Veterinary Assistant

Career Diploma

Program Outline

Instruction Sets
Your program consists of nine Instruction Sets designed to take you step-by-step through the knowledge and skills you'll use in your new career.

Here's how it works
You receive the first course as soon as your enrollment has been accepted. Other Instruction Sets will follow as you complete your exams, so you will always have training materials to work with.

Computer Specifications
As you know this is an online academic program. This means you will need access to high-speed internet to begin your program. In addition, you will need access to a Microsoft® Windows® based computer running Windows® 10 or later or an Apple® Mac® computer running macOS® or later, access to a word processing program to complete written assignments, and an email account to complete this program.

Here is an overview of what you'll learn and the order in which you'll access your lessons:

Program Goal and Outcomes

Program Goal: The program goal for Penn Foster's Veterinary Assistant program to prepare students to work as veterinary assistants under the supervision of veterinarians and veterinary technicians in small or large animal hospitals or clinics. The program also prepares the students to take the national test to become an Approved Veterinary Assistant.

Program Outcomes:
Upon completion of the program, students will be able to:

  • Office and Hospital Procedures:
    • Front desk: Greet clients, demonstrate proper appointment scheduling and make appointments, prepare appropriate certificates for signature, admit and discharge patient, perform basic filing and retrieving of medical records, perform basic veterinary medical record-keeping procedures, demonstrate elementary computer skills, utilize basic medical terminology, and perform basic invoicing, billing, and payment on account procedures.
    • Telephone: Answer and direct phone call, Recognize and respond appropriately to veterinary medical emergencies, by notifying the appropriate hospital personnel, Request records and information from other veterinary facilities
    • Maintain basic cleanliness and orderliness of a veterinary facility: Inventory supplies, Restock Shelves, Maintain x-ray, surgery, and laboratory logs, Perform basic filing and retrieving of medical records, radiographs, lab reports, etc.
    • Demonstrate knowledge of basic cleaning techniques of animal kennels and bedding, examination rooms, hospital facilities, and surgical suites
  • Communication and Client Relations:
    • Develop effective client communication skills
    • Write business letters and professional electronic communication with clients
    • Understand ethical conduct in relationship to the day to day operations of a vet hospital
    • Describe the roles and responsibilities of each member of the veterinary health team and the important part that each plays in the delivery of excellent care
    • Professional conduct: Understand the human-animal bond and respond to clients in various stages of grief, demonstrate professional and appropriate appearance and language in the workplace, and demonstrate appropriate use of electronic communication in the workplace (cell phone usage, text messaging, social networking, digital photography, etc.).
  • Pharmacy and Pharmacology:
    • Legal Issues: Recognize legal issues involving drugs in the workplace, Recognize general types and groups of drugs and demonstrate proper terminology, Differentiate prescription drugs from over-the-counter drugs and describe proper prescription label requirements
    • Filling medications and inventory control: Label and package dispensed drugs correctly, Store, safely handle and dispose of biological and therapeutic agents, pesticides, and hazardous waste
    • Perform inventory control procedures including restocking supplies and checking expiration dates
    • Vaccinations: Reconstitute vaccines and be familiar with proper protocols, Describe possible routes and methods of drug and vaccine administration that the veterinarian or veterinary technician may choose and demonstrate appropriate small animal restraint for such protocols
  • Examination Room Procedures:
    • Restrain patients: small animals, restrain birds. rabbits, pocket pets, and exotics, large animals
    • Basic procedures: Determine and record temperature, pulse, respiration, body condition score, and weight of patients, capillary refill time and normal mucous membrane evaluation, take accurate history and report chief complaint, trim nails (required: cats and dogs; optional: birds and exotics), express anal sacs using the external method, identify external parasites (mites, lice, fleas, and ticks), recognize AKC dog breeds and CFA cat breeds, be able to properly identify the gender of small animal species, particularly felines, perform exam room grooming (i.e., trimming nails, external ear canal cleaning, etc.), apply external medications (eye and ear), and be familiar with small animal nutritional requirements, pet food labeling standards, dry matter basis calculations, and the differences between pet food products.
