Find out the education requirements for veterinarians who specialize in treating cows, horses and other large animals. Learn about veterinary and animal surgery degree programs as well as employment outlook and salary data for this field.
Veterinarians that specialize in large animal medicine and surgery work with horses, cattle, goats, pigs, sheep, llamas and ostriches. To work in this field, you can pursue a large animal medicine and surgery specialization after you've earned your Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM). You can enroll in a residency or earn a master's or doctoral degree in large animal medicine and surgery.
Fewer than 30 colleges offer degree programs approved by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and acceptance into these programs is competitive, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). As a result, the need for veterinarians exceeds the number of practicing and graduating veterinarians.
The BLS projected that between 2012 and 2022, the employment of veterinarians would increase by 12%. The demand for farm-animal veterinarians, such as livestock vets, should be stronger than other types of veterinary fields because of the low number of professionals in this specialty. As reported by the BLS in May of 2013, the median annual salary for all types of veterinarians was $86,640.
To enroll in a graduate degree program in large animal medicine and surgery, you must have a DVM, and you may be required to be a licensed veterinarian. According to the National Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners, passing the North American Veterinary Licensing Examination is required by all states for licensure as a veterinarian (nbvme.org). Some states and universities have programs that will reduce or eliminate your education debt if you're working with large animals, particularly with farm animals. The National Veterinary Medical Service Act has a similar goal and can reimburse a portion of your tuition if you choose to work in an underserved rural area.
Preparation for veterinary school can include an undergraduate pre-veterinary degree program, which may be available as part of a bachelor's degree in animal science or biology. These undergraduate programs typically meet the prerequisite requirements for the doctoral degree program. Earning a DVM typically takes four years and includes courses in animal anatomy and physiology, immunology, types of diseases that infect animals, toxicology, diagnostics and surgery. You also complete clinical rotations that include working in small animal clinics, surgery and large animal clinics.
Following your DVM, you can enroll in a residency or an internship to gain experience working with large animal medicine and in surgery. Residencies may be available working with farm animals, horses, zoo animals, marine animals or in surgery. You can work in a teaching animal hospital to gain supervised clinical experience working with large animals. You may be able to pursue a specialty within the residency, such as large animal clinical sciences or large animal surgery.
Some residencies and internships are part of a master's or a doctoral degree program. In those instances, you take courses, conduct research in large animal medicine and surgery and complete a residency. Some programs are designed to prepare you for certification as a diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Surgeons in large animal surgery. Upon graduation, your veterinary career opportunities may include working as a large animal veterinarian, conducting research in academic or government settings or becoming a university professor.
According to the BLS, veterinarians need to have good manual dexterity, communication skills and a bond with animals (www.bls.gov). You may be required to work long hours in a noisy environment. You'll deal with individuals who are anxious about their pets and the animals themselves, which may bite, kick or scratch.