How to Become a Zoo Veterinarian | Fresh 2023 Education & Salary Guide (2023)

Learn How to Become a Zoo Veterinarian - QualificationRequirements & Expected Salary

Last Updated: June 14th, 2022 by Noah Shaw

How to Become a Zoo Veterinarian | Fresh 2023 Education & Salary Guide (1)

Career Shortcuts

  • How to Become
  • Job Description
  • Day in The Life
  • Find Jobs
  • Salary
  • Career Outlook

Zoo Veterinarians have one of the most fascinating yet challenging jobs out there.

They provide medical treatment to the likes of cheetahs, sloths, elephants, and other species of exotic animals at the zoo.

Just asa Doctor performs physical exams on patients, Zoo Veterinarians perform physical examinations on animals to diagnose illnesses, assess injuries, and provide treatments.

Anyone contemplating a career as a Zoo Veterinarian should consider:

Do you love all types of animals? Will this lovesustain them through eight years of postgraduate education and training? And finally, are youwilling to enter a highly competitive field?

If the answer is yes to all three, then you have the right passion and discipline for the career.

How to Become a Zoo Veterinarian | Fresh 2023 Education & Salary Guide (2)

Career Guide

  • How to Become
  • Job Description
  • Day in The Life
  • Find Jobs
  • Salary
  • Career Outlook

Process for Becoming a Zoo Veterinarian

The road to becoming a Zoo Veterinarian is paved with a significant amount of education.

All aspiring Zoo Veterinarians must complete a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (D.V.M. or V.M.D.) degree that can be attained at veterinary colleges accredited by the American Veterinary Medical Association.

Be Ready for a Highly Competitive Application Process

Veterinary medicine programs typically take 4 years to complete.


Veterinary programs are highly competitive.

Should You Pursue a Bachelor’s Degree?

While a bachelor’s degree isn’t required before applying to veterinary programs, most applicants pursue one anyway.

A bachelor’s degree gives candidates an advantage since veterinary programs expect students to complete prerequisite courses.

These courses usually include anatomy, biology, chemistry, physiology, and animal science. Aspiring Veterinarians should always look into their prospective veterinary school’s requirements when planning their undergraduate class schedules.

What Licensing Will You Need?

All Veterinarians need to obtain a state license before practicing.

Licensing regulations vary by state but most states require both the successful completion of the North American Veterinary Licensing Exam and a separate state exam.

Residency programs, accredited by the American College of Zoological Medicine, are also great opportunities for aspiring Zoo Veterinarians.

Residencies typically last three to four years and offer critical field experience and networking opportunities with potential employers.

Job Description

Zoo Veterinarians are mostly responsible forpreventative care.

They conduct regular examinations on animals to ensure health. They also thoroughly examine incoming additions to the zoo family to uphold compliance with government regulations.

When an animal is ill or injured, a Zoo Veterinarian provides immediate assistance to treat that animal and inhibit the spreading of disease. When an animal dies, it is the Veterinarian who performs the postmortem study to evaluate the cause of death.

There is a vast array of exotic animals at the zoo, so the Veterinarian will need to train other zoo staff on how to properly handle and care for each species.

Since conserving endangered animal species is a top priority for zoos, the Veterinarian carefully oversees the nutrition and reproduction of all animals.

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Can You Handle Working Irregular Hours?

Zoo Veterinarians have a busy, unpredictable work schedule to adhere to.

In an average week, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics recognizes Veterinarians for working irregular hours as some clock in more than 50 hours per week.

What Does an Average Day for a Zoo Veterinarian Look Like?

An average day for a Zoo Veterinarian is full of diverse and challenging tasks.

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You may find yourselfoperating on a tiny lizard one day, and examining a ten-thousand pound elephant the next.

The following summarizes some of the responsibilities you can expect to undertake on any given day:

Morning Meetings

Most Zoo Veterinarians start their day with a morning meeting.

Daily meetings with veterinary staff are essential to keeping everyone on the same page and apprised of important information.