  • Small Animal Nursing (Large Animal Nursing--Optional):
    • Safety Concerns: Demonstrate knowledge of basic normal and abnormal animal behavior, Utilize patient & personnel safety measures
    • Identify potential Zoonotic diseases, Describe isolation procedures, Describe hazardous waste disposal, Describe basic sanitation, Be familiar with OSHA standards
    • Animal care: Provide routine record-keeping and observation of hospitalized patients, i.e. stress importance of notations made when cleaning and feeding, demonstrate a basic understanding of small animal anatomy, common diseases, and common medical conditions, monitor/restrain patients for fluid therapy and record observations, perform hand pilling and administer oral medication (dog, cat), demonstrate understanding of treatment plan, apply and remove bandages to/from healthy animals (equine leg and tail wraps are optional), perform therapeutic bathing, basic grooming, and dipping of small animals, clean external ear canals, prepare food and prescription diets—be aware of any special dietary needs, clean and disinfect cages and kennels (stalls are optional), provide care and maintenance of nursing equipment, and demonstrate an understanding of euthanasia and post-mortem care.
  • Surgical Preparation and Assisting:
    • Assist in performing surgical preparations: Prepare surgical equipment/supplies, Sterilize instruments & supplies using appropriate methods, Identify common instruments, Identify common suture materials, types, and sizes, Assist the veterinarian and/or veterinary technician with preparation of patients using aseptic technique, Operate and maintain autoclaves, Describe operating room sanitation and care, Assist with positioning of surgical patients, Aid the veterinarian/and or veterinary technician with physical monitoring of recovering surgical patients, Maintain the surgical log
    • Facility and Equipment Cleanliness: Maintain proper operating room conduct and asepsis, Perform post-surgical clean up, Fold surgical gowns and drapes
    • Have knowledge of: Surgical equipment, Surgical room and prep area, Instrument cleaning and care, Proper disposal of hazardous medical wastes
  • Laboratory Procedures:
    • Assistance in the laboratory: Collect voided urine samples, determine physical properties of urine including color and clarity, assist in the collection of blood samples for procedures, collect voided fecal samples for examination, prepare fecal flotation solutions and set up fecal flotations and direct smears, understand the role of the veterinary assistant in necropsy procedures, explain how to handle rabies suspects and samples safely, handle disposal of deceased animals, and assist in the preparation of various specimen staining techniques.
    • Laboratory record keeping: Ensure all laboratory results are accurately recorded, stock laboratory supplies, file laboratory reports, and maintain laboratory log.
  • Radiology and Ultrasound Imaging:
    • Follow recommended safety measures, assist the veterinarian and/or the veterinary technician in the completion of diagnostic radiographs and ultrasound including the restraint and positioning of patients, process diagnostic radiographs using manual dipping tank, automatic processor, or digital processing, maintain quality control, label, file, and store film and/or digital radiographs, properly care for equipment, and maintain x-ray log.

Starting Your Program

Starting Your Program
Succeed by learning how to use your Penn Foster program. Understand how to use your Student Portal. Access the Penn Foster Community and use it to find answers. Connect with Penn Foster on various social media sites.

Behavior, Handling, and Restraint

Introduction to Animal Care
Career opportunities in animal care; certification; animal care skills.

Learning Aid: eBook: Textbook for the Veterinary Assistant

Types of animal behavior; role of the Veterinary Assistant in behavior counseling; common animal behavior problems.

Handling and Restraint
Handling and restraint of dogs, cats, birds, horses, and other animals; transporting animals.

Handling and Restraint
Handling and Restraint of the Horse

Body Systems and Terminology, Part 1

Introduction to Veterinary Terminology
Anatomical and veterinary procedure terminology; metric terms and abbreviations.

Skeletal and Muscular Systems
Anatomy and physiology overview; skeletal system structure and function; joints; muscular system structure and function; muscle groups and muscle physiology; skeletal muscle functions.

