Nature calls – jobs in animal healthcare
Want to work with animals? Consider these jobs in animal healthcare.
When most of us think of a career in health care, we imagine tending to sick and injured humans. But the furry, feathery and scaly creatures with whom we share this planet need care, too. So, if you're more of a puppy lover than a people person, then these jobs in animal health care may be for you.
Most people interested in animal health care will think of pursuing a career as a veterinarian. These professionals are the animal equivalent of human doctors, examining their animal patients and treating illnesses and injuries. Vets may also perform surgeries when required – from routine procedures like spaying and neutering to more complicated, life-saving surgeries. As vets 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 are employed by animal hospitals, shelters, farms, aquariums and zoos, while some choose to establish their own practices.
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 a 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 $93,500.
Veterinary technicians and technologists
If a veterinarian is the animal world’s equivalent of a doctor, then a veterinary technician or technologist is its nurse. Just like a nurse assists the doctor in his or her 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 may help pet owners deal with their grief. Veterinary technicians work with the same animals as vets, 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 $33,000. 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.
If you don't have the time, money, or inclination to earn an advanced degree, you needn't give up on your dreams of a career in animal health care. Veterinary assistants typically 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 health care professionals, including veterinarians, scientists and veterinary technologists and technicians.
Fewer formal qualifications, less specialized responsibilities, and the option to work part-time means veterinary assistants don’t typically earn as much as the occupations listed above. Veterinary assistants earn a median salary of $25,000.
Holistic health consultants
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 may benefit pets suffering from a range of conditions, including allergies, anxiety and arthritis, and 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 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.
The world of animal health care has proxies for human doctors, nurses and even holistic consultants, so it may not come as a surprise that there are proxies for psychologists and psychiatrists as well. Animal behaviorists examine the way animals interact with their environments 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. Some zoos, museums and nature reserves hire animal behaviorists to educate their visitors about the ways animals behave, and many conservation agencies look to animal behaviorists for guidance on reintroducing animals back into the wild. An animal behaviorist may also work with the ASPCA or similar organizations to determine whether animals are suitable for adoption or assisting with social training.
Given the diversity of jobs an animal behaviorist might pursue, there’s a similarly wide variety of education requirements 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 fields, including research, teaching and conservation.
While much of the health care industry is focused on taking care of an aging human population, there is still a need for compassionate professionals to help our non-human companions. Animal health care jobs are a great way to turn a love of animals and an interest in health care into a fulfilling career.