Is Working in an Animal ER Right for Me?

It takes a special type of person to cut it as an emergency and critical care veterinary technician. Veterinary technicians can work in an animal ER whether or not they have a specialty certification in this field. If you are a veterinary technician who is thinking about working in an animal emergency room, here are some things to consider when deciding if this exciting, emotional, challenging, and rewarding career is for you.

What does an emergency veterinary technician do?

The duties and responsibilities of an ER vet tech vary widely. and,outline some of the basic duties of an ER vet tech.

  • Triage: ER vet techs are often the first ones to see and help a patient that comes into the hospital in critical condition. They often have to bring the pet directly into the treatment area if it is unstable. They do a quick assessment of the patient and then get work stabilizing it while the doctor examines it and talks to the pet owners.
  • ICU and critical care: This involves close monitoring of hospitalized patients. In addition to any treatments or medications that need given, this includes monitoring vitals, feeding, watering, taking patients out to go to the bathroom, and changing bedding.
  • Placing intravenous catheters: IV catheters are important for IV access to give fluids and medications.
  • Cleaning wounds: If a pet presents with a wound or injury, the technician can assist in cleaning the wound in preparation for repair or bandaging.
  • Applying splints and bandages: With training, technicians can apply splints and bandages to fractured, injured, or bleeding body parts.
  • Obtaining blood and urine samples: To get a good diagnostic picture, blood and urine samples are often required. Technicians are trained to get samples and run the necessary tests.
  • Assist the veterinarian: Vet techs will often restrain animals for the veterinarian to examine, as well as assist the doctors with diagnostic imaging, procedures, surgeries, and much more.
  • Patient education: Vet techs can explain and go over medication and discharge instructions with owners, and answer questions clients may have regarding their visit.

What does it take?

Working as an ER vet tech takes a dedicated and hardworking individual. Becoming a vet tech takes about 2-4 years of post-high school education and a degree in veterinary technology. They must pass a credentialing exam and keep up with regular continuing education. A vet tech wanting to specialize in emergency medicine and critical care needs additional training which is discussed in a separate section below.

ER vet techs should have a variety of technical skills which are learned in veterinary technician school and through on-the-job training. These skills include triaging patients, monitoring vital signs, obtaining blood, urine, and other samples, taking blood pressure readings, monitoring EKGs, running various diagnostic tests, taking diagnostic radiographs, and more.

In addition to the required technical skills, ER vet techs, and vet techs in general, should have some key characteristics to be able to work through the grueling hours and intense shifts that working in an ER requires. suggests that technicians should be able to work under pressure and be able to stay calm and react quickly during life-threatening circumstances. Techs will require mental, physical, and emotional strength and stability to see cases that can be disturbing and not for the weak-stomached. Communication skills and compassion are necessary to communicate with clients and take care of patients. A positive attitude is always a benefit.


An ER veterinary technician shouldn’t expect to work the typical 9-5 workday. Their shifts often start when the regular daytime veterinary practices close and extend throughout the night. Overnight shifts are common and working on weekends and holidays is often required.

Pay is important

ER veterinary technicians should expect to make a little more than a general practice veterinary technician given the multiple differences mentioned so far. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, veterinary technicians can expect to make an average of $34,430, based on 2018 statistics. The lowest 10 percent earn less than $23,490 while the highest 10 percent earn more than $50,010. With specialization qualifications, those numbers will increase.

Where can I work?

There are different types of practices that technicians who enjoy emergency medicine can work.

  • Specialty hospital: Bigger cities usually have a specialty referral hospital. Here, board-certified veterinarians such as surgeons, internists, dermatologists, ophthalmologists, radiologists, oncologists, and dentists, often share a large facility with an emergency and critical care team. Some of these hospitals have doctors who are board-certified in emergency and critical care. Many primary care veterinarians refer their critical cases to these specialty hospitals.
  • Teaching hospital: Most veterinary schools have a teaching hospital which has a full-service specialty hospital. The difference here is that there are different students rotating through year-round. Veterinary technicians help with the training of veterinary students and veterinary technician students as they rotate through the various specialties.
  • Urgent care: Many areas have urgent care clinics. These clinics have extended hours and may or may not be open all night. Some are open only when the local primary care veterinarians are closed. These clinics take care of patients overnight for the primary care practitioners, but they also take emergency walk-ins similar to an ER.
  • Local animal emergency room: This is your typical 24/7/365 animal emergency room. Not necessarily fancy but always available to see patients.


Specialization in emergency and critical care is discussed in more detail in this post. Vet techs who specialize, have the opportunity to use their skills in more advanced ways. They can also expect a higher salary. According to the Academy of Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care Technicians and Nurses, specialization is granted to individuals who have 3-5 years of ER experience, accumulation of continuing education, and advanced skills and knowledge in emergency medicine.

As you can see, veterinary technicians have endless options when it comes to where they want to focus their practice. Emergency and critical care is one of many and a great option for someone who enjoys the excitement and variability emergency medicine can provide.