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Animal Care Careers: Job Options, Duties and Requirements

Veterinarians and veterinary technicians/technologists require a significant amount of formal education. Learn about the education, job duties, and licensure requirements to see if one of these careers is right for you.

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Animal care careers vary in their educational requirements and prospective salaries. Veterinarians and veterinary technicians/technologists perform the most direct care for animals, helping those that are sick or injured.

Essential Information

Many individuals wishing to embark on a career with animals become veterinarians, requiring four years of schooling beyond high school to earn a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine. Other career options, which require less schooling, include veterinary technician or technologist.

Careers Veterinarian Veterinary Technician Veterinary Technologist
Required Education Bachelor's Degree, Doctor of Veterinary Medicine Associate's Degree Bachelor's Degree in Veterinary Technology
Other Requirements North American Veterinary Licensing Exam AVMA Exam AVMA Exam
Projected Job Growth* (2018 - 2028) 18% 19% 19%
Median Annual Salary (2018)* $93,830 $34,420 $34,420

Source: *Bureau of Labor Statistics

Career Options

Animal care jobs require a desire to research, help and care for pets and livestock. Careers include veterinarian, veterinary technician and technologist, and other animal care fields such as trainer, animal control officer, shelter worker and pet groomer.

Veterinarian

Veterinarians are doctors who are trained to work with animals, or to conduct research on health issues pertaining to animals and humans. Most veterinarians run their own practices or work in a group private practice. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that more than three quarters of private practice veterinarians work with household pets (www.bls.gov). Others mainly treat livestock, such as horses, pigs and cattle. Those not in private practice work for the U.S. government, zoos or marine centers, or teach at universities. Veterinarians can also become board-certified by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) in one of 40 specialties (www.avma.org).

Job Duties

Veterinarians care for and treat diseases and conditions in dogs, cats, birds, reptiles and other pets. Job duties include testing for diseases, vaccinating animals, dressing wounds, performing surgery, setting fractures and helping animals give birth. Vets who work with livestock drive from one location to another to visit the animals. They must deal with frightened or sick animals that may try to scratch, bite or kick them.

Requirements for a Veterinary Career

All practicing veterinarians need to have graduated with a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree from a 4-year accredited program at a college of veterinary medicine. Individuals with a college degree have the best chance for entrance to these highly selective programs. Pre-vet coursework includes life sciences and mathematics. After completing veterinary school, graduates must sit for the North American Veterinary Licensing Exam in order to work as a veterinarian.

Salary Information

In May 2018, the BLS reported that veterinarians in the 90th percentile or higher earned $162,450 or more per year, whereas the bottom 10th percentile earned $56,540 or less per year. The BLS projects a much faster employment growth in the veterinary field from 2018-2028.

Veterinary Technician or Technologist

Veterinary technicians and technologists work alongside veterinarians. Their jobs are akin to those of nurses, in that they perform many of the medical duties and animal care that the doctor directs. Although there is little difference between the tasks of technicians and technologists in a vet clinic, each job has distinct training requirements.

Job Duties

Job duties for veterinary technicians and technologists include performing medical tests, taking blood and tissue samples, assisting with dental care and developing x-rays. They often vaccinate or even euthanize animals. Additionally, they may interact with pet owners or train others working at the office. Individuals who work in animal hospitals are sometimes required to be on duty at night.

Educational Requirements

Veterinary technician programs last two years and award an associate degree, while veterinary technologist programs are four years long and culminate in a bachelor's degree in veterinary technology. Programs involve classroom work and experience with live animals. Both veterinary technicians and technologists must take the credentialing exam administered by the AVMA to become certified, licensed or registered, depending upon the requirements of their state.

Salary Information

In May 2018, the BLS reported that veterinary technologists and technicians in the 90th percentile or higher earned $50,010 or more per year, whereas the bottom 10th percentile earned $23,490 or less per year. The highest-paying industries for these professionals in 2018 were the federal executive branch, which offered salaries of more than $53,780 per year on average. Vet technicians and technologists can expect to see a job growth rate much faster than the national average through 2028.

Other Animal Care Career Options

Animal care careers outside veterinary medicine work with companion and wild animals, and may require specialized training in care techniques or a particular species. Other animal care careers include:

  • Dog, horse or marine mammal trainer
  • Animal control officer
  • Shelter worker
  • Pet groomer

Veterinarians and veterinary technicians and technologists must be compassionate problem solvers who love animals. They must be able to communicate well with animals and their owners. Educational requirements for these careers range from associate's degree through a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine. Expected job growth should be good for the next decade, making these careers excellent choices.

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