Laboratory Animal Veterinarian: Job Description and Requirements

Laboratory animal veterinarians require significant formal education. Learn about the education, job duties and licensure requirements to see if this is the right career for you.

Laboratory animal veterinarians must have an extensive education in animal anatomy, physiology and many other sciences. This is usually completed through a combination of formal education and a residency period. They then work with animals of all types in the field of scientific research once they obtain state licensure.

Essential Information

Laboratory animal veterinarians care for the live specimens used in scientific research. This may include a wide variety of species, from rats to primates. Other job duties may include training researchers and veterinarian technicians, breeding lab animals, managing the lab facilities and doing independent research. Aspiring laboratory animal veterinarians need to enroll in a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (D.V.M.) program, which includes clinical training and may also feature research opportunities. Graduates typically need to become licensed and then enroll in a residency program that will let them focus on laboratory animals. The American College of Laboratory Animal Medicine (ACLAM) offers board certification for these professionals.

Required Education D.V.M.; completion of a residency program
Licensure and Certification State licensure; ACLAM board certification
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)* 9% for all veterinarians
Average Salary (2015)* $99,000 annually for all veterinarians

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Laboratory Animal Veterinarian Job Description

Caring for the health of laboratory animals is very important to ensure good research outcomes. For this reason, laboratory animal veterinarians develop clinical and preventative health programs for specimens. They also train researchers and technicians in proper care and handling and personally oversee husbandry programs. Laboratory animal veterinarians train research staff in humane methods of performing surgery and restraining animals, as well as the proper use of anesthetics and analgesics. They also provide veterinary care, making diagnoses, prescribing medications and treatments, administering vaccinations and performing euthanasia as necessary.

Some of the things that must be taken into consideration when breeding and caring for lab animals include nutritional requirements, environmental needs and disease risks. Laboratory animal veterinarians educate researchers and technicians in the differing needs of the various species used in research so that they may minimize any deviations from what the animals would typically experience under normal conditions. In addition, laboratory animal veterinarians may manage or design animal research facilities. They may also conduct independent research in comparative medicine, focusing on diseases, medical procedures, drug therapies, surgical techniques or nutrition. Those involved in research are sometimes called upon by other researchers to provide consultation regarding animal models and biomethodology.

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

In 2015, veterinarians in general earned an average annual salary of $99,000, with scientific research and development services paying an average salary of $128,530, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). From 2014-2024, the BLS expected 9% employment growth for the field, which is about average, with more opportunities likely available in government agencies, research, or sales.

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Laboratory Animal Veterinarian Education Requirements

All veterinarians are required to have graduated from veterinary school. Although it is not an absolute requirement, many schools require admissions candidates to hold at least a bachelor's degree. In particular, a number of prerequisite postsecondary courses may be required, including but not limited to: inorganic and organic chemistry, physics, biology, nutrition, genetics, microbiology, biochemistry, zoology, physiology, mathematics, social sciences and English. Potential students are required to take and submit scores from the Graduate Record Examination (GRE), Veterinary College Admission Test (VCAT) or Medical College Admission Test (MCAT). While completing their undergraduate studies, students should gain experience working with animals to be competitive veterinary school candidates.

Veterinary school typically takes four years to complete and results in a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (D.V.M.) or Veterinaria Medicina Doctoris (V.M.D.). Courses may include anatomy and physiology, genetics, immunology, endocrinology, behavior, nutrition, virology, pathology, toxicology, pharmacology, veterinary ethics and clinical skills. During their fourth year of schooling, students participate in clinical rotations where they gain experience treating patients in different specialties, such as small or large animal medicine and surgery, radiology, anesthesiology, emergency medicine, pathology and wildlife medicine. Some programs give students the option to participate in research and prepare a thesis.

Licensure and Residencies

In general, veterinarians must become licensed after graduating from veterinary school. However, those who are employed by federal agencies or state governments may be exempt. Licensure requirements vary by state, but generally include passing the North American Veterinary Licensing Examination (NAVLE), which is an 8-hour, multiple-choice test. Some states require additional examinations, which test knowledge of state laws and regulations or clinical competencies.

Veterinarians who wish to specialize in laboratory animal medicine must then complete a residency, which generally lasts 2-3 years. Residents generally receive training in animal husbandry, medicine and surgery, research guidelines, animal models of human disease, pathology, formulating preventative medicine programs and behavioral management. Residents may be given the option to focus their training on primates or other types of laboratory animals. They are also typically required to prepare a research thesis and may be given the option to apply their research toward a master's degree or Ph.D.


After completing their residency, laboratory animal veterinarians may earn board certification from the American College of Laboratory Animal Medicine (ACLAM) by passing an examination. Alternately, those who have not completed residency training, but have significant work experience or have published research related to laboratory animal medicine, may qualify for certification. Certification is good for eight years and may be renewed by earning continuing education credits or participating in professional development activities.

Laboratory veterinarians work with animals ranging from rats to chimpanzees. They care for these animals used in scientific research. Laboratory veterinarians require a veterinary medicine degree and completion of a residency; they also have the option to earn certification to enhance their credentials in working with animals in a research context.

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