During meetings, veterinary staff discuss animals with improved conditions, animals that require extra care, and surgical procedures booked for the day, among other topics.

Preventative Care

Zoo Veterinarians will often have a list of animals they’ve planned to examine that day.

First, they anesthetize the animals in order to safely transport and inspect them.

Then, they examine the animals by drawing blood, assessing dental hygiene, collecting swabs, and a variety of other routine inspections.


Zookeepers who get to spend ample time caring for and getting to know animals will often be the first to notice when something is amiss.

If an animal’s appetite decreases or if an animal shows behavioral changes, the zookeepers immediately notify Zoo Veterinarians.

The Zoo Veterinarians then come by and do initial assessments and diagnoses before administering treatment.

Follow-Up Care

Zoo Veterinarians provide animals who have already been treated for an injury or disease with follow-up care.

Zoo Veterinarians check up on past patients, making sure all of the animals who are showing clear signs of recovery.

Medical Records

At the end of each day, Zoo Veterinarians maintain and update medical records.

They send out samples that labs need to analyze, such as blood work they’ve collected earlier in the day, and record findings from their work.

Be Prepared for Emergencies

While the five responsibilities mentioned here look great on paper, the reality is, Zoo Veterinarians can experience unplanned emergencies at any second.

These emergencies take precedence, making an average day in the life of a Zoo Veterinarian not so average after all.

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Are You Suited for a Zoo Veterinarian Career?

Personality & Skills

Zoo Veterinarians possess a combination of key personality traits and skills that make them remarkable at what they do.

Predictably, they are compassionate people. It is this compassion that allows them to comfort frightened animals and adequately care for them.

Zoo Veterinarians also show incredible perseverance. Completing nearly a decade’s worth of education, internships, and residencies takes an uncanny amount of dedication. Their inquisitiveness pushes them to critically study different species and absorb a wealth of knowledge on each animal.

Zoo Veterinarians are open-minded individuals and they have great decision-making capabilities.

They’re able to think of different approaches to solving an issue before deciding upon the best possible solution. If the solution is surgery, Zoo Veterinarians employ the dexterity needed to control a scalpel.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics acknowledges that Veterinarians risk being injured while working with frightened or wounded animals. Working with large elephants and dangerous cats can be daunting, but Zoo Veterinarians possess the fearlessness needed to execute such intimidating work.

Zoo Veterinarians also use their strong management and communications skills to lead teams and collaborate with other zoo employees.

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Certifications & Proficiency

Certification is not necessary, but is very helpful in this highly competitive field.

Candidates seek board certification through the American College of Zoological Medicine (ACZM). In order to become board certified, Zoo Veterinarians must take the ACZM Certification Examination.

To meet the eligibility requirements for the ACZM boards, candidates must have graduated from an accredited veterinary program, attained a license to practice, and have published at least five publications in the field of zoological medicine.

Additionally, candidates must complete at least three years of professional training or six years of work in zoological medicine, after veterinary school.

Once candidates meet these requirements and pass the ACZM exam, they’ll be board certified, which presents an incredible advantage in being hired.

How Does a Zoo Veterinarian Find Work?

Internships and residency programs allow aspiring Zoo Veterinarians to make connections and network with potential employers.

Generic job search tools also provide plenty of applicable job posts.

However, the best way to find a job as a Zoo Veterinarian is through joining professional affiliations.

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There are several professional affiliations that provide exhaustive job databases.

The American Association of Zoo Veterinarians, for instance, has a career center that allows members to post their resumes and search through refined job listings.

Several other affiliations have their respective job databases too, including the American Association of Wildlife Veterinarians, the Association of Reptile and Amphibian Veterinarians, and the Association of Zoos & Aquariums.

What is the Average Salary of a Zoo Veterinarian?

In 2017, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the median annual salary for all Veterinarians is $90,420.

Highest Paying States & Locations

For veterinarians, as of 2017, Hawaii, District of Columbia, New Jersey, New York, and Nevada are the five top paying states for the job.

Zoo Veterinarian salaries, more specifically, vary by location and are dependent on the experience level of the individual.

