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Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:

Where can vets find work other than animal hospitals?


Siouxsie: We know this isn’t the kind of question we usually answer, but we think it’s a good one. Although we can’t imagine why any vet wouldn’t want to spend his or her life treating cats, we do know that there are other very important jobs veterinarians do.

Thomas: According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, three quarters of all veterinarians work in private practice at animal hospitals. Most of those treat small animals: dogs, cats, birds, ferrets, rabbits, and the like.

Dahlia: Another very important thing veterinarians do is treat large animals on farms. These vets travel to to the farms and visit cows, goats, horses, sheep, pigs, and the like. Large animal vets help farmers keep their livestock healthy by giving them shots against diseases, diagnosing and treating illnesses, helping with difficult births (up to and including doing surgeries right there at the farm), and give deworming medicines. Large animal vets can also help to make sure the livestock is getting the right nutrition to stay healthy.

Siouxsie: Unfortunately, there’s an almost critical shortage of large-animal veterinarians here in the US. Veterinarians usually don’t earn all that much money, in proportion to the amount they owe for their vet school education, in the first place, but large-animal vets tend to make even less money.

Thomas: Unlike small-animal practices, where at least three-quarters of vets are women, large-animal practice is largely dominated by men. Some of that is because female vets may not think they’re big or strong enough to work with cows and horses and the like. But unfortunately, we’ve heard that there’s at least some sexism in the large-animal field. We hope this is changing, because we think women are just as capable of being excellent vets whether they work at animal hospitals or on farms … or anywhere else for that matter.

Dahlia: Also, farm vets have a dirty job–literally–and it requires doing a lot of traveling to remote locations. We’re certainly not trying to discourage anyone from being a farm vet, because they’re so desperately needed. We lived on a farm for several years, and often Mama and her brother had to do their own veterinary care because there were no farm vets in the area to help them.

Siouxsie: In fact, just last weekend when Mama was taking care of the farm while her brother was away, she had to splint the leg of a lame goat!

Thomas: Mama’s brother reports that the goat is doing very well and walking better now. Good job, Mama!

Dahlia: What this boils down to is that if you want to be a large-animal vet, be prepared to do it because you love working with large animals, not because of the big money or excellent working conditions.

Siouxsie: Some large-animal vets work with race horses, either at race horse farms or at race tracks. These large-animal vets tend to do better in terms of money and working conditions than farm vets because race horses are a big investment for their owners. With a big investment comes a willingness to do whatever medical treatment is necessary for their investment to remain viable.

Thomas: Veterinarians can also find work at zoos and aquariums. Vets who work at zoos get to work with wild animals from all over the world, and it can be a very exciting (and sometimes a bit risky) job. Vets who work at aquariums specialize in treating sea animals, most commonly whales, dolphins, orcas, and the like. Aquarium vets sometimes get called upon to help when sea animals get in trouble in the wild, too.

Dahlia: Small-animal vets sometimes enter the field of shelter medicine. In shelter medicine, vets help animal shelter staff to keep animals healthy and give them the best possible quality of life while they await a forever home. In rural areas like the one where we live, private practice veterinarians usually volunteer some of their time at animal shelters or provide very low-cost spaying, neutering, and vaccinations to help the animal shelters keep their pet population healthy.

Siouxsie: But being a vet doesn’t always involve working directly with animals in a hospital or primary care setting. Some veterinarians become “research vets,” working in laboratories to develop treatments and cures for diseases that affect domestic animals and/or livestock. Research is a very important field because the discoveries researchers make can help all animals stay healthier, longer.

Thomas: A number of veterinarians work with physicians and scientists as they research ways to prevent and treat various human health problems. Vets have worked with human doctors to help conquer malaria and yellow fever, and have also created and developed surgical procedures that are done on humans such as organ transplants and hip or knee replacements.

Dahlia: Some vets work in research fields that involve testing drugs or health and beauty products on animals to see if those products are toxic before they can be sold to people. Understandably, a lot of people have ethical objections to testing potential toxins and disease germs on animals. Because vets generally go into veterinary medicine to make and keep animals well, they don’t want to deliberately make animals sick. But if your calling involves research about public health issues, be aware that animal testing is likely to be part of your job.

Siouxsie: Outside the office but still in a direct care setting, vets can also work as meat, poultry, or egg product inspectors examine slaughtering and processing plants, check live animals and carcasses for disease, and enforce government regulations regarding food purity and sanitation. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, opportunities for veterinary careers in food security positions are growing. Veterinarians involved in food security often work along the nation’s borders as animal and plant health inspectors, where they examine imports and exports of animal products to prevent disease here and in foreign countries.

Thomas: Ultimately, there are lots of ways that veterinarians can work with animals but not be at animal hospitals.

Dahlia: If you want to learn more about what it’s like to be a veterinarian, we’d recommend that you read Dr. Patty Khuly’s blog, Dolittler. Dr. Khuly works as a small-animal veterinarian in Miami, Florida, and she also has some goats and chickens at her own house. She talks a lot about her work and about some of the larger issues involved in being a veterinarian.