A future as a veterinary assistant provides the chance to earn a stable living with plenty of job security. There is also the potential to earn a comfortable living as vet assistant salaries have a broad range when it comes to pay rates. It does not take long to complete the necessary training to begin working as a veterinary assistant, which means a full-time salary could be right around the corner.
Veterinary Assistant Average Salaries
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has reported the average salary of vet assistants to be $29,690 (May 2019 figures), although that can stretch as high as $39,800 annually for those earning in the top 10 percent. Those are just average wages, meaning that there is the possibility of making more than that annual amount. The annual salary range is difficult to pinpoint because there are many different factors that go into that exact salary amount, which we will discuss further below.
Some veterinary assistants are paid hourly, and that also has a sliding scale. The average hourly wage for vet assistants as reported by the BLS is $13.75 per hour, but that can go as high as almost $20 per hour. Other vet assistants are on salary, although that is a decision left up to the hiring facility. Vet assistants can work on a full-time or part-time basis as animal healthcare facilities often have the need for both of those positions. Determining the exact salary is usually done during the hiring process, although some vet facilities have a fixed rate when looking to fill a new position. A lot is contingent on the way the hiring animal healthcare facility conducts its hiring.
Vet Assistant Salary Factors
There is not a universal pay rate for veterinary assistants, as salaries have a sliding scale. Many different factors go into determining the salary of a veterinary assistant:
- Experience– The longer that vet assistants have worked in the industry, the more they can expect to earn on an annual basis. Remaining at one animal healthcare facility for an extended period of time can also mean incremental raises for vet assistants.
- Work setting– Where a vet assistant’s job is located is a huge determinant in salary. Veterinary practices are places of healing, although they are still businesses. The more successful ones can afford to pay their employees higher wages. On the other hand, overstaffed and underfunded facilities often mean less pay for vet assistants.
- Certification– The more training that vet assistants receive, the more valuable they become on the job market. Becoming an AVA (Approved Veterinary Assistant) can open up a lot of new job opportunities that feature higher salaries.
- Location– Those working in certain areas are exposed to higher pay rates, simply because of the geographic location. Different cities have different pay rates and where you choose to work has a great deal of influence on what you can expect to earn as a vet assistant.
Vet Assistant Salaries by State
Maine is currently the highest paying state for veterinary assistants, where they earn an average of $41,000 annually, per the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Massachusetts is the second highest paying state, with an average salary of $40,070 annually. Beyond that, Connecticut checks in at No.3 with an average salary of $35,210 and that is followed up by California ($33,680) and New York ($33,220).
It is important to note that vet assistant salaries are not consistent throughout an entire state. For example, Ithaca, NY features an average annual salary of $41,500, although it is home to just over 3% of all the veterinary assistants in the state of New York. The fluctuation of salary also depends a lot on the supply and demand of vet assistants.
Cost of living is another consideration when examining veterinary assistant salaries throughout the country. The southern states are lower on the salary scale for veterinary assistants, although the cost of living in that region is significantly lower than the cost of living in the New England states, where average salaries are higher.
Hawaii (where vet assistants average $32,680 annually) and Alaska (whose vet assistants average 32,500 per year) have high annual salaries, as do the states of Washington ($32,140), Oregon ($32,810) and Maryland ($31,920) However, different regions of those states offer higher pay rates than others. The highest-paying metropolitan area in which veterinary assistants work is New Haven, CT, where the average salary is $48,240 annually. Other high-paying metropolitan areas in which vet assistants work include San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA, where they make $43,890; and Port St. Lucie, FL, where vet assistant average salaries of $43,200 per year.
Vet Assistant Salary vs. School Debt
Many professions that offer high-paying salaries often require extensive schooling, which comes with high tuition costs. Doctors wind up owing hundreds of thousands of dollars before they even start practicing. The same goes for veterinarians as finishing up veterinary college can be a costly expense. Meanwhile, the cost of tuition to become a veterinary assistant dims in comparison.
Vet assistants can start working without being encumbered by high amounts of debt as their training costs are a fraction of what many other job training programs wind up costing in terms of education. Vet assistants typically start working without the stress of high tuition debts weighing upon them.
Vet Assistant Certification and Salary
The importance of attaining a certificate should not be underestimated when it comes to determining the salary of a veterinary assistant. Many veterinary practices place a high value on vet assistants who hold some kind of certificate. This signifies that the vet assistant has been adequately trained, meaning that they are more reliable than a non-certified vet assistant. This typically leads to an increase in pay as well. Vet assistants can even earn the distinction of Approved Veterinary Assistant, which adds to their credentials.
The NAVTA (National Association of Veterinary Technicians of America) oversees a veterinary assistant approval program that was first established in 2010. The program grants approval to veterinary assistant training programs based upon the quality of their curriculum. A list of NAVTA Approved Veterinary Assistant Programs, including online programs, can be found here. Accreditation can translate into higher salaries and also present vet assistants with more employment options.
Resources for Aspiring Veterinary Assistants
American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA)– This organization works to protect, promote and advance a strong, unified veterinary profession that meets the needs of society.
Vet Assistant Salaries by State– This is the listing of the US Bureau of Labor Statistics where you can find vet assistant salaries within each state.
American Animal Hospital Association– This organization accredits companion animal veterinary hospitals and can be a good resource when looking for a vet assistant job.
Veterinary Nurse Resource Center– This website features valuable articles and information for veterinary assistants and veterinary nurses.
Occupational Profile for Veterinary Assistants and Laboratory Animal Caretakers- This page offers a description of the occupation of veterinary assistant as well as projected employment, education needed and certification.