How to Increase YourSalary

There are a few ways to increase one’s chances of reaching the higher end of the salary range.

One primary tip is to become board certified. Zoo Veterinarians who spend the extra years becoming certified earn higher salaries and can skip associate positions to move on to being a full-fledged Zoo Veterinarians.

Another great tip is to look for work at zoos located in metropolitan areas. According to the Association of Zoos & Aquariums, zoos located in metropolitan areas are often capable of offering higher salaries to their employees.

Zoo Veterinarian Job Growth & Outlook

How to Become a Zoo Veterinarian | Fresh 2023 Education & Salary Guide (3)
The employment of Veterinarians is projected to grow 19% from 2016 to 2026, which is much faster than the average occupation.

Since the number of people visiting zoos has increased over the past two years, Zoo Veterinarians can expect to experience this growth too.

Top 5 Jobs by Growth within Zoo Veterinarian Career

  1. Zoo Veterinarian
  2. Museum/ Aquarium/ Research Facility Veterinarian
  3. Professor
  4. Veterinary Pharmaceutical Representative
  5. Government Scientist ­

Information on these high-growth Zoo Veterinarian careers:

Top 4 Most Popular Job Paths

Chief Zoo Veterinarian

Oversees entire veterinary staff. Duties include managing the care of all zoo animals, training staff, and preparing budgets. Chief Zoo Veterinarians must have a DVM degree, board certification, and license to practice. They also need to have three to five years of clinical and field experience in an accredited facility. Zoo Veterinarians who have critical managerial and communications skills are better suited for this position. Average salaries vary by location and experience, including $134,488 at a Los Angeles zoo.

Zoo Veterinarian

Conducts medical examinations on all animals, implements preventative care measures, and provides treatments. Zoo Veterinarians require a DVM degree, a license to practice, and two to five years clinical and field experience. Compassionate, experienced, and dexterous individuals are suited for the position. Average salaries vary, with a high of $108,304.

Associate Veterinarian

Assists Zoo Veterinarians with animal examinations, medical records, and the maintenance of hospital facilities. Associate Veterinarians must have a DVM degree, a valid license to practice, and a minimum of one-year clinical medicine experience. Candidates with similar personalities and skill-sets as Zoo Veterinarians are perfect for the job.

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Veterinary Resident

Assists supervisor, usually the Zoo Veterinarian, and learns from hands-on experience. Veterinary Residents require a DVM degree and plenty of internship experience. Like Veterinarians, Veterinary Residents must be compassionate, patient and fearless when handling exotic animals. The average salary for a Veterinary Resident is $60,578.


What skills do you need to be a zoo veterinarian? ›

Zoo veterinarians need a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree and a license. Zoo veterinarians specialize in treating a large variety of exotic animals that may be found in a zoo. They may need to have extensive medical knowledge concerning mammals, birds, reptiles, fish and more.

How hard is it to be a zoo vet? ›

In order to be board-certified in zoological medicine, the vet must not only complete their doctoral degree in veterinary medicine, but complete a one- year zoo veterinarian internship, a three- to four-year zoo veterinarian residency, or gain six years of zoo veterinarian experience.

What education is required to be a veterinarian? ›

How many years does it take to be a veterinarian? ›

It usually takes at least eight years to become a veterinarian. On average, it takes a student four years to complete an undergraduate degree. Then, students must go on to veterinary school, which typically takes another four years.

What are 3 things a veterinarian? ›

Veterinarians typically do the following:
  • Examine animals to assess their health and diagnose problems.
  • Treat and dress wounds.
  • Perform surgery on animals.
  • Test for and vaccinate against diseases.
  • Operate medical equipment, such as x-ray machines.
  • Advise animal owners about general care, medical conditions, and treatments.
Sep 8, 2022

What are 3 skills you need to be a veterinarian? ›

From communicating with pet owners and other practitioners to demonstrating proficiency with the tools used on the job, the veterinarian skills needed to be successful are vast.
  • Interpersonal communication skills. ...
  • Technology skills. ...
  • Problem-solving skills. ...
  • Business skills.
Oct 26, 2022

Is vet school harder than Doctor school? ›

Many of the prerequisites for these schools are similar because biology and chemistry are needed in the veterinary and medical fields. Though aspiring med students have to take the MCAT before applying to medical school, most people agree that vet school is harder than medical school.

