Small Animal Veterinarian: Career Summary, Employment Outlook, and Education Requirements

Explore the career requirements for small animal veterinarians. Get the facts about education, salary, licensing requirements and job outlook to determine if this is the right career for you. Schools offering Animal Care degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Small Animal Veterinarian?

Small animal veterinarians work with companion animals, such as cats, dogs, hamsters, birds and rabbits. They will examine these animals to diagnose and treat any ailments or injuries. This may involve dressing wounds, performing surgery, giving vaccinations or testing for disease. Small animal veterinarians know how to use various kinds of medical equipment, like x-ray machines. They can prescribe medication, and must be able to educate the pet owners about their pet's medical needs and care. Small animal veterinarians must also be prepared to euthanize animals if needed. The following chart provides an overview about becoming a small animal veterinarian.

Degree Required Doctor of Veterinary Medicine
Key Responsibilities Examine, diagnose and treat small animals; perform surgery; vaccinate and test for diseases; euthanize animals
Licensing or Certification Licensure required in all states; American Veterinary Medical Association 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 the Job Description for a Small Animal Veterinarian?

Small animal veterinarians diagnose, treat and prevent health problems in small companion animals. Typical job duties that you can expect to perform include administering vaccinations, prescribing medications, dressing wounds, performing surgery, ordering diagnostic tests, performing euthanasia and counseling owners regarding general care, behavior, nutrition or breeding. While performing your job duties, you can expect to work with a variety of medical equipment, such as ultrasound systems, stethoscopes and surgical instruments.

When you are not treating animals in the clinic, you may be responsible for educating the public regarding animal diseases that can be passed on to humans. As a small animal veterinarian, you will be required to engage in lifelong learning, which may include attending lectures and conferences, or participating in continuing education courses.

What Type of Employment Outlook Can I Expect?

Veterinarians, including small animal veterinarians, can expect to experience faster than average job growth compared to all occupations, about 9% over the 2014-2024 decade, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The growth rate as a small animal veterinarian has slowed in the past few years; however, there is higher growth as a large animal veterinarian due to less competition in that specialty.

In addition, pet owners are more likely to invest in pet insurance and veterinary care than they were in the past, which may help drive healthy growth in this occupation. If you choose to seek employment in a rural area, you can expect less competition from other small animal veterinarians than you would if you were to work in a city or suburb.

What Education Requirements Will I Need to Fulfill?

To become a small animal veterinarian you will first need to complete pre-veterinary courses as a college undergraduate, including inorganic and organic chemistry, physics, biology, nutrition, zoology microbiology and mathematics. These courses can help you prepare for the required veterinary school entrance examination, which is usually the Veterinary College Admission Test (VCAT), Graduate Record Examination (GRE) or Medical College Admission Test (MCAT).

Most veterinary schools also require that you gain experience working with animals. Although it is not required, it is recommended that you earn a bachelor's degree since admission to veterinary school is highly competitive.

Next, you will need to complete four years of veterinary school and earn your Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (D.V.M.) degree. You must then earn a license to practice veterinary medicine in the United States. Although licensing requirements can vary by state, they usually include passing the North American Veterinary Licensing Examination (NAVLE). Depending on the state in which you wish to work, you may be required to take additional examinations, which may test state laws or clinical competency.

After earning your veterinary license, you may choose to begin working. However, you may also choose to complete a 1-year internship followed by a residency in a small animal specialty, such as surgery or internal medicine. Residencies take an additional 3-4 years to complete and provide in-depth training, as well as teaching and research opportunities, in your chosen specialty area. You may then opt to earn board certification from the appropriate specialty board.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

There are a few other careers that are similar to those of small animal veterinarians and require a doctoral or professional degree. Medical scientists work to improve human health through research. These professionals conduct clinical trials and present their findings. Physicians and surgeons perform similar tasks as veterinarians, but with humans. They typically treat ill or injured patients through medication, medical counseling or surgery.

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