Veterinary Assistant Program NAVTA Approved

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Veterinary Assistant School at Penn Foster

NAVTA-approved Veterinary Assistant Program

If you love working with animals, begin your career at Penn Foster's Veterinary Assistant School. Complete your NAVTA-approved Veterinary Assistant Program in as little as six months.

Our Veterinary Assistant Program is one of two online programs in the US with approval from National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America (NAVTA). When you graduate from Penn Foster, you will be prepared to join the veterinary workforce. At the end of the Penn Foster Vet Assistant program, you are eligible, but not required, to sit for the Approved Veterinary Assistant examination. Upon successful completion of the exam you will earn the title of Approved Veterinary Assistant.

Our accredited, NAVTA approved program includes everything you’ll need to prepare for a new career, all at a pace that’s right for you. We'll help you succeed with expert instruction from dedicated instructors, such as Amanda Teter, VMD, graduate of University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, Ann Barr, CVT, Laboratory Animal Technician and Technologist, and Kathy Ruane, CVT, Laboratory Animal Technician from Animal Health Technology at Harcum College. You'll learn the skills and get the hands-on-training you need to work side-by-side with a veterinary team tending to the needs of animals.

While Veterinary Assistants are not required to be a graduate of a NAVTA approved program, based on a recent employer survey, 87% of Veterinary practices are more likely to hire a Veterinary Assistant who graduated from a NAVTA approved program.

(Citation: Penn Foster. "Veterinary Technician and Assistant Employer Survey." 22 Aug 2014.)

Curriculum Details

Unit 1

Starting Your Program

Succeed by learning how to use your Penn Foster program.


  • Understand how to use your Student Portal, including your My Homepage and My Courses pages.
  • Access the Penn Foster Community and use it to find answers.
  • Connect with Penn Foster on various social media sites.
Introduction to Animal Care


  • Recognize the types of veterinary practices.
  • Identify the veterinary health-care team.
  • Understand veterinary practice design.
Additional Unit Material

Learning Aid: eBook: Textbook for the Veterinary Assistant

Unit 2



  • Recognize types of animal behavior.
  • Understand the role of the veterinary assistant in behavior counseling.
  • Identify common animal behavior problems.
Handling and Restraint


  • Understand how to handle, restrain, and transport dogs, cats, birds, horses, and other animals.
Additional Unit Material


  • Handling and Restraint
  • Handling and Restraint of the Horse

Unit 3

Introduction to Veterinary Terminology


  • Recognize, understand, and pronounce anatomical and veterinary procedure terminology.
  • Understand metric terms and abbreviations.
Skeletal and Muscular Systems


  • Identify the anatomical terms to correctly indicate the orientation and location of animal body parts.
  • Recognize cells, tissues, organs, and organ systems, both structurally and functionally.
  • Understand the four major classes of joints and explain how they function.
Integumentary, Circulatory, and Respiratory Systems


  • Describe the structure and function of skin and the animal’s fur.
  • Identify the glands and their secretions.
  • Explain the structural and functional differences between the organs of the upper and lower respiratory system.
  • Understand how the lungs and the parts of the respiratory system work together to supply oxygen to the body’s cells.
Additional Unit Material

Audios to help with the pronunciation of terminology.

Unit 4

Digestive, Reproductive, and Urinary Systems


  • Identify the organs of the digestive system and explain the structure and function of each part.
  • Compare the structure of the stomach and large intestine of carnivores and herbivores.
  • Recognize the organs of male and female reproductive systems and the events that occur during fertilization.
  • Explain the anatomy and functions of the urinary system.
Nervous System, Sensory Organs, and Endocrine System


  • Understand the organization of the nervous system and how the nervous system receives and interprets.
  • Recognize the four senses and their primary functions, which are to provide animals with an awareness of their environment and assist them in their survival. 
  • Understand the function of the endocrine system and the major glands and hormones that maintain body homeostasis.
Additional Unit Material

