Veterinary nurses help assess, treat and care for sick and injured animals. They also interact with clients and perform receptionist duties.
Veterinary nurses with up to five years' experience usually earn
$20-$21 per hour
Veterinary nurses with five years' experience or more usually earn
$21-$26 per hour
Source: NZ Veterinary Nursing Association, 2019.
Pay for veterinary nurses varies depending on qualifications, experience and employer.
- Veterinary nurses with up to five years' experience usually earn between minimum wage and $21 an hour.
- Veterinary nurses with five years' experience or more can earn $21 to $26 an hour.
Source: New Zealand Veterinary Nursing Association, 2019.
- PAYE.net.nz website - use this calculator to convert pay and salary information
- Employment New Zealand website - information about minimum wage rates
(This information is a guide only. Find out more about the sources of our pay information)
What you will do
Veterinary nurses may do some or all of the following:
- perform duties, such as taking and developing x-rays, collecting blood samples, and testing animals for pregnancy, under the direction of veterinarians
- assist during surgical procedures, including monitoring the anaesthetic
- clean, sterilise and prepare surgical instruments and other equipment used during operations
- perform diagnostic tests and keep records
- feed and exercise animals
- carry out administrative and receptionist duties at a clinic and give advice to clients over the phone
- clean the cages and surgery areas, and carry out general cleaning duties
- accompany and assist veterinarians on call-outs to locations such as houses and farms.
Skills and knowledge
Veterinary nurses need to have:
- animal-handling skills
- knowledge of basic science, including the anatomy and physiology of animals
- Knowledge of veterinary equipment and testing methods
- knowledge of animal care, hygiene and medicines.
- may work regular business hours or flexible hours. They may have to be on call, do shift work, and work on weekends
- work in veterinary clinics or surgeries and other locations such as farms and stables
- may have to travel locally to visit clients, especially if working in a rural area.
What's the job really like?
What do you love about being a veterinary nurse?
"Getting to know the client and getting to look after their pet like it was one of your own. Pets aren't just another cat or just another dog – they're living, breathing creatures."
What's a downside of the job?
"It's really hard when you're faced with an animal that's really sick and the owner has no money to treat it. That can be tough because as a nurse you want to make everything better."
What qualities do veterinary nurses need?
"You've got to love people and pets, and you've got to be able to build that relationship with a client. You’ve got to have really good listening skills and you've got to be compassionate."
What advice can you give people thinking about this career?
"It's fun playing with puppies, but it's not all about that. It's about dealing with the poor farm dog that's been constipated for three days and needs a stinky enema. And it's cleaning up after the dog that's vomiting after eating rat bait.
"Go out there and get exposed to that. Veterinary nursing is an amazing career and an amazing profession, but if you can't cope with the sight of blood, for example, it can be quite raw sometimes."
Veterinary nurse video
Grace talks about what it’s like to be a veterinary nurse – 4.24 mins
Working at the SPCA is quite different to working at a private practice.
You naughty little puppies.
At SPCA we deal with a lot of stray animals. Whereas in a private practice you are solely based on client animals. As a Vet Nurse we don’t just assist the Vet. My main responsibility is to ensure that all the animals within the centre are as comfortable as possible. It’s really important to minimise fear and stress in animals that are here because they are in a new environment. Some of them are injured. Some of them have come from abusive situations. In my job we do switch between roles each week. One week we’ll be in hospital and the next on surgery, and then assessments and then consult nurse so it’s very varied. In surgery we admit patients, get everything ready, give the animals a check over, pre medicate them and then we monitor them closely under anaesthetic.
So this dog is getting castrated and his hernia repaired. So I’m just shaving it and then giving it a wash to sterilise the site.
We also work as the assessment nurse and we basically triage all the incoming animals. When the animal comes into the centre we assess their behaviour, check them over, give them vaccination, flea and worming treatment.
There you go.
They get a good check over by the Vet. Then we write down all the details about the animal, advertise them on Lost Pet, and then they are either taken down to hospital if they need vet treatment or their taken to quarantine where they go for their seven day stray hold.
This is Rupert. So he’s had one eye removed and he has also had surgery on the other eye. He’s been in our care for a couple of months and he’s about to be adopted out.
So hospital is where the animals come that need a little bit more care and medical treatment. When we are in charge of hospital we come in and see what needs to be done first. We also have volunteers, so we need to assign them tasks and then it’s important to give all the animals their pain relief get all the food ready for all the animals, we feed them, medicate them, we clean their litter tray, we clean up their cages, and then write down on the monitoring sheet everything so we can keep track of how they are going and then throughout the day as the hospital nurse you basically assisting the Vet doing whatever procedure and things that needs to be done in hospital, blood test, cytology, urine tests as well.
So we are one of the only SPCA centres that does have a private vet clinic. So we do private nurse consults as well.
No day here is the same, you don’t know what animals are going to come in, and in what condition. One week I’ll be working eight to five, and the next ten to seven. Some weeks we do work seven days in a row. and the next week we’ll do three.
