How to Become a Zoo Vet: Step By Step Guide

October 12, 2023


Reviewed by:

Akhil Katakam

Third-Year Medical Student, Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University

Reviewed: 10/11/23

Have you ever dreamed of getting paid to hang around with monkeys? Well, we’re here to make your Jane Goodall dreams come true! Follow along to learn how to become a zoo vet.

Becoming a zoo veterinarian requires a combination of dedication, hard work, and a serious love for our furry, scaly, and feathered friends alike. This profession is both challenging and rewarding, and is sure to keep you on your toes! As a zoo vet, you’ll be working with a diverse range of species, which means you will constantly be learning and adapting. 

To become a zoo veterinarian, you’ll first have to complete a rigorous education and training program. In this article, we’ll explore every step of becoming a zoo veterinarian, including the education and training needed, the skills and qualifications required, expert tips, FAQs, and more.

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Steps to Becoming a Zoo Vet

Let’s discuss the necessary steps to becoming a zoo vet. Each of the steps listed below is a mandatory part of the educational process unless otherwise specified. Let’s get started!

1. Earn a Bachelor’s Degree

Once you’ve graduated high school, the first step to becoming a zoo vet is to complete undergraduate studies in pre-veterinary medicine or a related field. Your major isn’t very important as long as you can complete all of the necessary prerequisite courses for vet school, such as biology, anatomy, and animal science. 

2. Build Up Your Vet School Application Materials

When it comes time to get into your dream DVM program, you’ll have to start early to ensure you can give your application its best shot at success. Make sure you have met the necessary requirements for each of your target schools ahead of time. You should also build up your CV with plenty of valuable volunteer experience and extracurriculars. 

You can also take this time to work on your personal statement, acquire valuable letters of recommendation, and even work in pet care or do some shadowing. The more time you can give yourself to acquire these documents and experiences, the better. 

3. Earn a DVM Degree

After completing your undergraduate studies, the next step is to complete a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) program. DVM programs are typically four years in length, with the first two years focusing mainly on science courses with labs.

Your third year will mainly focus on clinical experience, and the final year of your DVM program will most likely include clinical rotations to give you hands-on experience. Make sure to choose an accredited school that suits all of your needs in terms of reputation, cost, and location. 

4. Take the NAVLE

In order to legally practice as a veterinarian in the United States and Canada, you’ll have to pass the North American Veterinary Licensing Examination (NAVLE). This multiple-choice exam has been given by the ICVA since 2000, and is a requirement for licensure for veterinarians across all specialties.

5. Complete a Residency Program

Once you have graduated from your DVM program, it is recommended to complete an internship (typically one to two years in length) in general veterinary medicine, followed by a residency in zoological medicine. However, if you are completely certain that you want to pursue zoological medicine, you can complete an internship in the specialty as well. 

Residency programs in zoological medicine typically take three to four years to complete. You should make sure to choose a program that is accredited by the American College of Zoological Medicine (ACZM). Residency is a necessary step for a career in zoo medicine. 

6. Obtain Board Certification

To become a board-certified zoo veterinarian, one must pass the certification exam offered by the American College of Zoological Medicine (ACZM). The ACZM is the main certifying organization for zoo veterinarians in the United States. Certification is not always mandatory, but it is strongly recommended as a final step. 

7. Get to Work!

Once you’ve completed your residency, you’re ready to start looking for jobs! You may be able to get a position right away, but it may help to begin by building up your resume a bit more first. 

You can do so by working in a zoo, wildlife park, or sanctuary or through research and conservation projects, which helps to build a strong resume and increase chances of getting hired as a zoo veterinarian. Getting a job at your ideal place of work may also help you to move into a higher up position as it becomes available; work can be challenging to find immediately. 

It's important to note that the path to becoming a zoo veterinarian is a long and challenging one, but with dedication and hard work, it is possible to achieve this goal and make a positive impact on the health and welfare of exotic animals everywhere!

What Does a Zoo Veterinarian Do?

A zoo vet is a veterinarian who specializes in the field of zoological medicine. Zoo vets work to diagnose and treat ailments on a number of exotic animal species. They also regularly work to provide preventative care by performing routine physical exams, administering medications and vaccinations, and more.

Zoo Veterinarian Salary & Career Outlook

The median zoo veterinarian salary in the US is $87,725, according to the most recent job report statistics gathered from Indeed. The lower end of the pay scale reported salaries of around $68,864 while the highest salaries topped out at $111,753. These numbers varied depending on factors such as location, education, position, and years of experience. 

FAQs: Becoming a Zoo Vet

Here are our answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about how to become a zoo vet. 

1. Is Being a Zoo Vet Hard?

Being a zoo veterinarian is a demanding career that requires you to constantly learn and evolve your practice. You have to be familiar with the systems and ailments of many different species, which some might argue is more complicated than your average veterinarian. 

Additionally, the field of zoological medicine is known to be competitive and challenging to break into. Jobs are limited and sought after by highly qualified candidates, so you may have to travel to find work. 

2. How Long Does it Take to Become a Zoo Vet?

In total, becoming a zoo vet typically takes about 8-10 years of education and training. This includes earning a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) degree, completing a one to two year internship, and completing a three to four year residency in zoological medicine. 

After completing the education and training requirements, candidates must pass a certification exam in order to become a board-certified zoological veterinarian.

3. How Many Hours Does a Zoo Vet Work?

The working hours for a zoo veterinarian can vary greatly depending on your specific role, work environment, and employer. Zoo veterinarians perform regular check-ups and tasks that can easily be scheduled into a full-time work week. However, if you are working on call as a zoo vet, you may be required to head to work for emergency situations outside of regular hours.

In general, zoo veterinarians may work long hours, including evenings and weekends, and are often on call for emergencies. They may also be required to work outside in various weather conditions and may be called to work on short notice.

4. How Much Do Zoo Vets Make?

The median salary for zoo vets in the US is $87,725, according to recent salary reports.

5. Where Do Zoo Vets Get Paid the Most?

California is reported to be the highest paying state for zoo vets in the US according to recent data gathered by Indeed. Other sources specifically name San Francisco as the highest paying city in California for zoo vets, with some salaries averaging a yearly income of over $124,000.

Final Thoughts

Becoming a zoo vet is a challenging career path. You will need to be prepared for constant learning, growth, and dedication to your practice. Additionally, work can be hard to find and you may have to travel to find it. That said, not much can be more rewarding than receiving a hug from a happy monkey! 

If you are passionate about working with exotic animals, this career path is definitely worth pursuing. It’s critical to remember that even though it may be tough at times, anything is possible if you are determined enough. So, if you are willing to put in the work and become a fierce competitor, then a career as a zoo vet may be the perfect fit for you!

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