Degrees Working With Animals

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Overview of Degrees Working With Animals

College degrees working with animals give animal lovers the opportunity to channel their passion into a fulfilling professional life. Animal degrees encompass various academic fields and career paths, including animal science and research, veterinary practice, farm and ranch management, and animal training. Required skills vary across positions, but these jobs all attract students who want to work closely with and care for animals. Most positions also require at least basic science knowledge, particularly in biology.

This page offers an overview of college degrees working with animals, including common focus areas, career paths, and professional organizations for animal careers.

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Common Degrees for Working With Animals



Students pursuing animal degrees online choose from many options, such as zoology, agriculture, and veterinary science. This list highlights several of the most popular degrees working with animals, encompassing fields as diverse as business, research, conservation, and animal caregiving. Most of these programs build significant hands-on experience, enabling students to work with animals as part of their degree.


  • Agricultural Management

    Agricultural management focuses on the business and administrative side of the world food system. Students learn how to manage farms and other agricultural businesses, including fishing and forestry.


  • Animal Behavior

    This advanced course of study focuses on understanding the behavior of animals and combining principles from many different disciplines. Jobs may run the gamut from animal trainer to research scientist.


  • Conservation Biology

    Emphasizing biology in the context of environmental conservation and sustainability, conservation biology focuses on threats to animals, plants, and ecosystems. Conservation biologists may work to protect animal habitats and endangered species.


  • Dairy Science

    A degree in dairy science explores both the management and science of dairy cattle production. These programs often combine studies in genetics, animal biology, animal welfare, nutrition, and agribusiness.


  • Environmental Science

    Environmental science broadly refers to the study of the environment and the application of scientific principles to environmental problems. The discipline contains many subfields relating to animals, such as aquatic biology and environmental agriculture.


  • Exotic Animal Training and Management

    Focusing on the care and management of both domestic and nondomestic animals, this degree combines knowledge in zoology and animal husbandry. Students gain hands-on experience caring for animals at zoos, aquariums, and animal parks.


  • Farm Management

    Often operating as a focus area within the agribusiness field, farm and ranch management degrees highlight the managerial and scientific dimensions of agricultural production. This includes animal science and range/pasture management.


  • Marine Biology

    A specialized subfield of biology, marine biology focuses on the scientific study of marine life. This varied field encompasses subjects including oceanography, zoology, environmental science, and conservation management.


  • Veterinary Science

    Veterinary science refers to the medical treatment of and research into various types of animals, including both domestic and farm animals. This broad field encompasses subjects as diverse as anatomy, animal behavior, parasitology, and gastroenterology.


  • Wildlife

    Wildlife programs focus on the intersection of science, conservation, and management, examining the behavior of animals and their interactions with various ecosystems. This degree usually emphasizes researching, protecting, and preserving animal species.


  • Zoology

    Targeting the study of animals both in the wild and in captivity, zoology encompasses topics such as anatomy, evolution, genetics, and ethology. Zoology often emphasizes research into all aspects of animal life.


Animal Degrees Spotlights



When considering college degrees working with animals, students should always perform careful research. Academic advisors can help prospective students determine the most effective course of study based on their career goals. Keep in mind that other degree paths, such as business or finance, may also lead to animal-related jobs in areas such as farm management or shelter management.


  • Animal Biology

    Animal biology applies biological principles to the study of animals. The field resembles animal science, but animal biology programs may take a more research-based approach. However, animal biology majors still work with wild and domesticated animals frequently.

    Many colleges offer animal biology degrees at the bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral levels. The degree typically encompasses basic biology concepts along with specialized studies in areas including animal growth and development, reproduction, genetics, and physiology.


  • Animal Science

    Animal science uses scientific principles in the service of animal research, animal husbandry, and animal management. Students gain a broad understanding of scientific concepts such as biology, genetics, physiology, and immunology. Students may also specialize in areas including animal behavior, animal production, animal biotechnology, equine science, or rangeland science.

    Students can pursue animal science degrees at the undergraduate and graduate levels, with bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral programs often available.


