Veterinary Assistant Program – NAVTA Approved | Penn Foster Career School

Veterinary Assistant Program

Why Penn Foster Career School?

  • Regionally & Nationally Accredited
  • Self-Paced
  • Supportive
  • Low monthly payments

Online Program Overview

NAVTA-approved Veterinary Assistant Program

If you love working with animals, take the first step towards your new career and learn to become a veterinarian assistant with the NAVTA-approved Veterinary Assistant program at Penn Foster Career School. Our online program allows you to complete your education in as little as seven months - all from the comfort of your own home.

You can study for our Vet Assistant program at home or on the go, all at a pace that’s right for you. You’ll be guided through the program 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. In our veterinary assistant courses, you'll learn the skills and get the hands-on veterinary assistant training you need to tend to the needs of animals. Our students may be able to secure their externship site at a veterinary practice near them, or through our partnership with one of the largest veterinary hospitals in the country, VCA Animal Hospitals.

While Veterinary Assistants are not required to be a graduate of a NAVTA-approved veterinary assistant school, based on a recent employer survey, 87% of Veterinary practices are more likely to hire a graduate of a NAVTA-approved veterinary assistant program.

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

Curriculum Details

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:

  • Demonstrate effective written and interpersonal communication skills
  • Demonstrate a high level of inquiry, analytical, and problem-solving skills
  • Demonstrate effective quantitative skills
  • Demonstrate computer and information literacy skills
  • Office and Hospital Procedures:
    • Front Desk: Greet Clients, Demonstrate proper Appointment Scheduling and make appointments, Prepare appropriate certificates for signature, Admit patient, Perform basic filing and retrieving of medical records, Perform basic veterinary medical record keeping procedures, Demonstrate elementary computer skills, Utilize basic medical terminology, 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, Demonstrate professional and appropriate appearance and language in the workplace, 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
    • 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.
    • 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 common diseases and medical conditions,
    • Monitor/restrain patients for fluid therapy and record observations, Perform hand pilling (dog, cat), Demonstrate understanding of treatment plan
    • Apply and remove bandages to 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 & prescription diets - be aware of any special dietary needs
    • Clean & disinfect cages and kennels (stalls are optional)
    • Provide care and maintenance of nursing equipment
    • Demonstrate an understanding of the 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, Assist the DVM or veterinary technician in necropsy procedures, Explain how to handle rabies suspects and samples safely, Handle disposal of deceased animals
    • Laboratory Record Keeping: Ensure all laboratory results are accurately recorded, Stock laboratory supplies, File laboratory reports
  • 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, Use hand OR automatic processing in darkroom, Maintain quality control, Label, file, and store film and radiographs Properly care for equipment, Clean screens, Know safety techniques for handling processing chemicals

Unit 1

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.
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
As you know this is an online academic program. This means you will need high-speed internet access to begin your program. In addition, you will need access to a Microsoft® Windows® based computer running Windows 7® or later or an Apple® Mac® computer running OS X® or later, and an email account to participate in and complete your program.

Sample Lesson

To view a Veterinary Assistant training sample lesson, click here.

Veterinary Assistant Program Details

Penn Foster Career School will help you gain the knowledge, skills, and hands-on training that can help you take steps towards your goal of becoming a certified veterinary assistant. Your training and curriculum is aligned with the NAVTA standards for veterinary assistants. Your program will cover how to:

State Licensing Information

Licensing and/or certification requirements for jobs in this field are not the same in every state and may include educational, testing, and/or experiential requirements beyond those offered by your Penn Foster Program. You should contact the state professional licensing board or similar regulatory body in the state(s) where you plan to work to determine their requirements before enrolling in your Program. Please click here for contact information for state licensing/regulatory boards and certain industry licensing information.

Penn Foster Career School is not approved or regulated as a school by the Maryland Higher Education Commission.

Veterinary Assistant Career Training

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

Your program includes:

  • Customized payment plans with 0% interest
  • Books and learning aids
  • Hands-on experience with your externship through a private practice near you, or through our partnership with VCA Animal Hospitals
  • Goal-setting and progress-tracking tools
  • Instructional support from our experienced faculty
  • Access 24/7 to Penn Foster’s online community, 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 Penn Foster Career School Veterinary Assistant and Penn Foster College Veterinary Technician programs? How do the actual jobs differ?

The Penn Foster Career School 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 Penn Foster College 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. Penn Foster College is licensed in the state of Arizona.

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

Though Penn Foster Career School provides students with the tools and resources to obtain an externship site, it is the student's responsibility to ultimately find a suitable location for the externship. As part of our partnership with VCA Animal Hospitals, students may obtain required practical experience at participating hospitals, but it is the student's responsibility to check with the hospitals in their area.

More FAQs >

This program requires the student to complete an externship prior to completing the program. Students will be required to obtain health insurance prior to the start of their externship. All costs associated with the externships are the responsibility of the student. Students are asked to identify their externship site and are expected to complete a minimum of 75 hours of practice. The Vet Clinical Coordinator validates that the placement is in a viable environment that provides an opportunity for students to demonstrate the required competencies.

Find us on Google+