What do you want to become?
Laboratory Animal Caretaker
Alternate Career Titles: Lab Animal Caretaker, Laboratory Animal Technician
Career Overview: Laboratory Animal Caretakers complete basic and routine tasks under supervision.
Career Salary Range: $18,540 to $37,810
Estimated Years of Schooling Required: 0
Required Minimum Degree/License: High School Diploma
Become a Laboratory Animal Caretaker
As a Laboratory Animal Caretaker, professionals are required to complete a variety of basic and routine tasks involving the care of animals, often including mice, rats and other rodents or insects. From feeding, bathing and providing the animals with exercise, to cleaning up after them, these professionals work first-hand with both animals and other healthcare professionals such as Veterinarians, Scientists for Veterinary Technicians / Technologists. In addition to these responsibilities, Lab Animal Caretakers are also responsible for maintaining and sterilizing equipment, helping to restrain larger animals when needed, monitoring them after a procedure and assisting in the collection of samples for administration of medicine. If you love working with animals, this could be a great career in healthcare for you to pursue!
“As a Laboratory Animal Caretaker, you will find rewards in both hard work and your contributions to the well-being of the creatures that we utilize to further advances in medical and pharmaceutical research,” Marie Alessandro, a Laboratory Animal Caretaker of mice in Boston, Mass., said. “Day to day work will focus on health checks, maintaining a clean and tidy environment for the animals and while assuring that their nutritional needs are met. Your role may also include the care of breeding animals and their young.”
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Education & Training
To become a Lab Animal Caretaker, all that is typically required is a high school diploma and on-site training. However, some employers may prefer professionals for these positions who are already familiar with working with animals, perhaps through past experience for volunteerism. Demonstrating competency in a variety of areas of animal care, Laboratory Animal Caretakers may additionally choose to become certified under the American Association for Laboratory Animal Science.
“Although having prior animal care experience helps professionals succeed in this role, they can also be trained by an employer,” Alessandro explained. “A hard working personality with an eye for detail will get professionals far in this career. Also, many facilities that are willing to train require only a high school diploma to begin.”
Alessandro added that while acclimating to the tasks and responsibilities required of Laboratory Animal Caretakers may seem overwhelming at first, after time they become second nature. Professionals should take entering these roles day by day, and be sure to take notes on all the daily requirements.
“Training and learning opportunities are always ongoing and can lead to advancement,” she noted. “I am about to take my Laboratory Animal Technician (LAT), the second career certification. You can take the first with support from your employer after a year of experience in a vivarium.” (A vivarium is an area, usually enclosed, for keeping and raising animals or plants for observation or research).
She added that there can be quite a bit of information to learn prior to obtaining certification, but as with any topic of study, if time and effort is put into practice and study the challenges can be overcome.
“Besides further certifications, seeking internship or classes, Laboratory Animal Caretakers can add more to their cover letters, as will seeking experiences that may be available,” Alessandro suggested. “Investigators may be open to additional assistance or vet staff may be willing to allow participation in necropsies, for example. I also am what is called a ‘Peer Partner,’ with whom new employees are paired to shadow as they learn about their tasks.”
Experience & Skills
Often having to move, transition or reposition animals, Laboratory Animal Caretakers should possess some level of physical strength. They should also be dexterities, allowing them to handle animals, laboratory equipment and medical instruments with precious and care. Furthermore, Lab Animal Caretakers should have strong communication skills, needed for relaying information between staff members and to animals owners / caregivers.
“The job can be physically demanding, so be aware,” Alessandro confirmed. “Compassion and concern for the well-being of the animals is first and foremost, and an eye for detail with developed observational skills will serve you well.”
“Laboratory Animal Caretakers should be compassionate, curious and inquiring,” Alessandro said.
