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Alternative Careers in Animal Welfare: 4 Options for Vet Techs

by Cathy Barnette - Oct 5, 2020 6:52:00 PM
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While all vet techs care about animal welfare (after all, you don’t invest the time and money in vet tech school if you don’t care about animals), some are more passionate about this field than others.

If you’re a vet tech with a special passion for animal welfare, you may be wondering if there are opportunities outside of private practice. Fortunately, there are a number of career opportunities that will allow you to harness your passion and make a difference.

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Shelter Medicine 

Animal shelters often employ vet techs, to fill a wide variety of roles. In a smaller animal shelter, a vet tech may be responsible for the veterinary care of the entire shelter population, working with a contracted veterinary clinic to obtain necessary medications and have patients treated as needed. Large animal shelters often employ an entire veterinary team, including several vet techs.

Shelter vet techs not only need to be familiar with the clinical aspects of veterinary medicine, but also with epidemiology, infectious disease control, and public health. Having a working knowledge of these areas is essential in order to prevent and manage disease outbreaks. An understanding of animal behavior is also valuable, in order to minimize stress in shelter animals and promote socialization that will help these pets integrate into their forever homes. Shelter vet techs may also benefit from skills in veterinary forensics, shelter facility design, and policy development. 

Laboratory Animal Medicine  

On the surface, laboratory animal medicine may not seem like an obvious choice for someone who is passionate about animal welfare. However, ensuring the welfare of research animals is one of the primary goals of a lab animal medicine vet tech. While it’s true that lab animal medicine may not be a good option for someone with an animal rights emphasis, individuals who don’t inherently disagree with the concept of animal testing may find that a career in lab animal medicine, balancing the needs of research animals with the needs of the scientific community, can be a fulfilling position. 

Positions in lab animal medicine are available at many colleges and universities, as well as within private companies. Some of these positions are open to entry-level vet techs, while others may seek individuals with more advanced training. If you are interested in working in this field, your first task will be to seek out research facilities in your area and inquire about employment opportunities. 

If you plan to focus your career on lab animal medicine, you may wish to pursue specialization in this field. The Academy of Laboratory Animal Veterinary Technicians and Nurses was established in November 2016 as a recognized Veterinary Technician Specialty. Specialization is offered in three separate areas: Research Clinical Nursing, Research Surgeon, and Research Anesthetist. Each of these specialties requires passing a comprehensive examination in addition to meeting requirements for hours of experience, documentation of required skills, case logs, case reports, and professional recommendations. 

Zoo Medicine 

Like animal research, zoos can often be controversial among those who have strong feelings about animal welfare. Like lab animal medicine, however, zoo medicine can provide an opportunity for a motivated individual to aid the zoo team in ensuring that animals receive appropriate medical care and enrichment. 

Zoo medicine also offers the opportunity for specialization. The Academy of Veterinary Zoological Medicine Technicians exists specifically for vet techs working in a zoo setting. Eligibility requires five years of work experience in a zoo setting, zoo-related continuing education, documentation of required skills, case logs, case reports, professional recommendation, and passing a comprehensive examination. 


Non-Profit/Advocacy Work 

There are a number of non-profit organizations that are active in the field of animal welfare, including the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the Humane Society of the United States, Best Friends Animal Society, Alley Cat Allies, and others. While these organizations may differ slightly in focus, all exist primarily to promote the welfare of animals.

Vet techs, especially those with experience, may be qualified to serve in a number of roles in animal welfare associations. Some of these roles may be specifically targeted towards vet techs, while others may be more general roles that can benefit from the unique skills and attributes that a vet tech brings to the table. If you’re interested in advocating for animal welfare at the local, state, or federal level, look for opportunities to get involved with these organizations early in your career (through volunteer work) in order to gain knowledge and professional connections. 

General Practice is Animal Welfare Work, Too!

Remember that animal welfare is the responsibility of all vet techs, including those in general practice. Your role in a practice is to provide care to your patients and advocate for them when necessary, helping to improve their overall welfare. 


However, if you find yourself wishing for a position outside of general practice, with a more direct focus on animal welfare, remember that there are alternatives that will allow you to use your vet tech training in a different setting.

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About Cathy Barnette

Cathy Barnette is a practicing small animal veterinarian, freelance writer, and contributor to XPrep Learning Solutions. She is passionate about both veterinary medicine and education, working to provide helpful information to veterinary teams and the general public. In her free time, she enjoys spending time in nature with her family and leading a Girl Scout troop.

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