Small Animal Veterinarian: Salary, Duties and Requirements

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become a small animal veterinarian. Get a quick view of the requirements, as well as details about schooling, job duties and licensing to find out if this is the career for you.

Small animal veterinarians are animal doctors who diagnose and treat small animals. The job requires completion of a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine program and state licensure. Licensing usually requires passing one or more exams.

Essential Information

Also known as companion animal vets, small animal veterinarians typically work with house pets, including dogs, cats, rabbits, birds and reptiles. To become a small animal veterinarian, one must complete vet school and earn a state license. A baccalaureate degree may be required to gain admission into some veterinary schools. Internships and residencies are optional for most general veterinarians; those with specializations will need to meet more specific requirements.

Required Education Bachelor's degree preferred; Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (D.V.M. or V.M.D.) required from an accredited school; internships and residencies may be required for some specializations
Licensing Licensure required in all states except for some government positions; all use the North American Veterinary Licensing Exam, but some require additional exams
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024) 9% for all veterinarians*
Median Salary (2015) $88,490 for all veterinarians*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Small Animal Veterinarian Job Duties

In general, small animal vets diagnose diseases and other health problems in pets. They also might give vaccinations, prescribe and administer medications, perform surgeries, set fractures, treat wounds and euthanize terminally ill animals. Additionally, small animal veterinarians communicate with pet owners, which could involve teaching them how to deal with their pets' behavior issues or advising them on breeding or feeding issues.

Small Animal Veterinarian Requirements

Although many veterinary schools do not require that applicants hold a bachelor's degree, most people who get into vet school do have a 4-year degree, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). During their undergraduate years, aspiring small animal vets should take numerous courses in the sciences, including chemistry, organic chemistry, biology, physics, nutrition, microbiology, zoology and physiology. Many veterinary schools also require that students complete courses in mathematics, English, humanities and social sciences. It's also important that applicants have some experience working with animals and that they've completed one of the following standardized tests: the Veterinary College Admission Test (VCAT), the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) or the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT).

After earning a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (D.V.M.) from an accredited veterinary school, veterinarians must obtain licensure, with the exception of some vets who work for state or federal government agencies. Licensing requirements vary by state, but all states require a passing score on the North American Veterinary Licensing Exam. Many states also require passage of an additional examination that covers state laws and regulations, and some require a test of clinical skills.

Before beginning to practice, recent graduates might choose to undertake a 1-year internship, which can provide the opportunity to strengthen necessary skills and might lead to better paying positions later on. New veterinarians who wish to specialize in an area like internal medicine, dentistry, oncology or dermatology may opt to complete a 3- to 4-year residency program and then test for board certification in their specialties.

Small Animal Veterinarian Salary and Job Outlook Information

All veterinarians earned a median annual salary of $88,490 as of May 2015, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The top paying states for veterinarians at that time were Hawaii, New Jersey and Connecticut. The BLS predicts that the employment of all veterinarians will grow by a faster-than-average rate, about 9%, during the 2014-2024 decade.

Small animal veterinarians work mostly with companion animals, diagnosing and treating disease and injuries. After completing their undergraduate education and obtaining experience working with animals, aspiring small animal vets need to complete veterinary school and obtain state licensure. The job growth for small animal veterinarians is expected to be faster than that of the job market as a whole, and the median annual salary is more than $88,000.

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