Becoming A Zoo Veterinarian: Step-By-Step Career Guide

Becoming a zoo veterinarian is one of the most fascinating yet challenging jobs.

As zoo veterinarians, they are responsible for providing medical treatment and care to animals such as cheetahs, sloths, elephants, and species of exotic animals kept in the zoo.

Just as a doctor performs physical examinations on patients, that’s precisely how zoo veterinarians perform physical examinations on animals to diagnose illness, assess injuries, and provide treatments.

So if you are contemplating on becoming a zoo veterinarian, then this article will serve as a guide to you on the necessary details you need to know such as:

  • Zoo Veterinarians Job Description
  • Step-By-Step Process Of Becoming A Zoo Veterinarians
  • Zoo Veterinarian Skills & Competencies
  • Average Day Daily Routine For Zoo Veterinarians
  • Career Opportunities For Zoo Veterinarians
  • Zoo Veterinarian Salary
  • Tips On How To Increase Your Salary As A Zoo Veterinarian 

Becoming A Zoo Veterinarian: Step-By-Step Career Guide

Zoo veterinarians are specialists with advanced training in the treatment of exotic wildlife species who care for animals held in captivity. 

They are practitioners with extensive training in the care of non-domestic animal species. 

Their patients may include elephants, rhinos, giraffes, zebras, lions, tigers, bears, parrots, aquatic animals, small mammals, reptiles, and many other species. 

Zoo Veterinarian Job Description 

Zoo veterinarians are charged with a lot of Responsibilities/Duties towards animals which include;

  • Performing physical exams on animals
  • Administering sedation
  • Giving vaccinations
  • Administering and prescribing medication
  • Taking blood work and other samples
  • Performing surgery
  • Cleaning teeth
  • Taking ultrasounds and radiographs
  • Treating wounds
  • Determining diets and feeding schedules
  • Assisting with captive breeding programs
  • Supervising zoo veterinary technicians

Zoo veterinarians treat the injuries and illnesses of animals that live in zoos, as well as preventative medical care. 

They may use a variety of medical equipment, including surgical tools and imaging devices. 

Zoo veterinarians usually are employed by zoos, aquariums, museums, or research facilities. 

Other options for zoo veterinary practitioners include positions in academia as professors or biology teachers, veterinary pharmaceutical sales, various government organizations, and laboratories. 

They may also be involved with research studies and interact with the public as a part of educational events.

Step-By-Step Process Of Becoming A Zoo Veterinarian

The road to becoming a zoo veterinarian is paved with a significant amount of education

So be ready for a highly competitive application process

The lengthy and rigorous nature of specialty training programs and the difficulty of board certification exams ensure that only a limited number of professionals are able to attain board certification each year.

  • Education: 

As highly competitive as it could be, all aspiring zoo veterinarian graduates must complete a degree which is known as a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) or a VMD degree, which is achieved after completion of a demanding four-year course of study covering both small and large animal species. 

This degree can be obtained at any veterinary college accredited by the American veterinary medical association.

So if you want to obtain this certificate, below are the several accredited colleges of veterinary medicine in the United States that offer a DVM degree program

DVM degree programs such as:

  • The Purdue University College of Veterinary Medicine
  • University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia.
  • Texas A/M university- college station, texas
  • Washington state university, Pullman, Washington
  • University of Florida, Gainesville Fl
  • University of Minnesota-twin cities, Minneapolis
  • Tufts University, Medford, MA
  • Ohio State university-main campus, columbo OH
  • University of Wisconsin- Madison, Madison WI
  • University of California Davis, Davis.CA
  • University of Tennessee-Knoxville, Knoxville TN
  • Licensing: 

All veterinarians need to obtain a state license before practicing since the licensing regulations state that it is mandatory.

The licensing regulations vary by state but most states will request a certification proving the completion of the North American Veterinary Licensing Exam(NAVLE) which is usually conducted after graduation and also a separate state exam.

With these, a zoo veterinarian can professionally practice medicine in any state of the country.

Another licensing that can give an aspiring veterinarian graduate an edge and also great opportunities is called a Residency Program which is accredited by the American College of Zoological Medicine.

The residency program usually lasts for three to four years.

So if you are an aspiring veterinarian, it is also important that you undergo this program which offers a critical field of experience and networking opportunities with potential employers.

Read Also: Cath Lab Technician: Job Description and Education Requirements
  • Board Certification Process: 

Certification is not necessary, but it is very helpful in this highly competitive career.

Aspiring zoo veterinarians who seek board certification through the American College of Zoological Medicine (ACZM) in order to become board certified must take a certification exam (ACZM certification examination).

To meet the eligibility requirements for the ACZM boards, candidates must have graduated from an accredited veterinary program, attained a license to practice, and must have published at least five publications in the field of Zoological Medicine.

Also, there is a need for the aspiring zoo veterinarian to complete at least three years of professional training or six years of work in Zoological Medicine after veterinary school.

This is usually under the supervision of a board-certified diplomate.

Once he or she meets these requirements and passes the ACZM exam, they will be certified which is usually an added advantage in the hiring process.

  • Board Examination: 

The final step is to take the comprehensive two-day board examination, which consists of both written and practical elements. 

Those who pass the exam are recognized as board-certified diplomates in zoological medicine.


Zoo Veterinarian Skills & Competencies

Becoming a zoo veterinarian, there is a need for you to possess a combination of key personality traits and skills which aid to make you outstanding at what you do.