Learning Aid: Anatomy Charts

Unit 5



  • Understand proper nutrition for animals.
  • Recognize the veterinary assistant’s role in nutritional care.
Reproduction and Aging


  • Understand the reproductive systems of the male and female animal.
  • Know how to care for the aging animal.
Avian and Reptile Anatomy


  • Understand the unique anatomies of birds and reptiles.
  • Identify the body systems common to all reptiles.
History and Physical Examination


  • Understand how to take a good medical history.
  • Know how to perform a thorough physical examination.
  • Assist the veterinarian with the animal patient in ways that are humane, safe, and effective.
Additional Unit Material

Video: Physical Examination and Bandage Care


  • Cat Breeds
  • Dog Breeds

Unit 6



  • Identify what vaccines exist.
  • Understand how vaccines work.
  • Know when a vaccination is necessary.
Emergency Care


  • Know how to handle telephone calls from pet owners.
  • Understand how to advise owners how to transport injured animals, and how to provide appropriate first aid in transport.
  • Understand how to evaluate patients.
  • Recognize the signs of common emergency problems.
  • Participate in basic cardiopulmonary resuscitation.
Wound Care and Management


  • Recognize the different types of wounds.
  • Explain how a wound heals and the factors that affect wound healing.
  • Know how to care for wounds.
  • Identify the proper way to maintain, change, and remove bandages, splints, casts, and slings.

Unit 7

Clinical Parasitology


  • Understand parasites and parasitology.
  • Identify the different types of animal parasites.
  • Diagnose, treat, and prevent parasites.
Small and Large Animal Nursing, Parts 1 & 2


  • Know how to monitor the animal.
  • Observe the animal’s habits and behaviors.
  • Learn the requirements, routes, procedures, and concerns of fluid administration.
  • Understand the most common procedures used in veterinary sample collection and diagnosis.
  • Identify the treatment procedures involved in veterinary nursing.
  • Know the physical therapy concerns and methods most relevant to the duties of a veterinary assistant.
  • Understand the principles and procedures of dog and cat dental prophylaxis.
  • Know the concerns and procedures of pediatric, geriatric, and routine animal health care.
Veterinary Pharmacology


  • Explain what veterinary drugs are, where they come from, and who regulates them. 
  • Understand how drugs enter the body, and how to ensure that the right amount enters.
  • Identify drugs used for infection, inflammation, vital organs, body systems, disease prevention, and hormone regulation.
Additional Unit Material

Video: Small Animal Nursing

Unit 8



  • Know the principles of radiology and the veterinary assistant's role in radiology
  • Prepare patients for radiographic and ultrasound examination
  • Learn the safety measures and guidelines for radiographic procedures
  • Label, file, and store radiographs
Instrumentation and Principles of Aseptic Technique


  • Recognize various surgical instruments.
  • Understand how to clean, sterilize (eliminate all bacteria, fungi, and viruses), and maintain the instruments.
  • Know how to care for the operating room and its equipment.
Surgical and Anesthetic Preparation


  • Understand the general process of admitting a patient to a hospital and the importance of a good relationship with the animal’s owner.
  • Identify some commonly performed surgical procedures and how to prepare an animal for surgery.
  • Recognize anesthetic drugs and how they’re used.
  • Explain the anesthetic process, and how an animal is monitored and maintained under anesthesia.
  • Know how to function as part of a surgical team.
Additional Unit Material

Video: Radiology, Anesthetic, and Surgical Preparation

Unit 9

Veterinary Practice and Administration


  • Order and maintain office inventory and supplies
  • Admit and discharge patients and prepare appropriate release forms and certificates
  • Know the role of the veterinary assistant within a typical veterinary practice
Interpersonal Communication


  • Learn successful interpersonal communication skills
  • Use appropriate professional interpersonal skills when dealing with clients
  • Discover the personality traits that are essential for interoffice relations
General Accounting Practices


  • Use basic accounting principles to keep accurate records of office financial transactions.
  • Prepare billing statements and collection letters
  • Write checks, complete deposit slips, and reconcile bank statements
Practical Exercise: Veterinary Practice Procedures


  • Apply your knowledge of accounting, interpersonal communication, and office administration to real-life situations

Unit 10


Students complete an 8-week externship at an animal clinic. It is the responsibility of the student to secure a site for his/her externship.

