Rainbow of animals
Susan E. Wilson-Sanders, DVM., MS
University Animal Care - The University of Arizona -  Tucson, Arizona 85724

Large Animal Veterinarian

Farm - Mom & kid

Steer riding

sheep herding



Marine Biology


Zoo keeper

Animal Technician

Lab Animal Technician

Veterinary Surgery

Pet grooming

Wildlife Management


Animal-Assisted Therapist

Animal Law

any of us love animals and, as young people, spend at least some time considering a career that keeps us in the company of our animal friends.  Some of us choose career paths which take us away from animals but maintain contact through our animal companions; others want a career that will keep animals as the focal point of their lives. The information provided in this presentation will introduce you to some of the many careers where you can work with or around animals.

Farming and Ranching: When our ancestors were growing up in pre-twentieth century America, most lived in rural communities where animal contact was a daily event, as the cows had to be milked and the eggs harvested from the chickens? nests for the family's meals.  In modern society, most of us live in the "burbs", and many young people forget that milk does not originate in the supermarket dairy section! Rural America still does exist, where many men and women operate dairy, hog, and poultry farms to provide milk and milk products, meat and eggs for consumers.  Ranchers--of both sexes--raise cattle, sheep, ostriches, and other animals for food, leather, and other byproducts of production agriculture.  Life on the farm or ranch is fun but hard work, and the farmer and rancher are at the mercy of nature. Drought, floods, hurricanes, and other acts of nature can destroy profits and lead to livestock losses.

These men and women are often raised on the land and either learn from experience about how to manage their business, or they may combine experience with education by attending college to major in Agriculture, Animal Science, Range Management or other undergraduate majors. Being a farmer or rancher requires extensive capital ($$$) to be able to buy the land, animals, and equipment that is necessary for successful operation.  Don't despair, though, if this is the life you desire, for all farming and ranching operations need managers, cowboys, and other employees.  Graduates of the degree programs mentioned above can often find work on a farm or ranch, without having to be the owner. Salaries for these individuals vary. For example, the manager of a large farming operation might make $50,000/year or more; whereas, a "cow hand" will make, perhaps, $12,000-$16,000/year.  Usually, cowboys (and cowgirls), don't care about the dollars; it is the lifestyle that counts.

Animal Breeding, Handling, and Training
:  Animal lovers who are good business men and women with good management sense can operate a small business such as a pet store.  Some pet stores have become very profitable; for example, the PETSMART chain.  And, of course, you don't have to be the owner to work there; but, as a clerk or kennel worker, you may earn minimum wage.  A degree in animal science or business may assist you in becoming the owner or manager of a large pet store or pet supply company, such as a pharmaceutical company, which produces or sells drugs for animals. Other jobs you could consider would be dog grooming (as owner or employee), a dog handler (shows dogs), horse trainer (takes lots of experience and skill), or an animal breeder.  The latter includes, dogs, cats, horses, birds, pocket pets, etc.  However, to be a success at any of these, both experience and knowledge play important roles. Young people who grow up with animals--raising puppies and kittens, showing horses, participating in 4-H, etc.--have a good start at choosing careers like these. Top horse trainers can make a very good living--charging $500-$1000 per month for each individual horse in training. A trainer could have a number of horses in training, so you can see the monthly salary could be quite good. A trainer may also work for a large horse breeder and enjoy the pleasure of riding and showing without having to worry about making a profit in the horse business. Trainers and breeders always need extra "hands" and a good way to start in the business is as a groom or equine sanitation manager (super-dooper-pooper-scooper). Another career for some short horse lovers is as a jockey. If you win the Kentucky Derby, it can be quite profitable!

Being an animal breeder, trainer, or handler can also make a good second job, or a job for a stay-at-home parent: for example, raising purebred horses, dogs, cats, or exotic birds.  However, there are expenses and other issues which must be considered when raising animals. The owner must ensure that their animals have wholesome food and water, receive proper veterinary care and immunizations, and receive the love and attention that every animal needs.

This type of venture is not for the inexperienced.  You need to be knowledgeable about hereditary diseases, which can occur in the type of animal you are breeding, and ensure that your animals are not perpetuating genetic defects, such as hip dysplasia, hemophilia, immune diseases, such as CID in horses of Arabian descent, and others. You must also be knowledgeable about disease recognition and prevention and be able to assist your animal during the birthing process, should problems occur.  You must provide facilities for your animals which are sanitary and environmentally controlled to ensure the health and welfare of your animals.

