For many of those who work with animals, there is nothing better than a career that allows them to dedicate their lives to all creatures great and small. That strong desire to learn about and care for animals might take the form of volunteerism, or it might lead to a long-term career that requires in-depth education and training. In fact, most jobs working with animals do require some hands-on training at the very least.
This guide will discuss the training and degrees needed for working with animals. Let’s start by discussing some of the more common degrees working with animals might require.
Malia Somerville has over a decade of experience in the animal care field. She is the General Curator of the Buffalo Zoo where she supervises a staff of over 30 animal keepers to care for the Zoo's animal residents. Prior to returning to her home-town zoo, Malia was an animal keeper a Smithsonian's National Zoo in Washington, DC.
Wendy Rice grew up in the Northern Kentucky area and attended the University of Kentucky where she acquired a Bachelor of Science in biology and a minor in psychology. After working at the Memphis Zoo for 2.5 years as a China Dept/Swing keeper (taking care of various species of animals in different departments), she moved to the Cincinnati Zoo and became a Cat Ambassador Program Trainer, eventually transitioning to the new Africa Department in 2014 and becoming head keeper of the Africa department in 2015.
This degree teaches students how to manage the plant and animal resources of the world in a wide range of settings, including how to run a profitable business or protect endangered wildlife.
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.
The focused study of animal biology blends biological scientific principles with animal husbandry practical methodologies. Animal biology degrees may lead to work in veterinary medicine, animal husbandry or education.
Animal science is the study of domesticated animals, including livestock and other food producers, from both the practical and scientific perspectives. Future work may include animal production and breeding or disease control.
Students learn how to take care of various animals within the shelter setting, as well as learn about the animal adoption process. Students can choose certificates that focus on lifesaving-centered management.
The basic and fundamental principles of life on Earth, as well as biological life process are taught in this discipline. Specialized degrees include a Bachelor of Science in biology with an emphasis in pre-veterinary medicine.
Throughout the world, our animal habitats are dwindling. Conservation biology teaches biological principles as they relate to preserving wildlife and understanding wildlife’s interactions with humans. Job focus could include working to ensure hunting laws are followed or that certain species, like the wild mustangs of the west, are protected and safe.
The dairy science course of study teaches students about animal health, animal management and how lactation works in animals. Future work could include researching better ways to feed dairy producing animals and how to ensure these animals receive humane treatment.
This is the broad study of how organisms interact with their environment. These graduates work in jobs that require an understanding of the natural environments animals live in so that these environments can be protected.
This study combines social and biological scientific principles to help students understand how all natural things interact. A specialized job helping animals may even be working with a construction company to ensure no habitats of endangered animals are being destructed in the building process.
Animal sanctuaries are filled with exotic animals saved from bad situations, and some modern zoos are focused on maintaining natural settings for non-domestic animals. Students in this field are trained for working in the animal care industry in a variety of settings where exotic animals are present.
This degree enables students to effectively run a farm, with emphasis placed on marketing, finance, operations and production. It is mostly based in agriculture, but some animal topics are covered.
For those who want to learn how to run a fishery or research fishes and their environment, a fisheries and aquatic science degree is ideal. Jobs may include studying and tracking spawning habits or working in an aquarium.
A biology specialty that focuses on aquatic-based life and its interaction with land based life and its marine environment. Students study all marine life, from majestic baleen whales to the tiny krill they eat.
This is a preparatory track designed for students who intend to ultimately get their Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree. Majors within the pre-veterinary track can include biology or microbiology, with emphasis on animal studies.
The subfield of medicine that focuses on non-human animal patients, including both wild and domesticated animals. Veterinarians work in a variety of sectors, including in private practice or zoos. They are ultimately dedicated to the comfort, care and welfare of animals.
Veterinarians need help from qualified people who care about animals, and they rely on veterinary technicians for help and support. The vet tech degree or certificate is a course of study that trains students for a career in assisting veterinarians.
Photographs of wild animals in their natural habitat or even our own pets capture our imagination and inspire us. Wildlife photography focuses on wildlife subjects in their natural surroundings.
Wildlife studies prepares students to take on multiple roles within the wildlife realm, including rehabilitation, management, conservation and education.
Zoology is the study of biological principles as they apply to animals and animal systems and how these animals interact with their environment. Every kid wants to work at a zoo at some point during their childhood, and zoology degrees are a way to bring this dream to life.