What is the hardest part of being a veterinarian? ›

As an animal lover, it is so hard to tell someone that their pet won't receive that care. It's even harder to watch that animal walk out the door without the medical attention it needs. These circumstances leave us with such an unsettling feeling of helplessness and sorrow.

Is the vet test hard? ›

It is, without a doubt, the most difficult test a veterinarian will ever have to take,” Dr. Singleton says. It's inevitable that some students will fail the exam. If you find yourself among those receiving a score of less than 425, don't let it get you down.

Do you need math to be a veterinarian? ›

Mathematics--The minimum requirement ranges from algebra and trigonometry to two semesters of calculus and varies with each school. Note that it is a minimum requirement. Most schools do not accept students who have not taken calculus, even if their published requirement is algebra and trigonometry (MATH 140 and 141).

What is the highest degree for a veterinarian? ›

To become a full-fledged veterinarian, you'll need to complete a four-year undergraduate degree and earn a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree. This degree is commonly abbreviated as a DVM or a VMD, and it takes four years to earn.

What is the best veterinary school in the United States? ›

1 (3)University of California, Davis *USA
2 (10)North Carolina State UniversityUSA
3 (13)University of GeorgiaUSA
4 (14)Cornell University *USA
5 (17)Colorado State University, Fort Collins *USA
91 more rows

What is the shortest veterinary program? ›

Vet assistant school has the quickest completion time. You can earn your degree in as little as 9 months. This career choice works best for people who want to start a vet career as quickly as possible and gain a lot of experience.

What is the shortest time to become a vet? ›

What Is the Shortest Time to Become a Vet? The shortest possible time is six years: however, you're more likely to complete your veterinary education in seven to nine years.

Can you become a vet at any age? ›

A career as a veterinary surgeon is very rewarding but you'll need to be committed. It'll take dedication and a lot of hard study. The good news is it doesn't matter how old you are or what stage you're at in your life – you can choose to change career paths at any age as long as you have the passion and drive!

What are 3 disadvantages of being a veterinarian? ›

Cons of being a veterinarian
  • Potential burnout and compassion fatigue.
  • You will see animals in pain and suffering from every ailment, and will likely perform euthanasia.
  • Long hours in the office and on-call during weekends and evenings.
  • Revenue is a discretionary expense for caretakers.
Aug 17, 2022

What are the 11 types of vets? ›

  • Anesthesia and Analgesia. All veterinarians are trained in anesthesia and pain relief. ...
  • Animal Welfare. ...
  • Behavior. ...
  • Dentistry. ...
  • Dermatology. ...
  • Emergency and Critical Care. ...
  • Internal Medicine. ...
  • Laboratory Animal Medicine.
Apr 18, 2022

What are the 5 types of veterinarians? ›

5 Types of veterinarians you should know about
  • Companion-animal veterinarians. While they're just one segment of the veterinarian population, those who work with companion animals are the largest group. ...
  • Veterinary specialists. ...
  • Food-animal veterinarians. ...
  • Food safety and inspection veterinarians. ...
  • Research veterinarians.
Oct 14, 2021

What math skills do veterinarians use? ›

One of the main uses of math in veterinary medicine is in figuring dosages. Medication dosages are determined by an animal's weight Another part of dosages that involves math is conversions. A veterinarian must be able to convert between measurements if necessary.

How many hours does a veterinarian work? ›

On average, full time veterinarians in the US are expected to work around 40 hours per week as opposed to part-time vets who work around 25 hours per week. The data found that vets spend most of their time in face to face consultations with nearly 22 hours per week spent consulting with pet owners.

