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Animal Care Careers: Job Options, Duties and Requirements

Many individuals wishing to embark on a career with animals become veterinarians, requiring four years of schooling beyond high school to earn a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine. Other career options which require less schooling include veterinary technician or technologist.

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Career Option: Veterinarian

Veterinarians are doctors who are trained to work with animals, or to conduct research on health issues pertaining to animals and humans. Most veterinarians run their own practices or work in a group private practice. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that more than three quarters of private practice veterinarians work with household pets (www.bls.gov). Others mainly treat livestock, such as horses, pigs and cattle. Those not in private practice work for the U.S. government, zoos or marine centers, or teach at universities. Veterinarians can also become board-certified by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) in one of 40 specialties (www.avma.org).

Job Duties

Veterinarians care for and treat diseases and conditions in dogs, cats, birds, reptiles and other pets. Job duties include testing for diseases, vaccinating animals, dressing wounds, performing surgery, setting fractures and helping animals give birth. Vets who work with livestock drive from one location to another to visit the animals. They must deal with frightened or sick animals who may try to scratch, bite or kick them.

Requirements for a Veterinary Career

All practicing veterinarians need to have graduated with a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree from a 4-year accredited program at a college of veterinary medicine.Individuals with a college degree have the best chance for entrance to these highly selective programs. Pre-vet coursework includes life sciences and mathematics. After completing veterinary school, graduates must sit for the North American Veterinary Licensing Exam in order to work as a veterinarian.

Salary Information

BLS statistics reflect an annual average salary of $93,250 for veterinarians as of May 2012. At that time, vets working in scientific research and development earned the highest salaries, averaging more than $132,000 a year. The BLS projects a 35% employment growth in the veterinary field from 2010-2020.

Career Option: Veterinary Technician or Technologist

Veterinary technicians and technologists work alongside veterinarians. Their jobs are akin to those of nurses, in that they perform many of the medical duties and animal care that the doctor directs. Although there is little difference between the tasks of technicians and technologists in a vet clinic, each job has distinct training requirements.

Job Duties

Job duties for veterinary technicians and technologists include performing medical tests, taking blood and tissue samples, assisting with dental care and developing x-rays. They often vaccinate or even euthanize animals. Additionally, they may interact with pet owners or train others working at the office. Individuals who work in animal hospitals are sometimes required to be on duty at night.

Educational Requirements

Veterinary technician programs last two years and award an associate degree, while veterinary technologist programs are four years long and culminate in a bachelor's degree in veterinary technology. Programs involve classroom work and experience with live animals. Both veterinary technicians and technologists must take the credentialing exam administered by the AVMA to become certified, licensed or registered, depending upon the requirements of their state.

Salary Information

In 2012, the average annual wage for veterinary technicians and technologists was $31,470, as per BLS reporting. The highest-paying industries for these professionals in 2012 were the federal executive branch and state governments, both of which offered salaries of more than $40,000 per year on average. Vet technicians and technologists are expected to see a 52% job growth rate between 2010 and 2020, states the BLS, which is a far higher rate than the average for all the country's occupations.

Other Animal Care Career Options

Animal care careers outside veterinary medicine work with companion and wild animals, and may require specialized training in care techniques or a particular species. Other animal care careers include:

  • Dog, horse or marine mammal trainer
  • Animal control officer
  • Shelter worker
  • Pet groomer
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