Also, although working as a Laboratory Animal Caretaker requires that a professional possess a love of animals, this career also requires that professionals be capable of handling the professions emotional and physical demands. Lab Animal Caretakers must be able to handle situations where animals are extremely ill, have been abused or need to be euthanized. In these instances, Laboratory Animal Caretakers should still be able to treat all animals with kindness, while being empathetic toward their circumstances and, when involved, their owners. Lastly, they should also be incredibly detail-oriented, ensuring that each animal receives all elements their specific treatment plan, and that all instruments have been properly sterilized.
“The lifestyle of a Laboratory Animal Caretaker involves hard work, satisfaction of contributing to science and a love of animals. This love should be a focus, and is something I share in common with my coworkers,” Alessandro stressed. “Being a morning person also helps!”
Typically, 3 out of 5 Laboratory Animal Caretakers work full-time, while the remaining professionals seek part-time employment. Additionally, because some animal clinics and facilities operate 24/7, professionals in this field may be required to work evenings, nights, weekends or holidays. Also important to note about the lifestyle of these professionals is that they are often at higher risk of injury due to having to hold, care for and possible restrain animals — some of which may be scared or overwhelmed, causing them to kick, scratch or bite.
Today is a great time to begin a rewarding career as a Laboratory Animal Caretaker. Why? This career in healthcare is projected to grow 19 percent from 2016 to 2026. This rate is much faster than the average for all occupations, and this growth can largely be attributed to an increased need for veterinary assistance in procedures. This need stems from an overall increase in pet-related consumer expenditures. People love their pets, and want to ensure they are well taken care of!
The vast majority of Laboratory Animal Caretakers are employed by veterinary services, however some also find employment opportunities through educational settings or research and development facilities. Additionally, the state with the highest level of employment in this occupation is California, followed by Texas, Florida, New York and Virginia.
“When trying to find employment in this field, seek opportunities from local hospitals or facilities paired with teaching universities. Most job listing sites will have these types of jobs listed,” Alessandro suggested.
“Ultimately, Laboratory Animal Caretakers can earn a good wage, but pay and benefits can vary in different facilities. Pay certainly increase with experience and further certification,” Alessandro noted.
As of 2016, the median annual wage for Laboratory Animal Caretakers was $25,250. While the lowest 10 percent of these employees were recorded to have earned less than $18,540, the highest earning 10 percent made more than $37,810 annually. Additionally, the top paying facilities were recorded to be educational institutions, followed by research and development facilities and veterinary services. The top paying states in this occupation are Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maine, New Jersey and Rhode Island.
Unions, Groups, Social Media, and Associations
The American Association for Laboratory Animal Science (AALAS) is focused on advancing the responsibility and laboratory care of animals used to benefit both people and animals. AALAS believes that animal use in laboratory settings is essential to improving the quality improvement of all life. is an association dedicated to advancing the responsible laboratory care of animals which are used to benefit both people and animals. AALAS believes that animal use in laboratory settings is essential to improving the quality improvement of all life.
- Assess current experience levels, and determine how more experience can be gained
- Determine what tasks and responsibilities would be ideal within this career
- Seek out employers who provide ideal positions
- Begin the interview process with numerous employers
- Don’t get discouraged if finding a position does not happen immediately
All statistics are provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Meet the professional: Marie Alessandro
Practice: Brigham and Women’s Hospital (SoBran BioScience team)
Location: Boston, MA
What is the single biggest suggestion you would give to someone wanting to get into this career?
“Keep looking, even if finding a position takes a while!”
What’s the number one mistake people make when trying to get into this career?
“One mistake is thinking this career is not physically demanding just because the animals we work with are often small.”
What is the question people should ask about this career but rarely do?
“How do you feel about euthanasia? This can be a regular and necessary part of the career.”
Why did you choose to enter this career in healthcare?
“I chose to become a Laboratory Animal Caretaker because of my love of both animals and science.”
If you could describe in one word what makes you successful, what would it be?
*Credentialing organizations: American Association for Laboratory Animal Science