What hard skills do veterinarians need? ›

What Skills do Veterinarians Need?
  • Animal handling skills. ...
  • Practical skills. ...
  • Analytical skills. ...
  • Scientific aptitude. ...
  • Interpersonal skills. ...
  • Organisational skills. ...
  • Technical skills. ...
  • Problem solving skills.
Jun 21, 2021

What vet school is easiest to get into? ›

6. Which vet school is the easiest to get into? The easiest vet schools to get into in the US are Texas A&M and the College of Veterinary Medicine at Western University of Health Sciences, which both have relatively easy admission requirements and higher acceptance rates.

Is vet school worth the money? ›

Veterinary school isn't cheap, but the career can be rewarding for people who love animals. Some studies show that veterinarians enjoy their jobs more than the average worker. It's also a profession that comes with a great deal of job security and solid pay.

Do grades matter in vet school? ›

For most jobs after veterinary school, no one will ask or care about your grades and rightfully so. However, grades and class rank are used when weighing applicants for certain post-graduate positions, especially internships and residencies.

What is the lowest salary for a veterinarian? ›

How Much Do Entry Level Veterinarian Jobs Pay per Year? $35,000 is the 25th percentile. Salaries below this are outliers. $90,000 is the 90th percentile.

How stressful is veterinary school? ›

A later study by Dr. Hafen indicated that veterinary students often experience psychological distress, with a combination of stress, anxiety, and depression symptoms throughout their four years. Depression scores peaked in the third year before falling in the fourth back to first-year levels.

What are the dislikes of being a veterinarian? ›

Dealing with sickness — While being with animals every day might sound like an awesome career, many of the animals you encounter are likely to be very sick. Treating injured animals can be a highly emotional and upsetting role. Additionally, there may be blood, faeces, infection and unpleasant smells to deal with.

Is vet easier than med? ›

Overall, getting into vet school is slightly easier than medical school, because of the lower competition (but it's still cutthroat). Both require you to work hard in order to join them. While getting into vet school might be easier, it depends on each specific school.

Is veterinary easy to study? ›

Throughout your time as a student, you will be expected to interact with a wide range of animals, and as such it is vital that you are passionate about all species. Veterinary medicine is an incredible complex subject; some would argue that it is even more difficult than the study of medicine for humans.

What percent of applicants get into vet school? ›

Average Acceptance Rate: 11.7%

So, even with some discrepancy, it is safe to say that on average there is about a 10-15% acceptance rate to vet school. This will largely depend upon the number in the original applicant pool and how many positions are offered.

What technical skills do you need to be a veterinarian? ›

Vet tech skills include:
  • Examining animals.
  • Talking to pet owners about their pet's condition.
  • Preparing and taking care of equipment and supplies.
  • Taking vital signs.
  • Collecting samples and completing laboratory tests.
  • Administering vaccinations and medications.
  • Dressing wounds.
  • Taking X-rays and diagnostic imaging.

What math skills do you need to be a veterinarian? ›

Mathematics--The minimum requirement ranges from algebra and trigonometry to two semesters of calculus and varies with each school. Note that it is a minimum requirement. Most schools do not accept students who have not taken calculus, even if their published requirement is algebra and trigonometry (MATH 140 and 141).

What skills do you need to be an equine vet? ›

What is an Equine Veterinarian
  • good communication.
  • customer service.
  • time management.
  • good business skills.
  • a desire to serve.
  • compassion and concern for both animals and their human counterparts.
  • good manual dexterity.
  • the ability to make quick decisions.

What qualifications do you need to work with animals in a zoo? ›

You can do a foundation degree, higher national diploma or degree in:
  • animal or zoo management.
  • animal behaviour and welfare.
  • zoology or marine zoology.
  • animal conservation and biodiversity.
  • veterinary science.
  • biology.

Do you need advanced math to be a vet? ›

Admission criteria

Assumed knowledge: Mathematics Advanced, Chemistry and Physics. Recommended studies: Biology. Guaranteed ATAR: This course does not have a guaranteed ATAR. For most applicants, the expected ATAR required will be 98.00 or higher.


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