Nature's Calling: Jobs in Animal Healthcare

When most of us think of a career in healthcare, we imagine tending to ill and injured humans. But those that are furry, feathery, and scaly need care too. If you're more of a puppy lover than a people person, then these jobs in animal healthcare may be for you.

Veterinarian: Become an Animal Doctor

Veterinarian in front of black cows

Image via Flickr by USDAgov

Most people interested in animal healthcare will think of pursuing a career as a veterinarian. These professionals are the animal equivalent of human physicians, examining their animal patients, treating their illnesses and injuries, and performing surgeries when required. These operations may be routine procedures like spaying and neutering or more complicated life-saving surgeries. As veterinarians cannot communicate to their patients as a regular doctor would, they teach human caretakers about treatment and responsible animal ownership.

Most veterinarians work with popular domestic pets like cats and dogs, while some have experience caring for more unusual animals like birds, rabbits, mice, and reptiles. Others may specialize in caring for livestock or exotic wildlife. Many vets work in an animal hospital or establish their own practice. Others are employed by animal shelters, farms, aquariums, and zoos.

Veterinarians typically obtain an undergraduate degree majoring in biology and animal science before enrolling in a four-year veterinary school program. They must then pass the North American Veterinary Licensing Examination, and for some specialties, undertake a one- to three-year residency or internship. In addition, vets may choose to highlight their specialty knowledge with certification obtained through the American Board of Veterinary Practitioners or another organization. Veterinarians are rewarded for their time spent studying, with the median salary sitting at $86,640.

Veterinary Technician or Technologist: Assist Veterinarians in Medical Matters

If a veterinarian can be thought of as the animal equivalent of a human doctor, then a veterinary technician or technologist is like a human nurse. Just like a nurse assists the doctor in his duties, a veterinary technician supports the veterinarian.

Veterinary technicians help vets treat patients, restraining animals during consultations and preparing them for surgery. They also conduct diagnostic testing, such as collecting blood samples and taking X-rays. When animals are very sick or have passed away, the veterinary technician helps pet owners deal with their grief. Due to their close relationship with veterinarians, veterinary technicians work with the same animals vets do and in the same workplaces.

Veterinary technicians and technologists have similar roles but different qualifications. Veterinary technicians are required to complete a two-year Associate Degree in Veterinary Technology from the American Veterinary Medical Association. Veterinary technologists undertake a four-year Bachelor's Degree in Veterinary Technology. In addition, some states require veterinary technicians and technologists to pass the Veterinary Technician National Examination before pursuing their careers.

Veterinary technicians and technologists have a median salary of $31,760. Veterinary technologists have the potential to make more than technicians if they work in specialty practice or research, but commonly they have the same starting salary as veterinary technicians.

Veterinary Assistant: Help Vets with Daily Duties

Veterinarian examining a small dog

Image via Flickr by Army Medicine

If you don't have the time, money, or inclination to hit the books, you needn't give up on your dreams of a career in animal healthcare. Veterinary assistants need nothing more than a high school diploma to get a foot in the door.

Veterinary assistants care for a range of domestic and exotic animals in veterinary clinics, hospitals, and laboratories. They learn on the job but are not tasked with many of the medical duties of veterinary technicians and technologists. Instead, they complete simple tasks like feeding patients, administering prescribed medications, and monitoring animals after treatments. Their work is overseen by more educated animal healthcare professionals, including veterinarians, scientists, and veterinary technologists and technicians. A lack of formal qualifications sees veterinary assistants making a median salary of $23,130. 

Holistic Health Consultant: Specialize in Alternative Animal Health

If you aren't sure that traditional medicine has all the answers, a career as a holistic health consultant might be for you. These professionals specialize in alternative health treatments, such as natural medicines, massage therapy, and diet adjustments. These treatments can benefit pets suffering from a range of conditions, including allergies, anxiety, and arthritis. They may be offered in addition to traditional vet care or as an alternative measure. Holistic health consultants may work with veterinarians in their practices or directly with pet owners in a private capacity.

Holistic health consultants typically undergo the same training as regular veterinarians. Veterinary schools offering holistic programs are not common, but courses can be found that focus on holistic areas, including Tellington TTouch, acupuncture, herbal medicine, hydrotherapy, and other specialties. Some programs happily accept vet students while others will only accept licensed veterinarians. Due to their extensive training and unique specialty, holistic health consultants can expect to earn as much as traditional vets and even more in some markets.

Animal Behaviorist: Examine Why Animals Do What They Do

Animal behaviorists can be thought of like the psychologists and psychiatrists of the animal healthcare world. These professionals examine the way that animals interact with their environment and each other, and what inspires their behaviors.

This exciting specialty opens up a range of job opportunities. Animal behaviorists may work with domestic or wild animals. Conservation agencies look to animal behaviorists for guidance on reintroducing animals back to the wild. Some zoos, museums, and nature reserves hire animal behaviorists to educate their visitors about the ways animals behave. An animal behaviorist may also work with the ASPCA or a similar organization to decide whether an animal is suitable for adoption or requires social training to fit in with a family.

Given the diversity of jobs for animal behaviorist, it's difficult to give general details about education and expected salaries. Individuals might become an animal behavior specialist or technician after earning a Bachelor's Degree in Animal Behavior. However, the term animal behaviorist typically refers to people who've completed a Ph.D. or Doctor of Veterinary Medicine. This qualification is required to enter some areas, including research, teaching, and conservation.

Working in healthcare doesn't have to mean changing bedpans or listening to patient complaints. These jobs in animal healthcare will bring financial and personal rewards to animal lovers.

Contributed to by Kim Hale

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