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Companion Animal Veterinarian: Education and Career Information

Being a companion animal veterinarian can be a rewarding career, especially if you are into the care and concern of animals. The person interested in this position may have had a history of volunteering in an animal clinic or shelter. This position can be financially rewarding, but involves a high level of education to succeed. If you are good with animals, like working on anything animal related and want to make a difference, this may be the position for you.

What does a companion animal veterinarian do?

A companion animal veterinarian is also called a small animal veterinarian. They work with small animals that are usually found in homes or schools, such as reptiles, dogs, cats, rabbits and other house pets. They work to diagnose diseases, administer medications and vaccinations, perform surgeries, set broken bones and euthanize animals that are terminally ill. You will find them in vet clinics, hospitals and private practices. They work on call 24 hours a day, being prepared for emergencies. They perform a host of other duties, such as cleaning teeth, assisting with births and evaluating the reproductive health of breeding animals. A companion animal veterinarian also works to educate the public on diseases that can affect humans.

How much does a companion animal veterinarian earn?

The average annual salary for a companion animal veteran was $86,640, in May 2013, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The amount a companion animal veterinarian makes is contingent on area, experience, education and a host of other factors. The areas that pay the highest salaries are New York, Hawaii and Connecticut. This field should experience average job growth over 12% from 2012 to 2022. There is a continued healthy growth in this area due to pet owners investing money in healthcare and pet insurance. Salaries can go as high as $135,000 depending on the specializations earned in this career.

What types of skills must a companion animal veterinarian have?

A companion animal veterinarian must have a number of skills, including:

Problem Solving: There are a number of situations that must be diagnosed and recommended for treatment. A companion animal veteran must be able to use logic and reasoning, including critical thinking to recommend solutions and alternatives that will work.

Decision Making: Sound judgment and decision making are two essential skills needed to be successful in this position. It is crucial to be able to consider and weigh all options to determine which one would be best.

Active Listening: Getting information from the family and being able to work with others to find out what the issues are is crucial. A family member will be able to describe the issues going on with their animal, and the veterinarian should be able to actively listen and determine what the problem may be.

Writing: Being able to communicate through writing to properly record notes and other information is essential. Many veterinarians who conduct lectures and workshops must be able to write with clarity and understanding for their audience.

Management: Being able to manage people and resources to work to the patient’s advantage is important. Being able to effectively run an office or operation and keep things running smoothly is key. Having adequate business skills to work on the computer, keep accurate records, schedule appointments and replenish and reorder medications. Knowledge of invoicing, waiting room etiquette and a working inventory are all essential in keeping this position intact.

Interpersonal and customer service skills: It is very important to be able to speak with and interact with a number of people, including owners of pets, other doctors, and general clients. Being able to be personable while recommending treatment and clearly delineating how long is an integral part of good customer service. For those families that have a pet that had to be euthanized, it can be a very difficult time, especially if there is a huge emotional component. Knowing how to effectively deal with these situations while staying positive is essential to this position.

There must be a working knowledge of medicine, dentistry, biology, chemistry, administration and management, computers, customer service, mathematics, counseling and training.

Internship Requirements

Many programs require a 1-year internship after earning the veterinary license. The internship may be followed by a residency in certain specialties. Any residencies that are required usually take an additional 3-4 years to complete and are based upon a designated specialty area. Once the individual has completed their residency, they may earn board certification.

Education Requirements

Although you do not have to obtain a bachelor’s degree to enroll in veterinary school, veterinary prospects should conduct pre-veterinary courses in their undergraduate program. These courses include biology, nutrition, inorganic and organic chemistry, physics, zoology, math and microbiology.

During the undergraduate years, students should prepare to take the VCAT, or Veterinary College Admission Test, the Graduate Record Examination (GRE), or the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT), based on the requirements of the veterinary school. Veterinary school is very competitive, so doing well on the exam is key.

Veterinary school is next, which is four years. The first two years of veterinary school are usually lab and classroom specific, while the last two years are based on clinical experience and include studies in surgery, anesthesiology, infectious diseases, dermatology, radiology and medicine.

Students will earn a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree (DVM). Once this degree is obtained, prospects must pass the North American Veterinary Licensing Examination (NAVLE) in order to become nationally licensed. The requirements for licensing vary based on what state the individual is planning to practice in. There may be additional examinations to take based on the state or level of competency.

Once certification and licensure has been obtained, the educational requirements of this career continues through continuing education credits and seminars.

This is a very exciting and lucrative career path for someone once they have adjusted to the years of dedication needed to complete the program. With the earning potential being so great, this career can be viewed as a worthwhile trade-off while completing studies.

Veterinary/Zoology Scholarships

Bill Kane Undergraduate Scholarship CANfit Program Scholarships Gates Millenium Scholarship
The Hispanic Health Professional Student Scholarship The Leopold Schepp Foundation Scholarship The Marion B. Pollock Fellowship
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) Undergraduate Scholarship Tylenol Future Care Scholarship Gallagher Health Careers Scholarship

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Post University

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Southern Technical College

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Fortis Institute

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* Programs vary by location

* Please contact each individual campus for accreditation information


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Berkeley College

The Berkeley Advantage®

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