Animal Behaviorist: Salary and Career Facts

Animal behaviorists conduct scientific research studies in social, medical or psychological animal behavior. Read on to learn about career options, educational requirements and salary potential. Schools offering Biology degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Does an Animal Behaviorist Do?

Animal behaviorism is often considered a field of bioscience. Many animal behaviorists conduct clinical research in governmental, pharmaceutical or academic research laboratories. You may study various general facets of animal behavior, or you may focus on one area, such as behavioral changes throughout an animal's life cycle or interactions with other animals. If you work in pharmaceutical research, you'll likely observe the behavioral changes animals experience under the influence of certain drugs. At the academic level, you can teach animal behaviorism as well as conducting research on the subject.

Many animal behaviorists also work in zoology or veterinary medicine. In either of these roles, you'd conduct research to actively solve animal behavioral problems. You'll observe animal behavior and advise pet owners or zoo officials on ways to improve troublesome behavioral traits. Veterinary behaviorists may often suggest medication, though you'd need to be a licensed Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) to write prescriptions. Last but not least, animal behaviorists may pursue careers conducting research related to natural science, ecology or environmental conservation for museums or environmental conservation groups.

Degree Required Ph.D. or DVM
Education Field of Study Animal behavior, veterinary medicine
Key Responsibilities Conduct animal research, treat and care for animals
Job Growth (2014-2024) 4% for zoologists and wildlife biologists
9% for veterinarians
7% for animal scientists
Median Salary (2016) $60,520 for zoologists and wildlife biologists
$114,490 for veterinarians in scientific research
$103,940 for animal scientists in research and development

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Education Do I Need?

A career as an animal behaviorist requires an extensive education. You'll need a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) degree for many behavioral research jobs and for virtually all teaching jobs, according to North Carolina's Bioscience Clearinghouse, a Web resource published by the North Carolina Association for Biomedical Research. A DVM degree is often required for those working in the veterinary positions described above; this degree may come in handy for zoologists also. The Clearinghouse also notes that a bachelor's degree is the minimum required education for animal behavioral professionals.

What Will I Learn in These Programs?

As an undergraduate student, you can earn a Bachelor of Science (B.S.) degree in animal behavior or biological science. In a biology program, you may be able to declare a minor in behavior. These programs will require you to take numerous lecture and lab-based courses in such areas of science as cellular and molecular biology, chemistry, ecology and genetics. Animal behavior programs also educate you in the foundations of psychology, such as animal learning, neurological and cognitive functions, memory, appetite and environmental adaption.

At the graduate level, you can find master's and Ph.D. degrees in animal behavior, science or related areas. Both master's and doctoral degree programs give you advanced knowledge in animal brain functions via courses in neurobiology and neuropsychology. Degree programs are based heavily in research; required courses will cover quantitative and qualitative research design, behavioral research analysis, biostatistics and field studies. You'll also take several courses related to the planning, research, presentation and defense of your thesis (if you're a master's degree student) or dissertation (if you're a doctoral student).

If you want to work in veterinary behavioral research, you can generally earn your Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) degree within four years past an undergraduate program. Required courses cover anatomy and physiology, disease control, cellular biology, bacteriology and pharmacology. You'll study animal-human interactions, abnormal behavior diagnosis and other behavior-related issues. You'll also need to complete one or more clinical residencies, where you'll get hands-on practice in animal diagnosis, surgery and medication prescription. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, completing a DVM program generally makes you eligible for state licensure, which is required to practice veterinary medicine (www.bls.gov).

What Salary Can I Earn?

Not only can earning potential for animal behaviorists differ greatly by job title, but exact salary data can be hard to come by because of the wide variety of career options in this field. However, the BLS reported the median annual wage for zoologists and wildlife biologists was $60,520 as of 2016. The BLS also listed a median annual wages of $114,490 for veterinarians and $103,940 for animal scientists working in scientific research and development positions.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Another related career that also requires a pHD or professional degree is a veterinarian. Veterinarians are responsible for the welfare of various animals including pets, livestock and zoo animals. They diagnose and treat health conditions and may perform surgery. You could also consider becoming a biochemist, another job that requires a pHD. Some biochemists may work with animals in a research capacity. Biochemists study living processes, including diseases, heredity and cell development.

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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