Breeders must ensure that the animals they are offering for sale are of outstanding quality and going to homes that can provide proper attention, housing, and care for the life of the animal.  Some people may be prepared to pay several hundred dollars (or thousands, for a horse) to purchase a pet, but fail to take into account that there will be maintenance costs to keep the animal healthy and happy.  It is the breeders responsibility to provide information on the routine costs associated with having an animal companion, so that new owners understand the long term financial commitment they are assuming when taking home an adorable puppy, kitten, or other animal. Many breeders also offer an option of returning an animal if the new owner finds that he/she cannot care for the animal.  This effort by the breeder helps ensure that animals do not become homeless.

Animal Welfare Organizations: Unfortunately, there are many animals that become lost, abandoned, or their owners find they can no longer care for them. Organizations such as local animal control centers, humane societies, and animal rescue agencies play a key role in providing a safe place for these animals to live while a new home is sought. Employees and volunteers who work in such organizations ensure that homeless animals receive proper veterinary care and vaccinations, socialization with people and other animals, and the daily care each animal needs. There are many different types of jobs available for animal lovers in these organizations, from management, veterinary care and assistance to animal husbandry (direct care for animals) and public relations (finding homes and raising money).  Often, an individual or group of individuals may form a private rescue agency, which may focus on one specific breed.  For example, there are Border Collie and Jack Russell Terrier rescue groups that focus specifically on the needs of these particular breeds. Other rescue groups will take any breed (or may take multiple species, such as dogs and cats) and look for homes for the animals.  The goals of all of the these organizations is to help ensure that homeless animals have the best chance at becoming a loved companion to a new human family.

Wildlife Management and Zoos: There are a number of career options where you can work with wild animals. Most agriculturally-oriented colleges have a Wildlife Management major, or similar. Students who complete this training can work for organizations such as the United States Forest Service, State Fish and Game, and others. Wildlife managers have a wide range of jobs, such as overseeing stocking of lakes with fish or being an enforcement officer who ensures that campers, fishermen, and hunters follow the regulations and do not abuse our state and federal lands. You can work in interesting places such as the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, San Diego Zoo, or as a National Park Ranger in remote forests or popular tourist attractions such as the Grand Canyon National Park.  Jobs are also available in zoological parks for animal caretakers, managers, and veterinarians. Circuses are another place where those who have expertise working with wild animals could find a job. Often circus employment can be learned "on-the-job".  As with companion animals, there is a need for individuals who are willing to work in wild-life rescue and rehabilitation, assisting wild animals that are injured or two young to care for themselves.

Careers in Veterinary Medicine and Animal Health Science:  Veterinary medicine is the career that is most often considered by young people who want to work with animals.  It is certainly a good choice, but as you can already see, there are lots of other opportunities, and veterinary medicine is not for every person who is an animal lover. To become a veterinarian you need to be an outstanding student, particularly during your college career. You need to begin preparing for veterinary school while you are in high school, taking as many science and math courses as you can and doing well in these subjects.  In college, you need to enter a pre-veterinary science major and maintain at least a 3.5 (or better) grade point average. You need to gain experience in "the field" by volunteering or working in a veterinary practice.

There are only 27 veterinary colleges in the United States, and many accept only students who are residents of their state. States without veterinary colleges usually have contracted arrangements with states which do have schools to ensure that animal lovers from all states have the opportunity to attain their dream of becoming a veterinarian. These days, the entrance rate into vet school is about 1 out of 2.5 applicants. The rate is considerably lower for students from states without a veterinary college. Thus, it always pays to be the very best student you can.

Once you are in vet school, it takes four years to obtain your D.V.M. or V.M.D. degree.  Many graduates continue on into at least a one year internship before going into practice on their own.  Most veterinarians choose either small animal practice, large animal practice, mixed (large and small), or equine (horse) practice. Veterinarians just starting out in practice make salaries in the range of $30,000; those with established practices may make $70,000-$100,000 per year. There are many career options for veterinarians. Many continue on to graduate school or residencies in such areas as internal medicine, surgery, laboratory animal medicine, pathology, and others.  These individuals become specialists in their fields and can command much higher salaries.  For example, a board certified pathologist or surgeon may make over $150,000/year.  Vets may also go into exotic animal medicine, practicing in a zoo or having their own clinic for people who have exotic pets. Veterinarians may also practice aquatic veterinary medicine and work with marine mammals, such as whales and porpoises.

There are many government, private industry, and university jobs available for veterinarians who are in laboratory animal medicine, pathology, toxicology, and other specialties. These individuals work with research animals. It is their job to make sure that animals that are used in research receive good care and are not abused.  Some may do research themselves on the diseases that affect man and animals.

