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What Kinds of Veterinarians Are There?

Written by Laura
Laura is passionate about all sorts of domesticated pets. They have written dozens of articles across the web.
Published on
Monday 9 November 2020
Last updated on
Tuesday 9 May 2023
what kinds of veterinarians are there
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As animal lovers, we appreciate our veterinarians infinitely. Their passion, knowledge, and hard work are invaluable. But just how many kinds of veterinarians are there? And what is needed to become one?

This article will explore the different types of veterinarians and their specialties. It will also look at the required education and licenses, their key job responsibilities, salaries, and each role’s pros and cons.

Veterinarian Specializations

There are many different kinds of vets. Let’s take a look at the different types and their specialties.

Companion-Animal Veterinarians

This is the most common type of veterinarian practitioner, the one we are all familiar with. These are the vets who treat our beloved family pets, most commonly dogs and cats. Pet vets may also treat rabbits and small rodents, birds, and reptiles.

Their day-to-day tasks are similar to those of a human primary care doctor or nurse. Companion-animal veterinarians advise on the general care of animals; diagnosing illness, administering vaccines, treating mild wounds & bone injuries, and prescribing medication. They can also see to basic dental needs, perform common surgeries, and euthanize pets who are nearing the end of their lives.

Companion-animal vets will usually work at a private practice that local pets are registered with but many also work in companion animal hospitals. Some pet vets work with rescue animals in shelters too.


  • Bonding with your patients and their families
  • Making families and animals happy
  • Dealing with typically gentle animals/perfect for lovers of dogs and cats
  • Every day is different
  • A minimal amount of studying required compared to specialized roles
  • Good Salary
  • Potential of working with animals in need in shelters


  • Seeing animals that you have a bond with in pain or dying
  • Delivering heartbreaking news to families
  • Competitive field

Requirements & Salary

The average salary for a pet veterinarian is around $90,000 per year. The American Veterinary Medical Association reports that around 75% of vets are companion-animal veterinarians. But, there is a fair amount of education needed to become one. Pet vets (and all vets) must complete a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) post-graduate degree. Requirements vary state by state, but all qualified vets must then acquire a NAVLE license in order to practice.

veterinarian average salary
Vets earn an average of $90,000 per year.

Veterinary Specialists

Sometimes an animal’s medical needs are too specialized for a companion-animal vet and they require specific expertise and knowledge. This is where veterinary specialists come in. Just like human doctors, vets can specialize in certain practices, such as dentistry, anesthesiology, or surgery. For example, whereas a companion-animal vet can perform common surgeries like spaying and neutering, a surgery specialist may know how to perform more complex surgeries, such as cardiac surgeries and biopsies. Specialists will be skilled in using the equipment specific to their field.

They can also specialize in species, too. This could be a pet animal like cats or dogs, or it could be reptiles, birds, fish, horses, or even wildlife or zoo animals. As research discovers more illnesses and more treatments, the areas that vets can specialize in are growing all the time.

Where veterinary specialists practice will depend on what they specialize in. They will likely either work in a species-specific or practice-specific hospital. Though either could also work in a general animal hospital. Specialists could also work as a veterinary technician in a hospital. This is more of an academic role than a practical one. Technicians offer a specialized knowledge of species, behavior, or illness to clinical vets, lightening their workload and making their jobs easier.

Zoo and wildlife veterinarians may find employment at wildlife centers, aquariums, or zoos. Their responsibilities will be much the same as a companion-animal vet, but with specialized knowledge to deal with wild or exotic animals. They may also be involved in creating safe habitats and enclosures in the attractions.


  • No euthanization (unless working in a zoo/wildlife center)
  • Making animals healthy
  • Many career path options
  • Less competitive field
  • Significantly higher salary
  • Working in an exciting environment/with exciting animals (for wildlife/zoo vets)


  • Seeing animals in pain
  • Potentially repetitive work (for practice specialists)
  • Extensive training required
  • Working with potentially dangerous animals (for wildlife/zoo vets)

Requirements & Salary

Salaries for different specialties vary, but because they are so specific, they typically fall on the higher end of the spectrum. Specialized vets often average well over $100,000 per year.

After completing the DVM and obtaining a license, budding specialists must gain experience in the field they want to specialize in. To be eligible for a certification in a specialty field, they must either complete a year-long internship or a minimum of three years of residency at a specialist practice. Specialist vets can also opt to become board-certified through additional education and internships/residencies under top veterinarians. This means a significantly higher salary but takes a very long time to achieve.

Food-Animal Veterinarians

Food-animal veterinarians work with farm animals that are being raised for meat and dairy. Typically, these are cows, pigs, chickens, and sheep. Their primary responsibility is ensuring the overall health of farm animals. This includes administering vaccinations, conducting tests, and treating illnesses.

Consultations with farmers will involve discussing the housing, feeding, cleanliness, and overall well-being of their animals. Food-animal vets spend the majority of their time on farms and ranches and often get to travel around the country.


  • Ensuring the health of thousands of animals
  • Travel
  • Good salary
  • Less competitive field


  • Dealing with captive animals can be emotionally draining
  • Repetitive work
  • Working in dirty environments
  • Extensive training required

Requirements & Salary

They may be employed by farms as resident vets, by food companies or government agencies to ensure that welfare standards are met. The salary expectations for this kind of vet depends on whether they are board-certified or not. For instance, board-certified food-animal vets earn around $187,000 per year, and those without board certification earn around $103,000 per year.