Below are the key personalities you’ll generally need the possess:

  • Problem-Solving Skills: 

Becoming a zoo veterinarian requires that you must be someone who thinks outside the box when it comes to resolving critical issues that concern the health of the animals.

For instance, diagnosing an illness in animals and looking for the best possible solution in order to save the day.

Administering treatment to animals can also present challenges and require adjustments based on each case.

  • Communication And Interpersonal Skills: 

Working with potentially dangerous animals requires teamwork between zoo veterinarians and other fellow zoo staff.

Zoo veterinarians must also consult with a network of experts to stay on top of the latest techniques and advice to keep the animals and their caretakers safe.

  • Compassion: 

To become a zoo veterinarian, there is a need that you must be someone who treats animals with respect, kindness, and sensitivity.

It is this compassion that allows you to comfort frightened animals and adequately care for them.

  • Physical dexterity: 

 Zoo veterinarians must be able to skillfully work with animals of all sizes from very large to tiny ones. He or she must accurately perform procedures and surgeries when necessary

  • Risk Taker

This is the most important skill that determines how ready you are in becoming a zoo veterinarian.

According to the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics which acknowledges that veterinarians risk being injured while working with frightened or wounded animals such as working with large elephants and dangerous cats.

This can really be daunting but regardless, as a zoo veterinarian, you must possess the fearlessness needed to execute such intimidating work.

Average Day Daily Routine For Zoo Veterinarians

An average day for a zoo veterinarian is full of diverse and challenging tasks.

Most times, a zoo veterinarian would find himself or herself operating on a lizard and also examining a ten thousand-pound elephant in the next minute.

That’s why before you venture into this career path, try and ask yourself if you can handle working irregular hours.

Let’s take a proper look at the summary of what a zoo veterinarian undertakes on any given day:

  • Morning Meetings

The majority of Zoo veterinarians start their day with a morning meeting.

These daily meetings are usually conducted alongside other veterinary staff in order to keep everyone notified about the happenings in the zoo.

During these meetings, the veterinary staff discusses animals with improved conditions, animals that require extra attention & care, and the ones who need surgical procedures booked for the day.

  • Prevention Care

Zoo veterinarians will often have a list of animals they have planned to examine that day.

Firstly, they anesthetize the animals in order to safely transport and inspect them.

They examine the animals by drawing their blood, assessing their dental hygiene, collecting swabs, and a variety of other routine inspections.

  • Treatment

Zoo keepers who spend time caring for and getting to understand animals better are usually the first to notice any abnormality and try to take the necessary steps in order to find solutions.

For instance, if an animal’s appetite has decreased or if the animal shows abnormal behavioral changes and it is noticed by the zoo keeper, he or she is to notify the zoo veterinarians.

The zoo veterinarian is intended to conduct an assessment of the animal before administering treatment.

  • Follow-Up Care

After administering the appropriate treatments, the zoo veterinarian is to provide the animals who have been treated with follow-up care and also ensure that all of those animals are showing clear signs of recovery.

  • Medical Records

At the end of each day, zoo veterinarians are to maintain and update the medical records.

They send out samples that the laboratory needs to analyze such as blood that was collected from the diseased animals and record findings from their work.

  • Be Prepared For Emergencies

This is considered one of the most critical parts of becoming a zoo veterinarian.

They usually experience unplanned emergencies at any second.

These emergencies take precedence making an average day in the life of a zoo veterinarian not so fun at all.

Career Opportunities For Zoo Veterinarians

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment of zoo veterinarians is projected to grow 19 percent from 2016 to 2026, which is much faster than the 7 percent average for all occupations. 

Nevertheless, the best way to find a job as a zoo veterinarian is by joining professional affiliations.

There are several professional affiliations that provide great job databases such as the American Association Of Zoo Veterinarians.

This association has a career center that allows members to post their resumes and search through the job listing provided.

Other affiliations with job databases include the American Association Of Wildlife Veterinarians, the Association Of Reptile And Amphibian Veterinarians, and the Association of Zoo & Aquariums.

Zoo Veterinarian Salary

Zoo veterinarian salaries vary depending on location and dependent on the experience level of the aspirant, and also the type of employer. 

Here’s the breakdown for veterinarians in general according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics report, 2017, which includes zoo veterinarians:

Median Annual Salary: $90,420

Top 10% Annual Salary: $159,320

Bottom 10% Annual Salary: $53,980

Tips On How To Increase Your Salary As A Zoo Veterinarian 

There are a few ways to increase one’s chances of reaching the higher end of the salary range.

  • One Primary Tip Is To Become Board Certified. 

Zoo Veterinarians who spend the extra years becoming certified earn higher salaries and can skip associate positions to move on to being full-fledged Zoo Veterinarians.

  • Another Great Tip Is To Look For Work At Zoos Located In Metropolitan Areas. 

According to the Association of Zoos & Aquariums, zoos located in metropolitan areas are often capable of offering higher salaries to their employees.

The employment of Veterinarians is projected to grow 19% from 2016 to 2026, which is much faster than the average occupation.


A career in zoological veterinary medicine is not easy, but it is extremely rewarding. 

Remember that earning your Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree is only the first step on this exciting journey!

Veterinarians interested in specializing in zoo medicine have numerous options, ranging from private practice to research institutions. 

You must also have veterinary experience working with a variety of animals in a variety of settings.

Fortunately, there are numerous excellent institutions where you can obtain this telemedicine.

Keep in mind that with hard work and determination, you can achieve your dream of becoming a zoo veterinarian.

Best of luck!

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