Veterinary science is a branch of medicine that focuses primarily on the treatment of animals, although there is also a lot of work being done relating to animal medical research. This profession is compromised of mainly two groups of workers: the veterinarians and veterinarian support members such veterinarian technicians.
Although traditionally focused on optimizing certain qualities of livestock, the animal science field is now much broader, and includes areas such as management, genetics, behavior and disease prevention, as well as a wider variety of animals, including pets and exotic animals.
Biology is a very broad field that covers scientific principles as they related to life processes. Biology often serves as a springboard for other areas of study or professions, such as medical school, veterinary sciences, agriculture, animal dentistry and zoology.
Much of human life and society depends on animals, whether it be as a source of companionship, transportation or food. As a result, organizations and businesses have been created to facilitate and propagate this dependency. Many degrees that involve working with animals relate to the organization, management and economics of those organizations.
The exact length of time to complete the program depends on the organization offering it, but most pet grooming programs last two to four months.
While they may go by many different names, classes will cover similar topics such as:
Some skills, such as how to bathe and trim a pet, can be obtained through formal training, whether on the job or from a specific program. However, working with animals also requires a unique personality: Pet groomers will need to be able to communicate and get along well with animals, in addition to people.
Pet groomers help animals by cleaning them and keeping their fur, nails and other parts of their body in healthy shape. Many animals enjoy being groomed.
Cat groomer and dog groomer
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, pet groomers, which are classified under “nonfarm animal caretakers,” have a 2014 median annual wage of $20,340 and an expected job growth of 11 percent between 2014 and 2024.
The typical associate veterinary tech program lasts two years and consists of about 75 credits.
In addition to a few general education classes, common courses found in associate veterinary tech programs include:
Due to the fact that they’re providing care to animals in need, veterinary techs must show compassion and understanding for both pets and their owners. Due to the hands-on nature of their job, veterinary techs must be good with their hands and have great attention to detail.
Vet techs help animals by assisting veterinarians in providing medical care to animals. The assistance can take many forms, such as prepping areas and instruments for surgery, administering medications, conducting laboratory tests and collecting animal patient information.
Veterinary technician, veterinary technologist and veterinary assistant.
Veterinary technicians have a 2014 median annual wage of $31,070 and an expected job growth of 19 percent between 2014 and 2024. Veterinary assistants have a 2014 median annual wage of $23,790 and an expected job growth of 9 percent between 2014 and 2024.
A bachelor’s degree in animal science will generally take four years to complete and consist of about 120 credits.
Besides general education classes, a typical bachelor’s degree in animal science will include the following types of classes:
The skills required will depend on the specific nature of the job; however, good communication skills (with both humans and animals), compassion, critical thinking, organization skills and attention to detail will be needed in almost every profession.
An animal science degree is one of the most flexible in terms of career choices. Graduates help animals by protecting them from environmental or man-made threats, keeping them healthy and giving their owners the tools to keep them happy.
Agriculture and food scientist, animal manager, farmer, rancher and agricultural manager.
Agriculture and food scientists have a 2014 median annual wage of $60,690 and an expected job growth of 5 percent between 2014 and 2024. Farmers, ranchers and agricultural managers have a 2014 median annual wage of $68,050 and an expected job growth of -2 percent between 2014 and 2024.
Depending on the program, a master’s degree takes about two years of post-graduate study to complete and consists of between 30 and 36 credits.
Specific course loads vary depending on the area of concentration a student will focus on while getting the master’s degree. Commonly found courses available include:
Useful skills include: critical thinking, keen observation, good communication (with both humans and animals) and outdoor living know-how.
A master’s degree prepares graduates to protect animals from natural and man-made threats, understand them better through research, and more effectively treat or care for them.
Zoologist, conservation scientist, animal field researcher and wildlife biologist.
Zoologists and wildlife biologists have a 2014 median annual wage of $58,270 and an expected job growth of 4 percent between 2014 and 2024. Conservation scientists have a 2014 median annual wage of $61,860 and an expected job growth of 7 percent between 2014 and 2024.
The most common degree for veterinary medicine is the Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM). The DVM degree takes four years to complete and consists of hands on requirements, in addition to class work.