Integumentary, Circulatory, and Respiratory Systems
Integumentary system structures; the cardiovascular system; blood and other bodily fluids; the lymphatic system; respiratory system structure and processes.

Supplement: Audios to help with the pronunciation of terminology.

Body Systems and Terminology, Part 2

Digestive, Reproductive, and Urinary Systems
The digestive system; accessory digestive organs; the reproductive systems; the urinary system.

Nervous System, Sensory Organs, and Endocrine System
The nervous system; the sensory organs; endocrine system.

Learning Aid: Anatomy Charts

Nutrition, History, and Physical Examination

Nutrients; pet foods; methods of feeding; anorexic animals; dietary management.

Reproduction and Aging
Classification by breeds; reproductive cycles; gestation; aging.

Avian and Reptile Anatomy
Functions of the major body systems; components of avian body systems.

History and Physical Examination
The chart; systems history; observation, palpation, auscultation; client education.

Video: Physical Examination and Bandage Care

Cat Breeds
Dog Breeds

Emergency and Wound Care

Vaccination; vaccination schedules; adverse reaction to vaccines.

Emergency Care
Common emergencies; wounds; fractures; exposure; triage; shock; crisis intervention.

Wound Care and Management
Types of wounds; healing; wound care; bandaging techniques; casts and slings.

Small and Large Animal Nursing

Clinical Parasitology
Types of parasites; ectoparasites and endoparasites; testing for parasites.

Small and Large Animal Nursing, Parts 1 & 2
Administering oral medications; assisting with the administration of injections; nursing newborns; geriatric care.

Veterinary Pharmacology
Introduction to veterinary pharmacology; techniques of drug administration; types of drugs.

Video: Small Animal Nursing

Radiology and Surgical Preparation

Safety; radiography; ultrasonography; caring for equipment.

Instrumentation and Principles of Aseptic Technique
Small and large instruments; surgical packs; cleaning and sterilization; patient preparation.

Surgical and Anesthetic Preparation
The assistant’s role; animal surgery; surgical preparation; assisting with anesthesia administration; post-surgical cleanup.

Video: Radiology, Anesthetic, and Surgical Preparation

Veterinary Practice Administration and Procedures

Veterinary Practice and Administration
Veterinary staff roles; procedure and personnel manuals; facility cleanliness and safety; inventory and supplies; records and logs; admission and discharge; records retrieval and protection; basic filing systems and equipment; screening and processing mail.

Interpersonal Communication
Basic elements of communication; essential personality traits; professional interactions with clients; prejudice, insensitivity, and discrimination; barriers to effective communication; improving your speech; stress and defense mechanisms.

General Accounting Practices
Basic accounting terminology; common accounting systems in veterinary offices; doctors’ fees and fee policies; accepting and declining checks; extending credit on accounts receivable; adjusting or cancelling fees; billing statements and collection letters; deposit slips and bank statements; petty cash; payroll data.

Practical Exercise: Veterinary Practice Procedures
Practical applications for accounting, interpersonal communications, and office administration skills.

Veterinary Assistant Externship

This course introduces the student to the Veterinary Assistant externship. The goal of this clinical externship is to provide you with the hands-on experience necessary to develop the skills you’ll need to work as a veterinary assistant. You’ll practice under the direct supervision of a licensed veterinarian or credentialed veterinary technician. This externship consists of 100 hours of clinical experience in a full-service companion animal practice to be completed in 8 to 16 weeks.


Online Library and Librarian
Students in Penn Foster have access to an online library for use during their studies. Students can use this library to do the required research in the courses they complete or can use it for general reference and links to valuable resources. The library contains helpful research assistance, articles, databases, books, and Web links. A librarian is available to answer questions on general research-related topics via email and to assist students in research activities during their studies with Penn Foster College International.

You must be 18 years old and have a high school diploma or GED to enroll in this program.

We reserve the right to change program content and materials when it becomes necessary.

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