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 three years' experience usually earn
$19-$20 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.
- New veterinary nurse graduates and those with up to three years' experience usually earn about minimum wage.
- Veterinary nurses with three to five years' experience usually earn between $20 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."
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).
Some people enter veterinary nursing after completing a Bachelor of Veterinary Technology.
- New Zealand Veterinary Nursing Association website - find out about veterinary nurse training providers
- Massey University - information about Bachelor of Veterinary Technology
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).
To become a veterinary technologist you need to have a Bachelor of Veterinary Technology.
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 1 September 2020