It’s definitely not just cuddling kittens and puppies. You do need to get your hands dirty. You’re on your feet pretty much the whole day. There’s a lot of cleaning involved, to which can also include bodily fluids.
You need to have good interpersonal skills because you will need to deal with the general public and obviously be comfortable with working closely with animals.
Oh my god.
Puppies are very full on.
This job is definitely very emotionally draining. It can be really upsetting and heart-breaking seeing some of the animals that come into us but all the nurses and vets work super closely together. We're always there for each other. It’s a really awesome team.
To become a vet nurse there’s a certificate in Veterinary Nursing. From there you can go on to do the Diploma in Veterinary Nursing which makes you fully qualified and much more likely to get a job in the industry having both of those qualifications.
I’ve just been so passionate about animals my whole life. It’s so rewarding getting to work with animals every day and provide them with a temporary home and show them love and affection and everything they need. This is my perfect job.
To become a veterinary nurse you need to complete the New Zealand Certificate in Animal Technology – Veterinary Nursing Assistant (Level 5), followed by the New Zealand Diploma in Veterinary Nursing (Level 6).
- New Zealand Veterinary Nursing Association website - find out about veterinary nurse training providers
A tertiary entrance qualification is required to enter further training. Useful subjects include biology, chemistry, English and maths.
Additional requirements for specialist roles:
Rural Animal Technician
To become a rural animal technician you need to have a New Zealand Certificate in Animal Technology – Rural Animal Technician (Level 5).
Veterinary nurses need to be:
- good communicators
- able to handle stressful emergency situations
- empathetic, patient and concerned for animals
- able to show initiative.
Veterinary nurses must also be able to deal with the process of putting an animal down (euthanasia) and providing support to clients during this difficult time.
As a veterinary nurse you’ve got to be able to hold it together in an emergency.
Useful experience for veterinary nurses includes:
- any work with animals – for example, as an SPCA volunteer or kennel hand
- voluntary work for a veterinary practice.
Veterinary nurses need to be reasonably fit, healthy and strong as they spend long periods on their feet and may have to lift heavy animals.
Veterinary nurses may choose to register with the New Zealand Veterinary Nursing Association.
Find out more about training
- New Zealand Veterinary Nursing Association
- 0800 868 773 - www.nzvna.org.nz
What are the chances of getting a job?
Shortage of veterinarians creates opportunities for veterinary nurses
Demand for veterinary nurses is expected to grow due to vet clinics employing more veterinary support workers to cope with a shortage of veterinarians. Veterinary nurses and rural animal technicians are increasingly taking on some tasks that veterinarians have traditionally done.
New Zealand has about 800 veterinary practices, ranging from small practices employing one or two veterinary nurses to larger practices with 20 staff or more.
According to the Census, 2,145 veterinary nurses worked in New Zealand in 2018.
Opportunities vary depending on location and season
Work opportunities for veterinary nurses are best in Auckland, or large urban areas, while rural animal technicians have more opportunities in rural areas.
Demand for rural animal technicians on dairy farms increases before and during calving season, between April and October, and many rural animal technicians work on fixed-term contracts during this period.
Chances best for experienced veterinary nurses
Your chances of securing a job are best if you have veterinary nursing experience.
Graduates can improve their chances of securing a full-time job by taking part-time veterinary nursing jobs or receptionist roles at vet clinics.
Most veterinary nurses work at veterinary practices
Veterinary nurses usually work at veterinary practices.
Other employers include:
- companies that sell animal and veterinary products
- tertiary education providers such as polytechnics
- government agencies such as the Department of Conservation and Ministry for Primary Industries
- kennels and catteries
- animal shelters
- pet stores
- organisations involved in animal research.
Some veterinary nurses are self-employed.
- Brown, F, educational standards committee chair, Allied Veterinary Professional Regulatory Council; and head of programmes, College of Veterinary Nursing, Otago Polytechnic, careers.govt.nz interview, January 2019.
- Harvey, L, executive member, New Zealand Veterinary Nursing Association, careers.govt.nz interview, January 2019.
- New Zealand Veterinary Association, 'The Rise and Rise of Large Animal Veterinary Technicians', 5 November 2017, (www.nzva.co.nz).
- Stats NZ, '2018 Census Data', 2019.
- Williams, N, human resources manager, Vetlife, careers.govt.nz interview, January 2019.
(This information is a guide only. Find out more about the sources of our job opportunities information)
Progression and specialisations
Veterinary nurses can move into related areas, such as animal pharmaceutical sales and laboratory work, or progress into managerial positions.
With further training, they may progress to become veterinarians.
Veterinary nurses can specialise in roles such as:
- Rural Animal Technician
- Rural animal technicians help assess, care for and treat large animals such as horses, cattle, sheep, deer and pigs.
- Veterinary Technologist
- Veterinary technologists help assess, care for and treat both large and small animals, and do some tasks traditionally done by veterinarians.
Last updated 9 June 2021