The typical classes found in most DVM programs include:
Veterinarians, especially those who provide direct medical care to animals, should have great hand-eye coordination, communication skills, compassion, rapport with animals and critical thinking.
Veterinarians provide medical treatment to animals that need help, train future veterinarians, and conduct medical research that can be used to improve the health of animals.
Veterinarian, professor and animal researcher.
The veterinarian field had a 2014 median annual wage of $87,590 and has expected job growth of 9 percent between 2014 and 2024.
You know you love animals, but perhaps you’re not sure if getting a degree in an animal related field is the best step to take. Take the following quiz to see if one of the many degrees working with animals is right for you.
Want to work with bears? Why not work as a Bear Manager? That’s the job title for this interesting position at the China Bear Rescue Centre in China’s Sichuan Province. This job puts experienced individuals face-to-face with rescued Asiatic black bears, working with their daily care, coordinating with veterinary staff, and overseeing the teams that make the facility run smoothly. A degree in zoology, biology, conservation, animal behavior or a related field is required, as is experience – at least three to five years of work in a captive wild animal facility or similar environment is preferred.
The preparation required to work with animals depend strongly upon the job. Some positions have strict training and degree requirements, while others value experience more than education. Below are some tips to consider when thinking about a career with animals.
Working with animals as often as possible shows you’re dedicated to them. Hands-on experience is very valuable, as it offers an understanding of animal behavior that could never be found in books. It also provides an opportunity for networking with contacts in the animal care industry. Volunteer experience can be even more beneficial on a resume: It proves that you are so dedicated to animals, you are willing to work with no compensation expected. Volunteer opportunities abound at animal shelters.
No matter where you are in your educational path, focus on classes that are related to animals and science. Many animal-related degrees have a strong science focus, so courses in biology, medicine, anatomy, chemistry and the like can serve you well.
If there is a possible certification to be earned in a potential career, get it. Even if it’s optional, it provides a great opportunity to market yourself for both jobs and animal degree programs, and it teaches you something new in the meantime.
Choose an organization or two that relates to what you’d like to eventually do. Interested in helping abused animals? Join the ASPCA. Want to work in animal conservation efforts? Join the World Wildlife Fund.
Animal keepers' training can come in a variety of forms. Modern keepers are expected to have a college degree – at least an associate degree but often a bachelors 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, as well as entry level positions in other animal care facilities. At the Buffalo Zoo, novice keepers may start in an apprentice position where they are working with an experienced keeper for a period of time to gain more skills before they're prepared to work independently.
Some college education (at least an associate’s degree) is almost always a requirement for a full-time zoo keeping position, and most keepers hold at least a bachelor’s degree in some sort of science, whether it’s animal sciences, biology, zoology, etc. I personally have 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 zoo keeper!).
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 are available. Be open to every option – work with new species in different settings to diversify your experience.
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 the public experience is SUCH an important part of what zoo keepers 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.
A nonprofit organization that works to facilitate the study of animal behavior.
Offers the Veterinary Technician National Exam, the passage of which is required by most states.
A professional membership association that offers three levels of veterinary technician certification relating to laboratory animal science.
An independent organization with the mission of improving the status of farm and ranch families.
The first humane society created in North American with goals of ending animal cruelty and homelessness.
A nonprofit professional organization that serves as a collective advocate for veterinarians of all types.
Advances the interests of zoos and aquariums through efforts based on education, science and conservation.
Provides highly trained assistance dogs to those with disabilities.
The FASS exists to pursue educational and scientific advancement in animal agriculture.
Educating the future leaders and workers in the dairy industry and community.
Works to promote animal welfare by fighting factory farming, fur trading, puppy mills, wildlife abuse and animal fighting.
Administers the Approved Veterinary Assistant Examination, which is required to obtain the Approved Veterinary Assistant designation.
Provides the examination that veterinarians must pass to become licensed in the United States.
Offers the National Certified Master Groomer certification for dog groomers and membership benefits for professional dog groomers.
Formerly known as Future Farmers of America, the FFA promotes agriculture education.
Made up of a wide variety of members, from educators to scientists to industry experts, all with the goal of helping the poultry industry.
An international professional organization that works to improve conservation efforts around the world through scientific research.
A federal department which implements government policies as they relate to forestry and agriculture.
A conservation organization focused on saving animals and the environment from global threats.