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Careers in Pet Care: Job Options and Requirements

Pet care is generally pursued through a vocational training program or an apprenticeship. Continue reading for an overview of the training, as well as career and salary info for some career options for graduates.

Essential Information

While a veterinarian requires a doctoral degree and must be licensed by the state, other pet care careers, such as groomers or trainers, can find employment with only a high school diploma or an apprenticeship.

Career Veterinarian Pet Groomer Animal Trainer
Required Education Doctoral degree Apprenticeship or grooming school High school diploma
Other requirements Licensure none Bachelor's degree (for marine animal trainers)
Projected Job Growth (2012-2022) 12%* 15% (for all animal care and service workers)* 15% (for all animal care and service workers)*
Median Annual Salary (2014) $87,590* $20,340 (for all non-farm animal caretakers)* $25,770*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Career Options

Individuals who desire to work with animals can choose from many career paths. Veterinarians are doctors that care for the health of all animals including pets, zoo animals, livestock, farm animals and exotic animals. Pet groomers also keep animals healthy through hygiene and sanitation, while animal trainers can help owners teach their pets obedience or prepare pets to perform certain tasks.

Veterinarian

Veterinarians diagnose animal diseases and disorders, administer vaccinations and medications, treat wounds and perform surgery. They also advise owners or caretakers about the animals' behavior, general care, breeding and nutritional needs. To diagnose medical conditions, veterinarians collect bodily fluid samples to analyze using diagnostic equipment. They euthanize animals and conduct postmortem studies. If an animal is infected with a contagious or dangerous disease, veterinarians quarantine the animal to prevent the disease from spreading. Veterinarians often work in private offices where they either carry out or delegate to other employees the day-to-day activities such as appointment making, budgeting, record-keeping, payment collecting and marketing. However, they may travel to homes or farms to visit sick animals.

Veterinarian Requirements

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), veterinarians must earn a doctoral degree in veterinary medicine and obtain a state license (www.bls.gov). Some schools do not require applicants to have bachelor's degrees before enrolling in veterinary classes, but they do require a certain number of undergraduate level semester hours. Undergraduate coursework with an emphasis on sciences, zoology, animal nutrition and mathematics is beneficial.

Once accepted, students follow a curriculum that includes classes on animal anatomy and physiology, biology, parasitology, radiological techniques, endocrinology, neurology and surgery. Students gain clinical experience by working in veterinary offices on rotational schedules that allow them to focus on one aspect of veterinary practice at a time, such as large and small animal medicine and surgery, dermatology, radiology and applied pathology. Graduates must acquire a state license before they can begin practicing on their own; licensure requirements vary by state but typically involve holding a doctorate and passing an exam.

Veterinarian Career Outlook

The BLS has indicated that employment for veterinarians is likely to increase at a rate of 12% from 2012 to 2022. This rate is higher than average and is attributed to a rising pet population and subsequent need for pet health care. In 2014, the BLS recorded a median annual salary of $87,590 for veterinarians across the country.

Pet Groomer

Pet groomers maintain a pet's appearance by bathing it, brushing and trimming its coat, clipping its nails, cleaning its ears and brushing its teeth. Pet groomers usually discuss with owners what services to render, but also give the owners recommendations based on the pets' needs. Sanitation is important, and pet groomers must diligently sterilize all grooming tools, equipment and workstations to avoid infections. Pet groomers bring to the owner's attention any medical issues like ear, mouth or skin infections so the owner may get the animal proper veterinary treatment. Pet groomers work in vet offices, kennels, pet supply stores or private practices.

Pet Groomer Requirements

The BLS states that pet groomers usually complete informal apprenticeships to learn pet grooming skills. However, state licensed pet grooming schools allow students to participate in a comprehensive pet-grooming program. Classes typically include sanitation and sterilization, bathing, styling, nail clipping, skin conditions, anatomy, biology, breed recognition and behavioral therapy.

Pet Groomer Career Outlook

Pet groomers are included in the BLS category of animal care and service workers, who are projected to see a 15% employment increase between 2012 and 2022. The median annual salary for non-farm animal caretakers in 2014, according to the BLS, was $20,340.

Animal Trainer

Animal trainers work with animals to make them obey commands, provide security, perform tricks or assist people with disabilities. They use techniques that acquaint the animal with human contact and use positive reinforcement to encourage correct behavior. Trainers develop physical and verbal signals that cue an animal to execute a certain action. They also work with people to teach them how to handle the animals.

Animal trainers work for circuses, aquariums, zoos, animal shelters, dog kennels, farms or private practices. They may work with animals to prepare them for competitions, movies or television shows. Dogs, horses and marine mammals are the most commonly trained animals, according to the BLS.

Animal Trainer Requirements

Animal trainers usually only need a high school diploma or the equivalent. These animal trainers may learn their skills through informal apprenticeships or by working as assistants to more experienced trainers. However, some employers may require job candidates to have a bachelor's degree.

The International Marine Animal Trainers' Association states that marine mammal trainers don't have to have a college degree, but many establishments won't hire an animal trainer without a degree (www.imata.org). Common majors for marine mammal trainers are marine biology, animal science or a related field. Marine mammal trainers also need strong swimming skills and may need to be scuba-certified.

The BLS reports that horse trainers usually learn their skills by working at stables or attending an equine studies program. Some colleges offer equine studies programs that include courses in horsemanship, equine behavior, equine nutrition, facility management and ethics.

Dog trainers can also take courses at colleges or vocational schools that focus on canine training. Classes include animal learning theory, canine studies, obedience teaching, problem solving and safety, according to the BLS.

Animal Trainer Career Outlook

The BLS categorizes animal trainers as animal care and service workers; while overall this profession is expected to experience a job growth of 15% from 2012-2022, the BLS notes that employment of some types of animal trainers may increase more slowly. Zoos, recreation facilities and other establishments that hire animal trainers are not likely to hire for as many positions as some employers that work with smaller companion animals.

The BLS listed a median annual salary of $25,770 for animal trainers in 2014. At that time, the highest-paying industries for these professionals included independent performers and artists, performing arts companies and the local government.

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