The Role of the Veterinary Care Assistant in a Veterinary Practice

We are often asked by our students about the roles undertaken by a Veterinary Care Assistant and also what is permissible by law. The following is a summary of the key jobs undertaken by Veterinary Care Assistants in practice with notes on the legislative aspects that are important. Queries should be directed to your mentor or course tutor regarding any of the points raised.

Legislation

All members of staff employed or volunteering within a veterinary practice must work under rules set out by the Veterinary Surgeons Act 1966. This legislation is in place to ensure the welfare of animals and prevent unqualified persons from performing techniques potentially detrimental to the health of a pet.

Under this legislation a Veterinary Care Assistant (VCA) may not:

  • Diagnose diseases in, or injuries to, animals or give advice to clients based on such a diagnosis.
  • Treat animals either medically or surgically

However, it is permissible for a VCA to administer emergency first aid to a patient to save it’s life or relieve pain and suffering under Schedule 3 of the Veterinary Surgeons Act 1966. In addition, there are certain areas where the Veterinary Surgeons Act allows a suitably trained person to perform particular tasks under the direction or supervision of a veterinary surgeon. More information is found in the specific sections below.

Common Duties of a VCA in practice

The role of the VCA will vary dramatically between practices. In practices where a number of registered Veterinary Nurses (RVN) are employed the VCA will often have a defined role assisting them in their duties. In those practices where no RVNs are present, then the role of the VCA tends to become wider, with potential implications under the Veterinary Surgeons Act 1966.

With all tasks it important to ensure that you are adequately trained by your mentor at the veterinary practice and are familiar with the practice protocols in place. If in doubt always ASK – there is never a silly question and it is far better to get something correct the first time! Information is also found within the lecture notes for each area of the VCA course available on the VLE.

Cleaning

This is probably the most common task undertaken by a VCA and one to which you will no doubt become very quickly accustomed! Each practice will have their own protocols related to how kennels are cleaned and set up which you should ensure you are familiar with. In addition, make sure that you are aware of relevant health and safety legislation and other regulations related to the procedure involved.

Reception Duties

VCAs are often found helping with reception duties, especially in smaller practices which have no full time reception staff. When on reception you are often the first staff member a client will come into contact with, so professional behaviour and dress is essential at all times. You should be aware of all relevant practice protocols and should not enter into discussions with a client regarding potential diagnoses or treatment of their pet. If ever unsure then seek advice from a veterinary surgeon or RVN.

Further training in customer service is available at CAW on our Level 2 Certificate in Customer Service or Level 3 Diploma in Customer Service Courses.

Medications

As a VCA you may be involved in handling medications and helping with stock control.

Supply of medication to clients

A VCA should not be involved in the prescribing of any medications to clients for their pets and should always seek the advice of a veterinary surgeon or SQP (see below) should a client request this. VCAs can supply any products in the AVM-GSL category and will often do so when working on reception. If ever you are unsure then check with either a vet or RVN prior to supplying the client.

Dispensing drugs once they have been prescribed, and subsequently handing them to the client is often the role of a VCA. Ensuring that you are familiar with the necessary legislation regarding different categories of drug is key, as well as following the directions provided by the vet or SQP for the administration of the drug. Queries should not be dealt with by a VCA but referred back to the vet or SQP who prescribed the item.

You may wish to undertake a Suitably Qualified Person (SQP) Course to become an Animal Medical Advisor. This allows you to prescribe and supply certain medicines (categories POM-VPS and NFS-VPS). We do not currently offer this course at CAW but for further details see www.amtra.org.uk.

In-patient treatment

In busy practices a VCA may be asked to help with administering medication to inpatients. Occasionally this can also extend to out-patients during consultations with their owners. A VCA may only give treatment that has been prescribed by a veterinary surgeon for the animal in question and only by the oral (tablet, liquid, paste) or topical (spot-on, shampoo, cream) routes. Administration of medication should be carried out only under the direction of a vet and should be performed only if a vet or RVN is available to help should there be any problems during or subsequent to administration. Injections of any form (including flushing IV cannulas) are considered an act of veterinary surgery and may only be carried out by a vet or an RVN/student RVN under Schedule 3 of the Veterinary Surgeons Act 1966.

Animal Care

This may take the form of assisting with restraint, setting up kennels for inpatients or doing basic checks on animals staying in the practice. Ensure you are familiar with how to do each task before attempting it, both for your own safety, that of other staff members and obviously that of the patient.

Some tasks commonly performed by a VCA include:

  • Restraining for blood tests, injections, claw clipping etc.
  • Monitoring in-patients including temperature, pulse, respiration rates, as well as urine and faeces output. Additionally the VCA may also be asked to check intravenous fluids, bandages or wounds affecting the patient. This should all be under the direction and supervision of a veterinary surgeon or RVN.
  • Providing appropriate food and water for patients as directed by the veterinary surgeon or RVN
  • Administering oral and topical medications and monitoring for side effects. See notes above regarding medications.
  • Providing a suitable environment for in-patients. This includes suitable choice of kennel, bedding and stress management.
  • Grooming of in-patients, ensuring that you are aware of individual needs as well as species/breed considerations related to this.

Anaesthesia

In some circumstances a VCA may be asked to assist with the monitoring of anaesthesia, usually if there are a limited number of, or no RVNs present. VCAs should be aware of the following:

  • A VCA may NOT induce anaesthesia by any means. This should be done by a veterinary surgeon.
  • A VCA may assist the veterinary surgeon in the monitoring of anaesthesia assuming they are suitably trained and confident to do so. They should act as the veterinary surgeons hands only and should not make decisions related to changing the anaesthetic themselves. The ultimate responsibility for monitoring and maintaining the anaesthetic is that of the veterinary surgeon.
  • The RCVS state that the most suitably qualified person to assist the veterinary surgeon with anaesthesia is an RVN or supervised student RVN.

As with all tasks, it is essential that you are aware of how to monitor an anaesthetised patient correctly and safely to ensure the welfare of the animals involved.

We offer a distance learning Level 2 course in Monitoring Anaesthesia for non-veterinary nurses should you wish to learn more about this topic.

Claw Clipping

Straight forward claw clipping for all small animal species, including reptiles and birds may be carried out by a VCA assuming they are suitably trained in performing the procedure safely and are familiar with particular difficulties within an individual species. Any defects found whilst clipping an animal’s claws must always be shown to a veterinary surgeon and the clinical notes checked prior to performing claw clipping.

Microchipping

This is a procedure most commonly performed by the veterinary surgeon or registered veterinary nurse but sometimes VCAs will be asked to undertake further training in order to be able to take on this role.

In order to be able to implant microchips into dogs, cats, rabbits or ferret, a veterinary care assistant must have undertaken and passed an approved microchip training course, such as the Level 3 Award in Implantation of Identification Microchips in Animals.

Miscellaneous

Good communication between all members of a practice team is essential and is required of both vets and RVNs/student RVNs according to their professional codes of practice. A VCA should ensure they communicate effectively with all members of staff since it allows a high quality of patient care and helps to prevent mistakes occurring.

As a VCA and member of a veterinary practice team you should be aware that your behaviour and dress whilst at work reflects on the practice and the image it portrays to the community. Client confidentiality should be maintained at all times and equally, ‘practice gossip’ should not be discussed with individuals outside work including drug reps or students visiting the practice. Should there be concerns related to animal welfare however, these should be discussed with your practice manager, or alternatively with your course tutor.