Computer Specifications
You will need high-speed internet access to begin your program. You will need access to a Microsoft® Windows® based computer running Windows XP® or later or an Apple® Mac® computer running OS X® or later, and an email account to complete your program with Penn Foster.

Working as a veterinary assistant is physically demanding. Veterinary assistants must be able to walk and stand for long periods of time. The ability to reach, bend, climb, and crouch is needed to perform job responsibilities. Other requirements include the ability to lift and carry 50 pounds without assistance, to see, to speak (in English), and to hear well enough to communicate observations about animals, and to possess arm and hand steadiness — as well as finger dexterity — to operate equipment and work with animals.
This program requires an externship. It is the responsibility of the student to secure a site for the externship. Students are required to have health insurance during the externship.
We reserve the right to change program content and materials when it becomes necessary.
Microsoft and Windows are trademarks of Microsoft Corporation registered in the United States of America and/or other jurisdictions.
Apple, Mac, and OS X are trademarks of Apple, Inc registered in the United States of America and/or other jurisdictions.

Sample Lesson

To view a Veterinary Assistant sample lesson, click here.

Veterinary Assistant Program Details

Penn Foster will help you gain the knowledge, skills, and hands-on training you need to become a vet assistant. Your training and curriculum is aligned with the NAVTA standards for veterinary assistants. You will be prepared to:

  • Monitor and care for animals after surgery
  • Maintain and sterilize surgical instruments and equipment
  • Help provide emergency first aid and medication to sick or injured animals
  • Obtain animal health histories and records

Here are a few qualities that skilled veterinary assistants have in common:

  • Compassionate: You care about others and animals hold a special place in your heart.
  • Strong under pressure: Vet Assistants must manage stress and keep their emotions out of difficult situations to best help their animal patients.
  • Detail oriented: It’s important to have a sharp eye and check things twice.
  • Investigative: The challenge that comes with helping animals is incredibly rewarding for those that are curious and eager to learn.

I found Penn Foster to provide everything that they promised. I completed the Veterinary Assistant Program and plan on taking another program in the future to further my education.

Barbara C., Veterinary Assistant Graduate

Penn Foster is a great school with amazing people who always help and work with you through ANY situation. I experienced a fire in my home, and Penn Foster was there for me to cope through the situation.

Claudia D., Veterinary Assistant Graduate

Penn Foster is a wonderful school. I am so thankful. I was glad that I was able to complete my program online and spend time with my family, and not be stuck in a classroom. I had some life changing events and Penn Foster was wonderful and understanding about what was going on. I will probably continue with this school to get my degree to become a Veterinary Technician.

Kate M., Veterinary Assistant Graduate

We make sure you have everything you need:

  • Graduate debt free with 0% interest
  • Books and learning aids included
  • Hands-on experience with your externship
  • Study Planner App to customize your study plans and keep track of your progress
  • Instructional support from our world-class faculty
  • Access 24/7 to Penn Foster’s online campus, plus immediate membership in the Veterinary Assistant academic group
  • Your personalized online student homepage and learning portal
  • Additional resources such as our online library and career guidance from Career Cruising

What's the difference between the Veterinary Assistant and Veterinary Technician programs? How do the actual jobs differ?

The Veterinary Assistant Career Diploma Program trains students to work in a veterinary clinic helping to assist in daily non-medical activities such as setting appointments, billing, clipping the animals nails, etc.

The Veterinary Technician Associate Degree Program focuses on training students to help treat the illnesses and injuries of animals under the supervision of a licensed veterinarian.

Does Penn Foster provide any assistance in finding an externship location?

It is the students responsibility, but the academic team at Penn Foster will provide resources and tips.

More FAQs >

¹ Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, Veterinary Assistants and Laboratory Animal Caretakers, on the Internet here.

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