Becoming a Zoo Veterinarian

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A Zoo veterinarian is a special kind of veterinarian with the unique responsibilities of taking care of the health and well-being of non-domestic species and exotic wildlife. Typical patients for a Zoo veterinarian include lions, tigers, elephants, giraffes, zebras, rhinos, bears, wolfs, parrots, aquatic mammals, reptiles and other small animals.

A typical working day of a Zoo vet may include examining a wild animal, administering sedation or other medication, taking blood samples, vaccinations, administering IV fluids, prescribing meds, surgery, dental cleaning, taking radiographs and ultrasounds, being part of captive breeding programs, and supervising Zoo veterinary technicians. In one sentence, super exciting 馃檪

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Zoo veterinarians may be a part of research studies, public education programs, may be listed on call for emergencies and so on.

How to Become a Zoo Veterinarian?

All lovely humans that want to pursue the dream of helping animals must go through an undergraduate program before entering veterinary school. Some countries (for example in Europe) do not have pre-vet programs. During this undergraduate program, you must take subjects such as anatomy, biology, animal science, chemistry, zoology, and physiology.

After this, future Zoo veterinarians will need a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree (D.V.M or V.D.M) from an accredited veterinary school. Programs typically take 4 to 6 years to finish and involve classroom studies, laboratory work, and clinical work.

giraffe, zebra, ostrich

After graduation, in order to be able to practice legally, you will need to obtain a license to practice, and licensing regulation may vary from state to state, and continent to continent. In North America, veterinarians must complete the 鈥淣orth American Veterinary Licensing Exam鈥 and, depending on the state, you may have to undergo a state exam as well.  

At this point, if you are completely sure that you want to pursue a zoo career, then you must acquire work experience with exotic animals for 1 or 2 years. Usually, this can be accomplished through voluntary programs and internships. At this internship, interns will work under the supervision of experienced zoo veterinarians and will be part of surgeries, dentistry and anesthesiology of exotic animals.

Completing an internship can help and prepare aspiring veterinarians to serve the zoo residency program, to work in private practice or to be part of scientific research at a University.

Veterinarians seeking a career in zoo medicine must complete a residency program that can last 3 to 4 years and gain a certificate. These residency programs are approved by the American College of Zoological Medicine (ACZM), the certifying boards for zoo medicine, and are held by board-certified zoo vets.

These programs are designed to give you in-depth training in zoo medicine, sharpen your clinical skills and research abilities. This residency training can lead to a Master of Specialized Veterinary Medicine degree. Some of the programs do not result in a degree.

leopard in zoo enclosure
Becoming a Zoo Veterinarian I Love Veterinary - Blog for Veterinarians, Vet Techs, Students

In Europe, there is the European Association of Zoo and Wildlife Veterinarians (EAZW), with around 600 members representing 48 different countries.

Certification is not mandatory for vets, but getting certified in zoo medicine shows your expertise and extended training in that specialty. To be able to get certified with ACZM, you must: be a graduate of a veterinary medicine program that is accredited by the American Veterinary Medical Association, have a valid veterinary license, completed an internship and residency program, and have published at least 5 articles on zoo medicine in professional journals.

To learn more about the ACZM, click here:  

and for EAZW click here:

The Zoo Veterinarian Salary

On average the salary for a Zoo veterinarian ranges between $60.000 and $90.000 in the past few years in the USA. The salary depends on the certifications, experience, additional skills the ZOO vet has, and the place of work. 

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