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5 Reasons Why Veterinary Technicians are So Awesome!

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"WHAT??? WHY CAN'T YOU HIT THAT VEIN? MY DOG DOESN'T LIKE HOW YOU ARE HOLDING HIM!!!! HE'S IN PAIN!!! CAN'T YOU DO THIS QUICKER? DO YOU EVEN KNOW WHAT YOU ARE DOING?"

It may be hard to believe, but unfortunately I hear this type of abuse hurled upon my veterinary technicians quite often. Vet techs, in my opinion, are some of the most underappreciated people on the planet. They have hard jobs and they don't get paid well, but for some reason most of them absolutely love what they do. I thought I would write an article in tribute to the great vet techs I have worked with and clue you in on things you may not know about these wonderful people.

Here are 5 things that you may not know about veterinary technicians:

1. Techs have very thorough schooling.

I cringe when I hear clients say to technicians, "So, do you want to be a veterinarian when you grow up?" Seriously! Techs are not vets in training. They have their own set of skills and they have worked extremely hard to develop those skills. Most vet techs will go to college for two or three years to get their degree.

Related article: Why are vets so expensive?

2. Technicians have very low salaries for what they do.

According to Payscale.com, the average veterinary technician in the United States makes $9.66 to $17.64 per hour, or $20,000-$39,000 per year. Here is a graphic I made which shows how veterinary technician salaries compare to other professions. Take note that a vet tech performs the same tasks as ALL of these professions combined!

veterinary technician salaries

<img src="http://www.askavetquestion.com/images/vettechsalaries.jpg" /><br/> <div style="font-size:80%">Graphic from: <a href="http://www.askavetquestion.com/veterinary-technicians/">5 reasons why veterinary technicians are so great</a>. Courtesy of <a href="http://www.askavetquestion.com/">Ask A Vet Question.</a></div>


3. Vet techs have to do some really gross things.

No really...unbelievably gross. I'm sure none of the vet techs I have worked with got into their career with a desire to see disgusting things each and every day, but most days contain at least one distasteful task. Here are some of the gross things that vet techs can face:

  • Cleaning up diarrhea and vomit. Have you ever seen or smelled a puppy with parvo virus? These dogs will have bloody diarrhea that goes EVERYWHERE. And it's usually the vet tech who gets to clean it up.

  • Maggots. There is nothing enjoyable about maggots. In the summer time it is not uncommon for vet clinics to see pets who have maggot infested wounds, or maggots feasting on tissue near the anus that has been covered in diarrhea. Maggots make this really gross squishing/crunching sound as they squirm around inside of dying flesh. It is often a technician's job to clean these wounds and pick out the repugnant creatures.
  • Anal Glands. In some vet clinics the veterinarians will express anal glands. Sometimes techs do too. Even if the techs don't, they often are the ones restraining the pets. I have seen many vet techs get sprayed in the face with anal glad "goo". There are few things in life that are as unpleasant as having anal gland juice in your hair. That smell stays all day long, no matter how many times you try to wash it out.
  • Abscesses. I have to confess to the fact that I have sprayed more than one technician with pus. I didn't do it on purpose...really. But when you slice into a ripe abscess, there's no telling where that stuff may spray. While anal gland juice in your hair is bad, gross stinking pus in your hair is a close second.
  • Blood baths. We see a lot of bloody things in a vet clinic. And who gets to clean up the mess? Usually a veterinary technician, God bless 'em.
  • Trench mouth. Ever wonder why your pet's breath smells bad? Imagine how awful your mouth would smell if you never brushed your teeth! Vet techs routinely perform dentistries. Quite often these mouths are absolutely disgusting. Rotten teeth are usually infected and just downright gross. The good thing is that it is very rewarding to clean a mouth like this and see a nice healthy set of teeth afterwards. Yay, vet techs!
  • Miscellaneous body parts. Who deals with a leg after it is amputated? The vet techs. What about disposing of testicles after a neuter, or uterus after a spay? Or better yet, who gets to clean up the mess of a pyometra surgery after a uterus that is full to bursting with pungent pus gets removed? What if a pet has an eye removed? Or a toe? Amazing vet techs are the ones who prepare those body parts for disposal. (In case you're wondering, most of those body parts get sent for cremation).
  • Fecal exams. How many of you would like a career where you get to play with poop for a large chunk of the day? It's not uncommon for our vet techs to do 5-10 fecal exams in a day. These involve getting a poop sample, smooshing it up in a special solution and doing a number of things to it to prepare a slide to be looked at under the microscope. There is no such thing as rosy smelling poop. It's all bad.

