How Can I Become a Zoo Veterinarian?

Research what it takes to become a zoo veterinarian. Learn about degree requirements, licensure, 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 Does a Zoo Veterinarian Do?

Zoo veterinarians need a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree and a license. Zoo veterinarians specialize in treating a large variety of exotic animals that may be found in a zoo. They may need to have extensive medical knowledge concerning mammals, birds, reptiles, fish and more. Zoo veterinarians perform many of the same tasks as a small animal veterinarian, but in a different setting. They still diagnose and treat illness and injuries of animals, as well as vaccinate them and perform surgeries if necessary. Zoo veterinarians may work closely with zookeepers and other zoo staff members to handle and treat different animals. You can review the table below to learn more about what employment and salary projections have been reported for this field and what skills you'll need.

Degree Required Doctoral degree
Education Field of Study Veterinary medicine
Key Skills Compassion, problem-solving, interpersonal skills, physical strength
Licensure/Certification All veterinarians must be licensed to practice; certification is optional
Job Growth (2014-2024) 9% (for all veterinarians)*
Median Salary (2015) $88,490 (for all veterinarians)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Is a Zoo Veterinarian?

Zoo veterinarians provide medical care to a variety of species including primates, felines, reptiles and birds. In this job, you would diagnose illnesses, dispense medication, dress wounds and perform surgeries. You will also prevent disease and sickness by giving immunizations and instructing zoo workers in proper sanitation techniques and dietary protocol.

What Education Do I Need?

Veterinarians must graduate from a 4-year Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (D.V.M. or V.M.D.) program at a veterinary school accredited by the American Veterinary Medical Association. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics recognizes that although a bachelor's degree is not required by some schools, space is limited in many veterinarian degree programs and candidates with an undergraduate degree have an advantage in the admissions process ( To qualify for admittance into a D.V.M. program, you must take between 45 and 90 credit hours of undergraduate classes. Enrolling in courses such as biology, chemistry, English and animal physiology are recommended. Most veterinary schools also require letters of recommendation, experience working with animals and a satisfactory score on the Graduate Record Examination (GRE).

While pursuing a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree, you will study diagnostic procedures, mammalian anatomy, surgical techniques and animal organs and systems. During the last year, you'll gain clinical experience by working on a farm, at a private veterinary practice or in a zoo, assisting veterinarians in caring for and treating a variety of animal species. After graduation, you should seek an internship opportunity at a zoo to acquire additional knowledge in zoo operations and procedures.

Licensing Requirements

To perform the job duties of a veterinarian, you must obtain a license from the state in which you will practice. Each state has different requirements, but according to the BLS, all states require applicants to pass the North American Veterinary Licensing Exam (NAVLE) and complete a D.V.M. program. The 6.5 hour NAVLE exam consists of 360 multiple choice questions assessing skills in the diagnosis and treatment of various illnesses and injuries.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Medical scientists, physicians and surgeons are all related careers that require a doctoral or professional degree. Medical scientists are the ones behind the scenes in clinical trials. They use these and other research methods to increase human health. Physicians perform many of the same tasks as veterinarians, but with human patients. They diagnose and treat a variety of illnesses and injuries. Surgeons specialize in performing operations on their patients to treat disease, fix injuries and more.

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