veterinary nurse

How to become a veterinary nurse

What does a veterinary nurse do?

Veterinary nurses provide medical and surgical nursing care for animals receiving treatment in a veterinary practice. They work mainly with domestic animals, such as dogs, cats, rabbits and caged birds, but also with horses, farm animals and more exotic species such as snakes.

Nursing duties form the main part of the work. These include: holding animals and keeping them calm during treatment; giving injections and drugs (under direction of the vet); collecting blood, urine and other samples and carrying out in-house lab work; sterilising instruments; taking x-rays; preparing animals for operations; assisting during operations by handing instruments and maintaining levels of anaesthetic and carrying out minor procedures such as suture removal.

Other duties often include taking care of in-patients (feeding, watering, cleaning quarters, grooming and exercising); conducting clinics for suture removal, post-operation checks and second vaccinations; giving advice and information to owners about the care of their animals.

Some veterinary nurses undertake administrative duties, such as arranging appointments, keeping records, maintaining stocks of drugs and equipment, and dealing with bills and accounts.

Some veterinary practices employ nursing assistants, whose duties include feeding, cleaning and general care of animals, assisting in the consulting room, preparing animals for treatment, and preparing treatment areas.

What's the working environment like for a veterinary nurse?

Veterinary nurses work a 35 to 40 hour week, often with weekends and on-call duties. There may be opportunities for part-time work. Temporary work may be available, particularly during peak holiday periods.

The work is mainly indoors in all parts of the practice including reception, consulting rooms, the operating theatre, radiography room and hospital kennels. Employers usually provide uniforms and protective clothing.

What does it take to become a veterinary nurse?

To be a veterinary nurse you should:

  • care about animals without being too sentimental
  • be tactful and sympathetic in order to deal with upset or nervous owners
  • be adept at handling animals and at delicate tasks such as giving injections
  • be interested in sciences, particularly biology
  • be prepared to carry out messy or unpleasant tasks
  • have the stamina to cope with the physical and emotional demands of the job
  • be able to communicate effectively with owners and colleagues
  • have some administrative and keyboard skills.

In terms of qualifications you will need a Level 3 diploma in veterinary nursing. A foundation degree or degree in the same subject will also be valued when applying for jobs. It's important to also register with the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons. 

There may be possibilities to get into this job through an apprenticeship. As always, work experience is especially useful for this job. You could volunteer at your local vet, kennels, an animal welfare centre or with organisations like the RSPCA.

Veterinary nurse career opportunities

Most jobs are with vets in general practice, but employment is also available with: animal welfare societies like the PDSA (People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals), RSPCA or Blue Cross; veterinary hospitals; equine establishments; university veterinary schools and research establishments. A few veterinary nurses work in zoos and animal laboratories.

In general practice, it may be possible to progress to head nurse or practice manager. Some veterinary nurses work as managers in breeding or boarding establishments.

Veterinary nurses also move into related careers such as conducting clinical trials and product management with pharmaceutical companies or animal food manufacturers, or into lecturing and training.

It may be possible to work abroad with British qualifications.


Further information

If you would like to learn more about becoming a veterinary nurse that does not appear on Hotcourses, further information can be found below.

Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS)
VN Department
Belgravia House
62-64 Horseferry Road
Tel: 020 7222 2001

British Veterinary Nursing Association (BVNA)
Suite 11
Shenval House
South Road
CM20 2BD
Tel: 01279 450567

British Equine Veterinary Association (BEVA)
Wakefield House
46 High Street
Tel: 01223 836 970

Lantra House
Stoneleigh Park
Nr Coventry
Tel: 0845 707 8007

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