Animal Handler Careers: Job Options and Education Requirements

Animal handling jobs generally require a minimum of a high school diploma or a GED. Continue reading for an overview of the training, as well as career and salary info for some career options for graduates.

Veterinary assistants, veterinary technicians, animal care and service workers and animal trainers are all professionals who are animal handlers. They may be responsible for grooming animals, taking samples and conducting tests, or using training methods to promote desired behavior from the animals in their care.

Essential Information

Animal handlers may also be known as vet and kennel assistants, groomers, or animal caregivers and caretakers. They may assist technicians, head researchers or scientists with animal test preparations, maintenance and recordkeeping. In addition to a high school diploma, government guidelines for animal welfare must be followed, so relevant training courses may also be necessary. Additionally, some employers require certification to work as an animal handler, which calls for training, experience and passing of an examination. Animal handlers who work as trainers may be required to have a bachelor's degree.

Career Veterinary Assistants and Laboratory Animal Caretakers Veterinary/Animal Technicians Animal Care and Service Workers Animal Trainers
Education Requirements High school diploma or the equivalent; additional courses may be helpful High school diploma or the equivalent; additional experience, training and certification may be required High school diploma or the equivalent may be required; on-the-job training is common High school diploma or the equivalent; some positions require a bachelor's degree
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)* 9% 19% (for all veterinary technicians and technologists) 11% 11%
Median Salary (2015)* $24,360 $31,800 (for all veterinary technicians and technologists) $21,260 $26,610

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

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Career Options

Animal handlers may work with farm, domestic, laboratory or exotic animals. These professionals are necessary in a variety of settings, including pet stores, shelters, stables, clinics and zoos. Their work usually entails duties secondary to those in charge of the research or examinations, such as scientists, veterinarians or animal technologists.

Veterinary Assistants and Laboratory Animal Caretakers

A high school diploma or its equivalent is the standard educational requirement for animal care assistants. Additionally, compliance with the American Association for Laboratory Animal Science's (AALAS) Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) regulations is required by law for all institutions using animals for instructional or research purposes. Therefore, it may be necessary or helpful for aspiring animal handlers to take training courses on animal safety and welfare laws, in order to demonstrate competency to potential employers.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), veterinary assistants and laboratory animal caretakers earned a median annual wage of $24,360 in May 2015 (www.bls.gov). Furthermore, the BLS noted that the majority of these workers made annual wages between $18,060 and $36,690 during that same period, with employment expected to grow 9% from 2014-2024.

Animal/Veterinary Technicians

Advancement to an animal technician position is possible with additional experience and training. In addition to being the first certification necessary for advancement to technician positions, the AALAS Assistant Laboratory Animal Technician (ALAT) certification may be required by some employers to work as an animal handler. Prerequisites for the AALAS certification exams consist of a combination of work experience and education. The median wage earned by veterinary technicians and technologists in 2015 was $31,800, according to the BLS.

Animal Care and Service Workers

No particular educational background is needed for this type of profession, though some employers may require at least a high school diploma. In addition, on-the-job training is common. For animal care and service workers, both farm and non-farm jobs were predicted to increase 11% from 2014-2024. The BLS noted that these workers earned a median salary of $21,260 in 2015.

Animal Trainers

Educational requirements for animal trainers vary by employer and duties. While a high school diploma and experience may be sufficient for certain positions, such as dog trainer, trainers at a zoo or an aquarium may need a relevant bachelor's degree, such as animal science. Animal trainers made a median salary of $26,610 in May 2015.

A high school diploma may be sufficient to begin a career as a veterinary assistant or animal care and service worker. Veterinary technicians need to be certified, which requires postsecondary education, and animal trainers may need a degree in animal science. Requirements may vary by employer, although experience and postsecondary education may increase job prospects in all of these fields.


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