You do not have to be a veterinarian to participate in many interesting jobs that relate to animal health. Veterinarians need veterinary assistants to help them with the care and treatment of animals.  Veterinary technicians can learn their trade by attending junior college (2 year) or university programs (4 year) in animal health science, veterinary science, animal science, and related fields.  There are also a number of trade school programs which provide a 8-12 month course in veterinary technology. Some "vet techs" learn on the job in a veterinary clinic. A range of salaries are paid by veterinarians across the country for veterinary assistance.  Many assistants and technicians begin at minimum wage and may eventually earn $10-$15/hour or more.

An excellent career for those interested in working with animals is in the field of Laboratory Animal Science. All research facilities, which use animals,  have a staff of animal care technicians who manage the animal facilities and care for the research animals.  To work in an animal facility, it is best to have either a college degree in animal science, biology or similar, be trained as a veterinary technician, or have a strong background of personal experience working with animals (such as raising your own pets, coming from a farm background, etc.)  There are many different types of jobs available in the animal facility; for example, actually caring for animals such as mice, chickens, reptiles, amphibians, dogs, monkeys, and farm animals.  Entry level Animal Technicians can make a starting salary of $15,000-$20,000; those in mid level positions earn $22,000-$25,000; and those in supervisory or management positions make $30,000 and up.  As a young person, you may have negative feelings about the use of animals in research and not wish to consider this type of career at all.  The fine women and men who work in the animal facilities are there to make sure that the animals are well cared for and treated with kindness. Animal Technicians are important overseers of research, and if they see an animal that is sick or abused, it is their job to report problems to the veterinarians in charge, or to notify, if necessary, the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee, which has the authority to halt a research project if the animals are being mistreated.  Most individuals who work in an animal facility will spend their entire career as an animal facility employee, providing love and kindness to the many animals that they meet.

Biomedical Research:  We have talked a great deal about careers with animals; this last career option is one that adds love of people to love of animals.  There are many humans and animals who suffer from incurable diseases such as arthritis, AIDS (or SCID in animals), muscular dystrophy, diabetes, and cancer.  We can only find the answers to the cause, prevention, and treatment of these and other crippling diseases through biomedical and veterinary research. Animals are used in the quest for knowledge as we search for answers for both human and animal-kind.

You can be an animal lover and a biomedical researcher; it should be a requirement for this profession. You can be a chemist, veterinarian, animal scientist, physician, pharmacist, physicist, engineer, biologist, computer specialist, nurse, and the list goes on-- for the many different careers that can lead you to the world of research.  You could be the person who finds the cure for cancer, or unlocks the mystery of why horses, humans and mice can suffer from a killer genetic defect which renders some babies of these three species susceptible to fatal infections.

We have talked about a spectrum of careers that are available to those who have a desire to work with animals. There are many more careers that you could consider, but these ideas are a starting place for you.  The choice of a career is one of the most important decisions you can ever make, and you want it to be the right one for you.  Talk to your parents, teachers, friends, career guidance counselors, and people who are in the field you think you might like to study. Go visit and spend a day? a week? a month? as long as you can with a person who has the career you are interested in.  See how you like it (or don't!).  Volunteer or work with people in several different careers.  Talk to the person.  Find out what educational path they took, how they like their career, what they don't like, what they would do differently.  Use the power of the internet to discover and learn about careers.  Learn all you can to make the wisest decision; and remember, after all you learn, follow your own mind and heart as to what career will bring you the most joy and satisfaction.

Links to non-University of Arizona internet sites are provided for your convenience and do not constitute an endorsement.
Other web resources
  Links to Many Specific Career Descriptions
  How to prepare for a veterinary career
  A day in the life - career with animals
  So You Say You Want to Become a Veterinarian. Here's How
  Veterinary Career Center
  Net vet - (veterinary  career resources)
  Vet Career Network
  UofA Pre-vet Club
  Becoming a certified animal trainer
  My Plan -
Veterinary Assistants & Lab. Animal Caretakers
  Center for Veterinary Medicine -FDA
  Animal Trainer School
  The "Virtual" Veterinary Center
  Your Link for Healthy Pets
  NABR- Careers in Biomedical Research
  Ark Animals (intro to career with animals)
  What are some different careers in Veterinary

  Are you thinking about becoming a vet
  Career Paths for Biology Majors
  BrainTrack's Career Guide
Web page designed & maintained by K. J. Coronado and published by University Animal Care, The University of Arizona
This page last updated 04/08/13