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Careers Working with Small Animals: Education and Career Info

Programs and training in small animal care typically cover grooming and animal health care. Find out about the education requirements for these jobs, and learn about career options, job growth and salary info for careers working with small animals.

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If you are looking to work with small animals, consider the three occupations outlined below: veterinary technician, pet groomer, and animal control worker. All of these careers do not require any education higher than an associate's degree, which can be complete within a few years. Each of these careers requires either certification or licensure in order to practice.

Essential Information

People who enjoy dogs, cats and other small animals may want to pursue career opportunities that allow them the ability to interact with animals. Some positions in the field, such as dog groomer, are available to high school graduates, while others, including veterinary technician, require an associate's degree or higher.

Career Veterinary Technician Pet Groomer Animal Control Worker
Education Requirements Associate's degree Apprenticeship High school diploma, some require associate's degree
Other Requirements Pass state exam and obtain license Workshops and certifications available On-the-job training and certifications available
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)* 19% (for veterinary technologists and technicians) 11% (for all non-farm animal caretakers) 6%
Median Salary (2015)* $31,800 (for veterinary technologists and technicians) $21,010 (for all non-farm animal caretakers) $33,450

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

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Career Options

There are several career options available for animal lovers. Veterinary technicians assist in a veterinary office and care for sick or injured animals. Groomers have the opportunity to learn appropriate grooming skills as apprentices. Animal control officers typically work for municipalities alongside law enforcement. Continue reading for more information about careers with animals.

Veterinary Technician

People often think of veterinary technicians as the nurses of animal health care. Veterinary technicians work under the supervision of licensed veterinarians and are often the first professionals to see sick pets and conduct initial physical exams. Many technicians work in veterinary clinics, but they may also be employed by kennels, shelters and research labs.

Education for Veterinary Technicians

Most states require veterinary technicians to complete programs that lead to Associate of Science in Veterinary Technology or Animal Health degrees. Such programs, which often involve internships or other practical learning experiences, are typically completed in two years or less. Coursework includes the study of anatomy and physiology, pharmacology and diagnostic imaging.

A veterinary tech must be licensed in most locations and will have to pass a state exam after completing a degree program. Licensing tests usually contain written, oral and practical questions. Students who graduate from schools accredited by the American Veterinary Medical Association may have an advantage over their peers in the job market (www.avma.org). In fact, some states require that prospective technicians attend one of these certified programs in order to be licensed.

Career Information for Veterinary Technicians

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment of veterinary technologists and technicians is expected to increase by about 19% in the decade between 2014 and 2024 (www.bls.gov). Pet owners are increasingly seeking veterinary services in the United States, so more veterinary technicians will be needed. In 2015, the median annual salary for veterinary technicians was $31,800, with the top ten percent of earners making $47,410 or more, reports the BLS.

Pet Groomer

Groomers are responsible for maintaining a pet's appearance. While most groomers care for dogs, some bathe and brush cats as well. Groomers often work in pet supply stores and veterinary clinics. They may also find employment in animal shelters or kennels. Experienced groomers often open their own grooming businesses, which can be operated from shops or mobile service vans.

Education for Pet Groomers

Most new groomers work under the guidance of experienced groomers to learn the job. Such informal apprenticeships are typically available to high school graduates who have experience working with animals, and may last from 6-10 weeks. Inexperienced groomers often start by performing just one or two functions of the job, such as bathing or combing pets. As they gain skills, they take on more tasks until they are able to do all parts of the job, including caring for coats, teeth and nails.

The National Dog Groomers Association of America (NDGAA) offers classes and workshops for groomers that are designed to enhance their knowledge and skill levels. The group also provides a certification program that requires attending classes and passing both written and practical exams. Certified groomers may increase their earning potentials and have greater opportunities for career advancement.

Career Information for Pet Groomers

The BLS classifies groomers as animal care and service workers. While there are no specific statistics available for pet groomers, employment of all non-farm animal caretakers is expected to increase by about 11% from 2014-2024. This growth may be driven by an increasing pet population and the willingness of pet owners to spend money on pet care services. The median annual salary for workers in this sector was $21,010 in 2015, the BLS says.

Animal Control Officer

Animal control officers usually work for cities, towns or other local governments. They are responsible for resolving disputes involving pets and investigating charges of animal cruelty or neglect. Officers issue fines for violations of animal welfare regulations, such as leash laws. They may inspect kennels and other facilities that house and care for animals. Animal control workers may be called upon to rescue hurt, lost or injured pets.

Education for Animal Control Workers

Entry-level animal control officers need at least high school diplomas, but some positions require associate degrees in criminal justice, animal science or related fields. Most employers prefer to hire officers who have some previous experience working with small animals. Officers may receive training at law enforcement academies that prepare them to handle frightened or dangerous animals, as well as deal with the public.

Many community colleges in the U.S. offer animal control workshops and seminars for workers in the field. The National Animal Control Association (NACA) recommends that officers receive training in subjects such as chemical immobilization of animals and the use of bite sticks that can keep workers safe while protecting animals (www.nacanet.org). The NACA offers certification programs in several different cities designed to enhance credibility and skill levels.

Animal control officers with 3-5 years of experience or bachelor's degrees may be qualified to become animal control supervisors. Officers in this position often direct other workers and establish their work schedules. Supervisors may work with volunteers at animal shelters, respond to serious animal control violations and develop departmental policies.

Career Information for Animal Control Officers

The BLS states that the median yearly salary for animal control officers in May 2015 was $33,450. Animal control officers are included in the category of animal care and service workers, employment for which is expected to grow 6% between 2014 and 2024. Most job openings are expected to arise from the need to replace workers who leave the field.

Veterinary technicians assist veterinarians in vet clinics and animal hospitals and prepare for their job by completing an associate's degree program. Pet groomers usually gain their skills through informal internships or working directly for more experienced groomers. Animal control officers may need to complete an associate's degree and can get certified by the NACA as well.

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