  • Ecology

    Ecology studies spatial relationships among living organisms, including various animal populations. Drawing together concepts in environmental science, biology, zoology, and botany, ecology programs typically highlight principles of conservation and sustainability. Candidates in ecology programs may study topics as diverse as geography, wildlife management, entomology, evolution, and forest ecology.

    As a major scientific field, many colleges offer ecology programs at all academic levels, including bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral.


  • Fisheries and Aquatic Science

    Fisheries and aquatic science programs explore the biology of wetlands, lakes, and rivers, emphasizing the ecology of both freshwater and marine environments. These programs build the skills and knowledge to manage fisheries and practice conservation for aquatic systems. Students may complete coursework in areas such as fishery biology, aquatic plant science, fish and shellfish reproduction, aquaculture, and aquatic animal health.

    Colleges commonly offer fisheries and aquatic science programs at the bachelor’s and master’s levels. Candidates interested in extensive research may continue their studies at the doctoral level.


Animal Career Paths



When choosing a career path, students should consider each job’s specific duties. Careers with animals encompass various work environments, animal species, and professional roles. This list represents just a few of the career paths available to students pursuing animal degrees.

  • Farm Managers

    Farm managers oversee operations at farms and other environments that process and produce livestock, dairy products, and crops. Also known as agricultural managers and ranchers, these professionals often supervise every aspect of the crop or livestock production process, such as planting, fertilizing, and harvesting. They also make major organizational decisions for farms relating to factors such as weather, soil conditions, disease, and market conditions.

    Farm managers require at least a high school diploma, and colleges generally offer associate and bachelor’s programs in the field.

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  • Marine Biologist

    Marine biologists study marine life, including all types of animals that live in the ocean and other aquatic environments. They may specialize in a certain type of animal or environment and often work at colleges and universities, research institutions, and aquariums.

    Marine biologists typically need at least a bachelor’s degree to enter the field. Advanced positions involving in-depth research require at least a master’s degree. Positions with universities and other major research institutions typically require a doctorate.

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  • Veterinarian

    Veterinarians care for domesticated animals, including pets and livestock. They may research, diagnose, and treat various types of medical conditions in animals and advise owners about proper care. Veterinarians often work at animal clinics and hospitals, though they may also work at farms, zoos, and laboratories.

    Veterinarians must hold a doctor of veterinary medicine (DVM) degree. Requiring applicants to hold at least a bachelor’s degree, DVM programs build advanced skills and knowledge in animal anatomy, diagnosis, treatment, and disease prevention.

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  • Zoologists and Wildlife Biologists

    Zoologists and wildlife biologists study different types of animals and examine animal behavior, relationships to the ecosystem, and the influence of human activity on natural habitats. They may work at colleges, conservation agencies, research institutions, zoos, and other environments related to animals. These professionals work in the field observing animals in their natural habitats.

    Zoology and wildlife biology careers require at least a bachelor’s degree. Research-based positions typically require a master’s degree or doctorate.

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Career Tips for Working With Animals



Animal-related careers vary and jobs may call for different education levels, experience, and professional certifications. As with education, students should carefully research potential career paths, keeping in mind that advanced positions often require higher education levels and significant professional experience.

Get Experience
Working with animals requires specialized skills developed through hands-on experience. Aspiring professionals can gain relevant experience through many different channels, including volunteering and earning a college degree. Most animal degrees offer opportunities for students to work with animals as part of their academic coursework.
Get the Required Education
Specialized career paths working with animals commonly call for specialized education. Entry-level careers may only require a bachelor’s degree, but advanced positions in management and research often call for a master’s degree or doctorate. Students should always research potential career paths and determine their corresponding education level.
Get the Required Certifications
Certifications demonstrate mastery of certain professional competencies and indicate special skills, qualifications, and knowledge. Some career paths working with animals require specific training, certifications, or licenses such as veterinarian, game warden, or fish and wildlife manager. Outside of specific career requirements, certifications demonstrate advanced skills that help applicants stand out in the job market.

