short, the biggest difference between the two is going to be job setting, in my opinion. A veterinary assistant would mean working in a veterinary clinic/practice along with a veterinarian. Depending on the clinic, you would probably see pets and small animals, but
you could work in a large animal setting as well. Laboratory animal caretakers work in a research setting, and their roles look a little bit different. Research is very controlled and regulated, so the care required for the animals is really in your hands. In both cases you do get to work with animals in a hands on setting. Laboratory animal settings are a bit more strict and have particular training and policies to keep you, the researchers, the animals, and the organization safe while being as ethical as possible. Veterinary assistants of course have their own policies and ethics, however, you may find the day to day to be a bit more relaxed in terms of atmosphere. I suppose that part depends on where you work as well, every workplace has its own environment. In terms of schooling, a veterinary assistant program will basically get you where you need to be and is more of a technical trade than a 4 year schooling situation. As for lab animal technician, I think there are a couple routes you can go, but a good place to start is probably just community college with a focus in biology and then looking for work as this is an extremely hands on job. From there you can become a certified technician. If you can find a technical program for lab animal tech, that would be even better. Ultimately, both jobs are rewarding in their own ways, if you are interested in the research field then lab animal tech may be a good fit. Vet assistant is more people oriented as much as it is animal, so if you enjoy helping people and their animals that's a good option too. Hope this helps!
Thank you comment icon There seem to be some misconceptions regarding what a laboratory animal caretaker does versus a lab animal tech. Also, you do not need to attend school to become a veterinary assistant. Nedra James, MA, LVT, LAT
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