Small Animal Veterinarian Education Requirements

Sep 14, 2019

Small 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.

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Being a veterinarian takes understanding and compassion, long and irregular working hours, and training for the entirety of one's career. Veterinarians need to complete a doctoral program in veterinary medicine, and become certified in order to begin work. Education programs for veterinarians in general are extremely competitive, and there are only a few schools in the country offering accredited programs.

Essential Information

Those who love cats, dogs, lizards and other small domesticated animals can pursue careers as small animal veterinarians. Becoming a vet involves completing a pre-vet or science-based undergraduate degree program, going to veterinary school and earning licensure. Those who specialize in small animal care may pursue board certification in that field by completing a residency.

Required Education Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM)
Other Requirements Residency in small animal medicine is required for certification
Licensure and Certification Licensure is required for all vets; voluntary board certification in small animal medicine is available
Projected Job Growth (2018-2028)* 18% for all vets
Average Salary (2018)* $105,240 for all vets

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Veterinarian Career Overview

Small animal veterinarians care for, diagnose and vaccinate domesticated animals, often working in private practice. Veterinary practitioners must be prepared to work long and irregular hours and deal with agitated or injured animals. Compassion and a love for learning are vital for this career.

Education for Small Animal Veterinarians

Veterinarians' education starts early and never truly ends. Those aspiring to the field can study sciences like chemistry and biology in high school, and they can volunteer in animal shelters to gain experience with small animals. Vets need to continue their education throughout their careers in order to keep up with ongoing research and breakthroughs.

Undergraduate Studies

During their undergraduate years, future veterinarians must choose a pre-veterinary program and maintain a high GPA. If their university or college does not offer a pre-vet program, they can pursue science-related majors like biology. While vet schools differ in their undergraduate course requirements, students may wish to take general classes like organic/inorganic chemistry, biochemistry, biology, animal biology, statistics, physics and calculus.

Veterinary School

There were only 30 veterinary schools in the country that are accredited by the Council on Education of the American Veterinary Medical Association in 2016, and admissions were highly competitive. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), fewer than half of the applicants were admitted to veterinary school in 2014 ( Successful applicants undertake four years of veterinary school, which typically are divided into two halves. During the first half, most class hours are spent in classrooms and labs, learning sciences such as anatomy, physiology and microbiology. The second two years focus on clinical experience. Skills and subjects learned in the clinical coursework aspect include:

  • Infectious diseases
  • Anesthesiology
  • Surgery
  • Dermatology
  • Radiology
  • Medicine


After veterinary school, aspiring vets must pass the North American Veterinary Licensing Exam, as well as a state-mandated licensing exam, before becoming qualified to enter private practice. Veterinarians who hope to become board-certified in specialties such as small animals, dentistry, surgery or nutrition must also complete 3-4 years of residency and pass a board certificate examination.

Career and Salary Information

According to the BLS, veterinarians earned an average annual salary of $104,250 as of 2018. Those who worked in management, scientific, and technical consulting services earned an annual average salary of $134,060 that same year, which was higher than all other veterinary categories. Because of the growing pet population, job opportunities will continue to be good in the near future, reported the BLS, along with a prediction of 18% employment growth from 2018-2028.

Small animal veterinarians focus their practice on caring for small domesticated animals, like cats and dogs. Their training is extensive and includes a residency of several years, followed by an exam for board certification as a small animal vet. Veterinarians are always in high demand since people continue to keep domesticated pets in their homes.

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