Veterinarian salary & career outlook
Veterinarians prevent and treat illnesses in animals. The majority of vets treat household pets, including cats, dogs, birds and reptiles, while others specialize in treating horses, zoo animals and farm animals. Their work may include examining animals, performing surgeries, conducting medical research, caring for wounded animals, educating owners about medical or preventative care, and euthanizing animals.
Veterinarians who treat pets generally begin their careers working in clinics and may later choose to pursue private practice. Vets in clinics and private practice often work long hours, and they often must work with passionate pet owners and in a noisy environment. It may also be an emotionally stressful job when dealing with sick or dying animals.
Veterinarians specializing in farm animals usually live in rural areas and travel to ranches and farms to treat their patients. A growing number of veterinarians are involved in food safety and inspection. These vets inspect livestock, poultry, food processing plants and slaughterhouses to ensure sanitary conditions and prevent disease transmission. Still others may work in labs, with limited contact with animals themselves.
Successful veterinarians are strong in math and science, know how to communicate with pet owners and, above all, love animals.
According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, U.S. pet owners had more than 157 million companion animals (dogs, cats, birds and horses) in 2012. In 2011, six out of 10 pet owners said they considered their pets to be family members, and the average veterinary expenditure for all animals that year was $375.
Statistics like this point to the fact that veterinarians often enjoy financially rewarding careers. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), veterinarians nationwide earned a mean annual salary of $96,140 in May 2013, and the top-paid 10 percent of earners enjoyed a median salary of $149,530 or more.
As in other careers, veterinarians' salaries vary with location, industry and experience. In 2013, average veterinarian salaries were highest in the scientific research and development services, with a mean annual wage of $134,230.
Location also factors into veterinarian salaries. The following states and districts offered the highest annual average veterinarian salaries in 2013:
- Hawaii: $122,150
- Connecticut: $121,480
- New York: $115,350
- Pennsylvania: $1143,640
- California: $113,660
While the above states are relatively populous, and are among the states employing the highest levels of veterinarians, the demand for these professionals also is great in rural areas in states such as Texas, Wisconsin, Michigan, Washington, Arizona, North Carolina and Georgia, where veterinarians are needed to care for animals on farms and ranches.
Becoming a veterinarian
In order to become a veterinarian, you need to graduate from an accredited college of veterinary medicine; the BLS says there are only 29 such programs in the U.S., which means that admission to veterinarian schools is highly competitive, with fewer than half of applicants accepted in 2012. Though not technically required, most successful applicants hold bachelor's degrees in biology, zoology or a related field. Earning a Doctorate in Veterinary Medicine (DVM) requires at least four years of full-time study and prepares you to take state licensing exams. State exams vary, but veterinarians in all states must be licensed before they can begin practicing.
Like medical doctors, veterinarians often pursue a year-long internship upon receiving their DVMs. Following their internships, many vets pursue three- to four-year residency programs to specialize in fields such as surgery, internal medicine, oncology and anesthesiology.
Veterinarian career outlook
While admittance to veterinarian schools is competitive, there have been increasing numbers of graduates in recent years, which has correlated to greater competition for jobs as well. According to the BLS, employment of veterinarians is expected to increase by 12 percent during the 2012-2022 period. Prospects may be better for those interested in working in rural areas, on farms and ranches, in labs, or in research positions doing public health work.
With pet ownership not expected to decline any time soon, there will always be demand for veterinarians. Explore this site to learn more about programs that might help to prepare you for veterinary careers.
"U.S. Pet Ownership & Demographics Sourcebook (2012)," American Veterinary Medical Association,
Veterinarians, "Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition," Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Jan. 8, 2014,
Occupational Employment and Wages: Veterinarians, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, May 2013,