Animal Doctor: Career Profile, Occupational Outlook, and Education Requirements

Research what it takes to become an animal doctor. Learn about job duties, employment outlook, salary and education requirements to find out if this is the career for you.

What Is an Animal Doctor?

Animal doctors, or veterinarians, provide healthcare for companion animals, livestock, zoo animals and other animals. Their efforts may also be coordinated with maintaining and/or improving public health. These professionals diagnose and treat illnesses and injuries of various animals using medical equipment like x-ray machines, dressing wounds, performing surgery and prescribing medication. Animal doctors will also test animals for diseases and try to prevent the spread of disease through vaccinations. They may have to euthanize animals if necessary. The following chart gives you an overview of what you need to know about entering this field.

Degree Required Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree
Education Field of Study Veterinary medicine
Key Skills Provide medical & wellness treatment for animals in a clinic, zoo, farm or public health setting
Licensure Required All states require licensing through passage of a national exam; additional licensing requirements vary by state
Job Growth (2018-2028 ) 18%*
Average Salary (2018) $105,240*

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

What Are the Job Duties of Animal Doctors?

As a veterinarian, you can choose one of several career paths. You can work for a zoo, providing day-to-day medical treatment for various animals and ensuring the animals' dietary needs are met. You can also open a clinic in an urban community and treat small companion animals. A clinical setting allows you to spay and neuter pets, examine X-rays, perform dental maintenance for animals and suture wounds. You'll also provide immunizations and exams for preventative care, euthanize injured or ill animals and volunteer time at immunization clinics.

You can also engage in medicine production, treating farm animals, treating horses or acting as a physical therapist for animals. If you want to work with farm animals you can anticipate traveling between farms and ranches to care for your patients. Some animal doctors work for the government, checking animal carcasses for diseases. Another option is to become an animal inspector and inspect and guarantee food and meat safety.

What Can I Expect from this Career?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) states that employment should grow 18% over the 2018-2028 decade ( This increase is due in part to the fact that veterinarians are increasingly being needed in areas such as food and animal safety, public health and food supply inspection for pets. In addition, more individuals are seeking advanced medical care for pets. Competition will be strongest for companion animal veterinary positions; those willing to work with large animals, such as farm animals, may see better opportunities.

The BLS also reports that the average annual salary for veterinarians was $105,240 in 2018. Veterinarians saw the highest salaries in Virginia, Texas, California, Alaska and New Jersey; all 5 states averaged 6-figure salaries.

What Requirements Will I Need to Complete?

A pre-veterinary program must be completed before you can enter an accredited veterinary college. This curriculum may include animal biology, chemistry, animal nutrition, inorganic chemistry, and physics, depending on the school to which you apply. You must acquire a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) from an accredited veterinary school and a state license to practice veterinary medicine. However, if you are employed by a federal or government agency, you may not need to earn a license.

The National Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners provides the required licensing examination. Some states may have additional licensing requirements, such as a clinical competency exam or a state jurisprudence exam. You may then complete an optional internship or residency and focus on a specialty, which may later lead to higher paying job opportunities.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Some alternative careers that are related to veterinarians include physicians and surgeons and medical scientists. These careers all require a doctoral or professional degree. Physicians and surgeons perform similar medical duties as veterinarians, but with humans. They diagnose and treat illness and injury in patients through counseling, medication and surgery. Medical scientists are also in the medical field. These professionals research a variety of subjects and oversee clinical trials aimed at improving human health.