Expert Advice



Malia Somerville and Wendy Rice

Interview with Malia Somerville and Wendy Rice

  • What education or training did you obtain to be able to work in this position?

    Somerville:
    Animal keepers’ training can come in various forms. Modern keepers are expected to hold a college degree — at least an associate degree but often a bachelor’s and sometimes graduate degrees. There are some college programs that focus specifically on animal husbandry and care in a zoo or aquarium setting.

    But the most important training comes from working with animals directly through volunteering and internships, along with entry-level positions in other animal care facilities. At the Buffalo Zoo, novice keepers may start in an apprentice position working with an experienced keeper for a period of time to gain more skills before working independently.

    Rice:
    Some college education (at least an associate degree) is almost always a requirement for a full-time zookeeping position, and most zookeepers hold at least a bachelor’s degree in some sort of science, whether it’s animal sciences, biology, zoology, etc. I personally hold a BS in biology and a minor in psychology (which has been incredibly useful in terms of training… remember Pavlov’s salivating dog? Operant conditioning is the most common form of training utilized in the animal world, so knowledge of psychology has actually been really applicable to my career as a zookeeper!).

  • What advice would you give to someone who wants to work with animals?

    Somerville:
    Take every opportunity to work around animals. Pursue a degree in an animal-related field. Volunteer or intern while you’re in school. Be prepared to start at the bottom and work your way up. You may need to be flexible and move around the country as positions come available. Be open to every option — work with new species in different settings to diversify your experience.

    Rice:
    Start working with animals early on! Make sure that this is something you really want before committing to it. Keep in mind the less attractive aspects of the field: cleaning up after messy animals (urine, feces, vomit, etc.), working on weekends, working on holidays, irregular schedules and working nights sometimes, lots of hard manual labor, etc. Most keepers feel the job is most definitely worth all of the less appealing elements of it, but some people find out it’s just not for them. The field is highly competitive so don’t get discouraged early on, and if you’re willing to travel around the country, your chances of landing that first paid position increase dramatically!

    Also, visitor engagement and public experience are SUCH important parts of what zookeepers do. Our job is to help the public make a connection with our animals, and you can’t do that if you have a fear of public speaking, dislike kids/people, etc. Get in touch with your inner thespian and start getting comfortable with that element of the job early on so that it is not an obstacle for you later.

Resources: Animal Care Associations and Organizations



Graduates with animal degrees rely on professional organizations to share resources, develop their professional skills, and connect with other members in the field. Membership in these organizations often comes with annual fees, but members benefit from resources such as job listings, professional conferences, continuing education opportunities, and trade publications.


  • American Association of Veterinary State Boards Serving practicing and aspiring veterinarians, the AAVSB offers career preparation, licensure preparation, and licensure renewal assistance. The organization also offers training for veterinary technicians.

  • American Association for Laboratory Animal Science Advocating for responsible animal care in laboratory environments, AALAS offers education opportunities, conferences, awards, professional publications, and certifications for lab technicians and lab managers.

  • American Farm Bureau Federation Serving farmers and ranchers, AFBF advocates for sustainability and innovation in farming policy. The organization offers educational resources, leadership training, and annual conferences and conventions for farmers and farming students.

  • American Veterinary Medical Association Serving veterinarians nationwide, the AVMA offers education and career resources including professional certifications, leadership development, continuing education opportunities, internship connections, and veterinary job listings.

  • Association of Zoos & Aquariums A nonprofit dedicated to education, science, and conservation, AZA represents zoos and aquariums worldwide. The organization offers education, leadership development programs, annual professional conferences, and awards.

  • Humane Society of the United States The Humane Society works to end animal cruelty in all forms. They offer grants to animal welfare organizations, advocate for effective animal policy, and coordinate widespread volunteer efforts.

  • United States Department of Agriculture The USDA supports farmers, ranchers, and other agricultural professionals in the United States. The organization offers grants and loans, disaster resources, labor resources, and other advising services for farmers.

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