Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Professions That Work With Animals

Many of us grow up loving animals and daydreaming of building a career out of working with them. But what should I be? Veterinarian? Zoo keeper? What else is there?

In fact, there are many professions that work with animals. Here are some fields to consider:

Jobs in Zoos and Aquariums:

Photo provided by Bridget Walker.
When we think of jobs in zoos and aquariums, we generally think of being a zoo keeper or aquarist (the animal care takers). Although these are generally the most visible of these positions, there are many more to keep in mind. If you like to work with animals directly, then you could be a keeper or aquarist, a veterinarian, a veterinary technician, an animal trainer, an educator, or a research biologist. If you are good at seeing the bigger picture of the mission and are destined for management, then you may be a good exhibit curator, education curator, financial manager, facilities manager, or even the director. If you are good with people, you could be a volunteer coordinator, public relations director, marketing director, special events manager, membership director, gift shop manager, visitor services manager, or personnel manager. Zoos and aquariums have many more positions that this and they all vary quite a bit in the experience and training needed and the salaries they pay. To see more, check out the Association of Zoos & Aquariums website.

Animal Health Professions:

A wildlife rehabilitator handles a baby skunk.
Image by AnimalPhotos at Wikimedia.
Veterinarians are needed wherever there are animals, so they can work in small animal clinics, animal hospitals, at farms, at zoos and aquariums, and out in the field with researchers. They can also specialize in areas such as parasitology, radiology, surgery, or dentistry. Veterinarians can’t do it alone either. Veterinary assistants, veterinary technicians and veterinary technologists all make up the teams that help diagnose and care for sick and injured animals. Wildlife rehabilitators, animal shelter workers, animal sanctuary workers and animal behaviorists specialize in caring for animals with special needs.

Animal Research:

Jérôme Micheletta with the Macaca Nigra Project
in Indonesia. Photo from Jérôme Micheletta.
Animal research takes many different forms and serves many different functions. Animal researchers doing basic research are discovering how animals’ bodies work, why they do what they do, and how they work together in their ecosystems. Animal researchers doing applied research are developing new drugs, new medical procedures and devices, new nutritional formulas, and new methods of keeping animals to make our lives and the lives of animals better. Many animal researchers work in universities as professors and scientists. Others work for the government for the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the National Institutes of Health (NIH) or the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Others work for private organizations such as zoos and aquariums, animal food developers, and drug development companies. All of these organizations have strict guidelines for the humane use of animals in research (often under the guidance of an Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee, IACUC), so jobs in research can include researcher/scientist, assistant researcher, animal care specialist, veterinarian, veterinary technician, surgical specialist, IACUC director or compliance director.

Working with Pets:

Snuggles! Photo by Jenna Buley.
If you just can’t get enough of pets, then maybe you should work with them professionally. In addition to the care and love of their families, pets require healthcare, so many of the animal health positions above would get you lots of exposure to pets. Many pets also require the help of groomers or farriers (that fit horses with shoes) for their hygiene and animal behaviorists and trainers to help them fit in. When owners are away, many pets are in need of a pet daycare service or longer-term boarding, all of which require animal care and management staff. When people are looking for a new addition to their families and the supplies to care for them, pet adoption counselors and pet store workers are helpful. Animal wardens, animal control workers, and animal cruelty investigators all help ensure that animals are treated well.

Farming and Breeding:

Working at a dairy farm. Photo by Elizabeth Martens.
Animal farmers commonly raise dairy cows, cattle, poultry, sheep, goats, and pigs. But we don’t always think of the important roles of apiarists (bee farmers), aquaculturists (fish and seafood farmers), and specialty animal breeders. Specialty animal breeders often work privately for the pet trade, breed horses for both work and play, and work for conservation organizations. There is a wide range in animal farming and breeding practices, so research any breeding organization or company before you get involved.

Animal Behavior:

All animals behave (and misbehave), so experts in animal behavior are needed in all of the fields mentioned above. Zoos and aquariums rely on animal trainers not only to entertain the public, but also to encourage animals to cooperate with caretakers and the veterinary staff, which reduces their stress and risk of injury. Farmers, breeders and pet owners rely on animal behaviorists for the same reasons. Animal trainers also work in specialty areas, such as animal racing, showing, hunting, and acting. More noble animal professions are service animals that assist people with disabilities, police and military dogs and horses, and detection dogs and pigs. All of these highly trained animals require experienced professional trainers. Animal behavior is also an active area of animal research to provide us with insight about how and why animals (including ourselves) do what we do.

For more advice on working with animals, check this out.


  1. Another job to consider adding is being an animal behavior specialist for research animals. That is what I do, but I did not even know it was a thing when I was in college preparing for a career with animals. It typically requires a college degree and some experience with animals, particularly in training and natural behaviors.