And this is just the tip of the iceberg. If you are a vet tech, I would love for you to leave a comment telling me of the gross things that you do every day! A lot of people ask me on Ask A Vet Question about what it's like to become a tech or veterinarian, so your comments will be helpful for aspiring veterinary technicians and vets alike.

4. Vet techs have a dangerous job.

aggressive cat

A small animal veterinary technician is constantly avoiding injury. Burned in my mind is an image of one of my vet techs who was helping me with a nasty aggressive beagle dog. The dog bit through her thumb and would not let go. I can still see the image of the tech holding her hand up in the air and the beagle hanging there with teeth lodged in her thumb. Ouch. Cat bites and scratches are par for the course and can be very dangerous, especially if they get infected.

Most vet techs I know are really good at dealing with aggressive animals. They know how to get a muzzle on a landshark chihuahua. They know all of the tricks that can be used to calm a fractious cat. I've had some interesting experiences with vet techs helping me trap and examine cats that are all claws and teeth and literally climbing up the walls howling and screaming. Usually the techs can subdue these animals without anyone getting hurt, but I've seen several battle wounds after incidences like these.

5. Vet techs are INCREDIBLY skilled!

Have you ever had a nurse have difficulty getting a blood sample from you? Well, imagine getting a blood sample from a two pound kitten that is squirming and biting and has veins the width of a pin. This takes skill.

Vet techs can place a urinary catheter in a tomcat who is close to being blocked. They can take perfect xrays on a dog with a broken leg even without an anesthetic. Speaking of which, most vet techs will be able to fully administer an anesthetic to an animal whether it is by intravenous injection or a gas anesthetic via an endotracheal tube.

Have you ever tried to bandage a paw? Or better yet, put a bandage on a tail wound and get that bandage to stay on? It's not as easy as you think. A good vet tech knows exactly how tight it needs to be an how much material needs to be used.

Vet techs have incredible medical knowledge skills as well. While they don't prescribe medications they are knowledgeable about a great number of drugs, how they are used and what dosages are necessary. A vet tech can do all sorts of laboratory tests such as identifying parasites on a fecal exam or looking for abnormalities on a blood smear. They can tell you what cells are normal to see on a urinalysis and which ones can be indicative of a serious problem.

On top of all that, most vet techs have great people skills as well. They often act as grief counsellors while discussing euthanasia with distressed owners. Vet techs need to deal with anxious pet parents during emergency visits. They are also the ones who explain in great detail post surgical care instructions or directions for administering medication.

And in some cases vet techs are the complaints department of a veterinary clinic. If someone is disgruntled about their bill or the fact that they need to wait for the doctor, or has other complaints, it is often the vet tech who is the one to calm the client down and do what they can to make customers happy.

Can you relate?

Are you a vet tech? If so I'd love for you to leave a comment below. What do you love about your job? What parts of your job do you dislike? Did I miss anything? What do you think makes a vet tech so awesome?

Angry cat image courtesy of frielp,flickr.

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Dr. MarieDr. Marie is a veterinarian who practices in a busy animal hospital in Ottawa, Ontario. She created Ask A Vet Question as a resource for good, accurate veterinary advice online. Dr. Marie treats dogs, cats, hamsters, guinea pigs, and rats. She has been a vet since 1999.

Is an online vet visit just as good as a trip to your veterinarian? No! But, many times, asking an online veterinarian a question can help save you money. While Dr. Marie can't officially diagnose your pet or prescribe medications, she can often advise you on whether a vet visit is necessary. You can also ask Dr. Marie for a second opinion on your pet's condition.