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.
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 reported 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 39 specialties (www.avma.org).
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.
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 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.
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.
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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