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Zoo Veterinarian: Career and Salary Facts

Explore the career requirements for zoo veterinarians. Get the facts about job duties, education requirements, licensing and salary to determine if this is the right career for you.

What Is a Zoo Veterinarian?

Zoo veterinarians work with exotic animals, such as tigers, polar bears, elephants, snakes, flamingos and giraffes, in a zoo or wild animal park setting. Just like other veterinarians, zoo veterinarians examine these different animals to diagnose and treat any issues they may be having. They also perform routine health procedures, such as immunizations. These professionals may perform surgery, prescribe medication and work closely with zookeepers and other staff members to treat any illnesses and injuries an animal may experience. In extreme cases, they may have to euthanize an animal. Take a look at the following chart for an overview of how to enter this field.

Degree Required Doctoral degree
Education Field of Study Veterinary medicine
Post-Graduate Training Required for Board Certification in Zoo Medicine 1-year zoo vet internship; 3-4 year zoo vet residency through ACZM or 6 years of zoo vet experience
Key Responsibilities Provide medical & preventive care to wild animals; perform animal surgeries; help design animal habitats
Licensure Required National exam & license required in all states; additional requirements vary by state
Job Growth (2018-2028 ) 18% (all veterinarians)*
Average Salary (2018) $105,240*

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

What Will My Duties Be as a Zoo Veterinarian?

As a zoo veterinarian, you will give medical care to the many types of creatures living in the nation's zoos. Much of your time will be devoted to emergency situations, often to treat injuries received by the wild and sometimes unpredictable animals in your care. You will also diagnose sickness, give appropriate treatment and prescribe medication to help ailing animals regain health. You may also perform surgeries.

As a zoo veterinarian, you will also give preventative care to healthy animals. This includes administering vaccinations and doing routine physical exams on the zoo menagerie. You will regularly confer with zookeepers and veterinary technicians, and will make recommendations on living arrangements for zoo animals. You may also lend a hand in planning new zoo exhibits.

While treating exotic animals, you may come across unique medical situations that leave you undecided about the best treatment. In those cases you might consult with veterinarians at other zoos and possibly even with doctors who treat humans.

What Education Should I Pursue?

You must earn a bachelor's degree or a minimum of 45 college credits in pre-veterinary courses at the undergraduate level. This will allow you to enroll in an accredited veterinary medicine school and earn a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree.

According to the American College of Zoological Medicine (ACZM), after graduation you should complete a year-long internship, probably in zoological medicine (www.aczm.org). You may then complete a zoological medicine residency of 3-4 years in a training program under the auspices of the ACZM. As an alternative to the ACZM training program, you can work for a minimum of six years in zoological medicine. After finishing the ACZM training program or the equivalent work experience, you may seek board certification in zoological medicine from the ACZM.

Will I Need a License?

You must obtain a veterinary license in the state where you will practice medicine. All states also demand that you pass the North American Veterinary Licensing Exam. You may need to take additional exams when you seek your state license.

What Salary Could I Earn?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that in May 2018, veterinarians employed by museums, historical sites and similar institutions, including zoos, earned an average yearly salary of about $88,460. This is less than the average salary reported for veterinarians in general, $105,240. The BLS also predicts that job opportunities for veterinarians as a group will rise by 18% from 2018 to 2028.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

There are a few related careers on the human side of the medical field, including physicians, surgeons and medical scientists. All of these positions require a doctoral or professional degree. Physicians perform many of the same tasks as a veterinarian, but with human patients. They diagnose and treat a wide range of conditions. Surgeons often work with physicians and specialize in performing operations to help correct or remove damaged and diseased tissues. Medical scientists also work to improve human health, but they tend to stay in the laboratory. They will test various samples and help conduct clinical trials to find new medications and treatments.