To become a food-animal vet, the standard DVM and veterinary license are required. On top of this, a year-long internship or residency of at least 3 years in an appropriate environment must be completed. However, no additional education is usually required. Although a qualification in agriculture may make applicants a cut above the rest in the eyes of employers.

Food Safety & Inspection Veterinarians

Similar to food-animal vets, food safety & inspection vets spend most of their time on farms and travel a lot. They also play an important role in ensuring standards are met. However, rather than focusing on the animals’ health and welfare, these types of vets are concerned with human safety.

They inspect the sanitation standards of farms to check that the animal products are safe for human consumption. Then, they report back to their agencies who respond accordingly.

If an animal is unwell, these vets can also impose a quarantine to stop the illness from spreading. They’re also involved in testing the safety of medications and additives that livestock is given.


  • Ensuring the health of thousands of people
  • Travel
  • Good salary
  • Benefits of working for the government
  • Less education/training required than other roles
  • Less competitive field


  • Dealing with captive animals can be emotionally draining
  • Repetitive work
  • Working in dirty environments

Requirements & Salary

Safety inspection vets will usually work for either the US Department Of Agriculture, the National Institutes of Health, or the US Food and Drug Administration to ensure regulations are met. The median salary for safety inspection vets who work for these organizations is $90,000 per year.

Being a food safety & inspection veterinarian requires the standard DVM and veterinary license. The agency that employs them will come with its own regulations and standards that vets will be taught and trained to implement.

Research Veterinarians

Every type of vet is important, but research veterinarians play a vital role in the health of all animals, including our precious pets. Research vets review past findings and work towards better ways of diagnosing, treating, and preventing animal illness. They usually work in laboratories and may work for government organizations, biomedical research firms, or universities. They may also work for pharmaceutical firms testing and developing drugs.


  • Potentially helping animals for years to come
  • Ever-expanding field, many areas to work in
  • Great salary
  • Don’t have to see sick/injured animals


  • Less interaction with animals than other vets
  • Extensive educational requirements

Requirements & Salary

Because of the extensive education required to be a research vet and their crucial role in the future of animal health, their salary is on the higher end of the scale. The average salary for a research veterinarian is $122,500 per year but can be higher depending on the vet’s area of research.

Becoming a research vet typically requires qualifications beyond the standard DVM degree and veterinary license. Research vets usually need an additional MSc or a Ph.D. in a related subject.

What is a Veterinarian’s Specialty?

A veterinarian’s specialty is the area in which a vet has specialist knowledge and skills. This can be knowledge of a species or skills in a particular practice and its equipment. Vets can also specialize in things like nutrition and behavior. Becoming a specialist will require experience in the form of internships/residencies as explored in detail above, but having a specialty will mean a significantly higher salary.

veterinarian specialty
Some veterinarians have their own specialty.

Studying for a Veterinarian Specialty

All vets must complete a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) post-graduate degree at an accredited college of veterinary medicine. (Ideally following a bachelor’s degree in a related field such as zoology, animal science, or biology.) There are currently 30 such colleges in the United States. It takes four years to complete on top of the undergraduate degree and includes a combination of classroom learning, (knowledge, theory, and coursework), practical laboratory work, and clinical experience.

Requirements vary state by state, but all qualified vets must then acquire a NAVLE license to practice. An additional license may also be required for your state. Although, vets working for the state or federal government may not require such a license. Each agency has different demands and provides its own training.

Board-certified vets in any field will earn more than non-board-certified vets, but achieving this takes years of studying after veterinary school and completing internships/residencies under top specialists. The more qualifications you have, the more specialist opportunities are open to you, and the more specialized you are, the more you will earn. There are global, national, and state associations for vets that provide news, connections, and resources for furthering specialist education.

Kinds of Veterinarians – FAQs

What type of vet gets paid the most?

The three highest paying board-certified veterinary specialties according to The Balance Careers are ophthalmology, nutrition, and surgery. Of non-board-certified vets, those who specialize in equine health, nutrition, and research reportedly earn the most, as well as those who work for government agencies and food companies.

Can you be a vet and not do surgery?

It is quite possible to be a vet and not operate on animals. It all depends on what you specialize in. For example, a dog nutritionist will never need to perform surgery. For many veterinary positions though, it is a requirement and you will receive the appropriate training.

What skills do vets need?

First and foremost, vets must have an unfaltering love of animals. Of course, they need medical knowledge too, but patience, respect, and compassion are just as essential when caring for animals.

But beware, you will also have to deliver bad news, see animals in pain, and possibly administer euthanasia. So you must be able to stay calm, objective, and communicate well.

You also cannot be squeamish or bothered by blood if you are going to be a vet that performs surgeries or deals with injuries.

Can vets treat humans?

Technically, there are lots of things vets do for our animals that they could do for us, like dressing a wound for example. But, no, legally vets cannot treat humans as patients.

We hope this article has shed some light on the numerous career paths available to budding vets and exactly how to get there. Do you want to be a vet? Let us know what kind of veterinarian you want to be in the comments down below!

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