Small Animal Veterinarian: Career and Salary Facts

Research what it takes to become a small animal veterinarian. Learn about job duties, education requirements, salary and job outlook to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Animal Care degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Small Animal Veterinarian?

As a small animal veterinarian, your concerns are the same as any veterinarian except that you would mainly focus on diagnosing and treating pets, such as cats, dogs, birds and other companion animals. Small animal veterinarians vaccinate, draw blood, perform wellness tests, diagnose ailments, perform surgeries, administer medicines and monitor their patients' conditions. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), more that 75% of all vets are in private practice.

Check out the following chart for an overview of how to enter this profession.

Degree Required Doctor of Veterinary Medicine
Education Field of Study Veterinary medicine
Key Skills Medical treatment for pets; communication, compassion
Licensure Required Licensing required in all states; board certifications optional
Job Growth (2014-2024 ) 9%*
Median Salary (2015) $88,490*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

What Would I Do as a Small Animal Veterinarian?

Your work would entail administering vaccinations and medicines and using radiography, laboratory tests and surgery to diagnose and treat medical problems. You could also find work in research facilities, public health agencies, animal shelters and wildlife reserves.

What Would My Work Environment Be Like?

Being a veterinarian, while rewarding, can be stressful and sometimes dangerous. The AVMA reported that animals may try to bite or scratch when afraid, sick or injured. In addition, pet owners often need to be comforted and handled with tact and compassion. You should have a strong aptitude for science, physical and mental stamina for demanding work hours, good manual dexterity and the ability to communicate well.

What Kind of Education Will I Need?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), you need to earn a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM or VMD) from an accredited program and obtain state licensure to practice as a small animal veterinarian. To enter most veterinary programs, you need undergraduate level coursework in biology, biochemistry, physics, organic and inorganic chemistry, genetics, animal nutrition, algebra, statistics and calculus. Courses in the social sciences, English, business and management may also be required by many schools and can be helpful with running a successful practice later.

According to the AVMA, admission to veterinary school can be very competitive. Prospective applicants need to complete the Veterinary College Admission Test (VCAT) or the Medical College Admissions test (MCAT), depending on the school's requirements, as well as the Graduate Record Examination (GRE). If you wish to become board-certified, you must complete an additional residency of in one of 39 recognized specialties, such as surgery, cardiology, internal medicine or dentistry.

Veterinarians must be licensed in all 50 states and the District of Columbia to practice medicine. While the exact requirements may vary, all states require a DVM degree and successful completion of the 8-hour North American Veterinary Licensing Exam.

What Kind of Salary Might I Earn?

The BLS reports that veterinarians in general earned an average salary of $88,490 in May 2015. States paying the highest average salaries were Hawaii ($198,600), New Jersey ($127,130) and Connecticut ($125,630). In addition, the BLS notes that jobs are expected to increase by about 9% between 2014 and 2024, with strong competition for jobs, especially those for small animal vets.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Physicians and surgeons are to human beings what veterinarians are to animals. While not all physicians are surgeons, all physicians and surgeons must be licensed and hold wither a doctoral or professional degree. Surgeon in fact, is a specialty area for physicians. According to the BLS, nearly all physicians complete 4 years of undergraduate work, 4 years in medical school and between 3 and 7 years in internships and residency programs, depending on their specialty. Other specialties include psychiatry, obstetrics and gynecology, pediatrics and anesthesiology.

Another occupation in the medical field is medical scientist. These individuals may hold a medical degree or a Ph.D. Since medical scientists are generally concerned with research, they are not normally required to hold a license. However, if they practice medicine by treating patients in practice or in clinical trials, they must hold a license to practice as a physician. Their research is normally concerned with improving overall human health conditions, though they may be involved with the creation and testing of new medical devices.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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