Cats, dogs, and small rodents can be taken to a regular veterinarian, but large animals require the specialized expertise and care of a large animal vet. Animals like horses, cattle, sheep, and pigs have to receive visits outside of a typical veterinarian office and may need certain types of medical equipment.
There is a significant need for people who are trained as large animal veterinarians, as it is not a popular occupation. A large animal vet may be involved with the care of animals raised as livestock for food, or they may be called onsite to assist with birthing complications.
Thanks to the small percentage of veterinarians who practice and serve large animals in rural areas, there has been an increase in financial aid programs for students who choose the large animal vet track.
Veterinarians who focus on large animals may specialize in the treatment and care of horses, cows, or pigs. There are specific professional associations for veterinarians and their chosen field of animal science.
Some of the top reasons to consider working as a veterinarian that treats and cares for large animals include the following.
Before one can consider entering a veterinary college, they must first earn a bachelor’s degree. Competition for admittance into a veterinary college may be moderate to strong, depending on the institution. Students who prove aptitude for a large animal veterinary track should have experience working with livestock animals.
Veterinary students must undergo four years of study, with the first three years focusing on general knowledge of animal sciences. The final year before graduation, students prepare for their future by completing clinical rotations under the direction of a certified, experienced large animal veterinarian.
Upon graduation from a veterinary college, students will have earned a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine.
Certifications and licenses for veterinarians are administered via a state board and examinations. Most states may use the North American Veterinary Licensing Examination, which is 8-hours long and asks 360 questions.
The number of board-certified veterinarians for large animals is limited, with only a few hundred certified to practice surgery or internal medicine.
Depending on whether a student attends a public or private institution, the cost for four-years of veterinary college may range between $147,000 and $250,000.
Veterinarians who specialize in the treatment and care of large animals are in high demand, as there are few vets who choose this path.
Veterinarians who specialize in larger animals may fall under the following categories.
A veterinarian may find themselves working on a farm, conducting their practice at a clinic, or at a zoo or wildlife sanctuary.
By the year 2022, the projected amount of practicing veterinarians is expected to increase by 12 percent, according to The U.S. Department of Labor. Too many vets focus on small animals and neglect the dire need for large animal veterinarians in rural areas.
Due to the need for large animal specialists, salaries are expected to increase.
Veterinarians who focus on livestock animals are critical to reducing the spread of disease and food safety. About 7 percent of employed veterinarians focus on large animals, and the numbers have decreased.
A lack of access to large animal veterinarians puts livestock and humans at risk, as prevention and treatment help quell potential problems. States such as Nebraska, Minnesota, Kansas, and Oklahoma have high livestock populations, but few doctors.
Large animal veterinarians see an average annual salary of $84,000, but the amount of monetary compensation is expected to rise because of demand.
Vets who focus on horses may have the lowest salary their first year, at a little over $38,000.
The average salary for entry-level veterinarians who treat large animals is between $40,000 and $45,000. The median pay according to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics is $88,490 annually. Higher salaries with more experience may be around $90,000 and beyond $100,000 annually.
According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, employment of veterinarians is projected to grow by 19 percent from now until 2026.
Veterinarians will find themselves working at private clinics, onsite at farms making house calls, or working for the government.
Work scenarios may require veterinarians to travel to a ranch, inspect the health of livestock animals at a facility, or perform surgery on a remote location.
Veterinarians must be confident enough to handle working with large animals that may be frightened, in pain, or distressed. There may be risks of being kicked, scratched, or bitten while on the job. Veterinarians may also risk contracting a communicable disease that is passed between species.
The work of a veterinarian who focuses on large animals may be physically demanding and requires in-depth knowledge of animal science and medical procedures.
Large animal veterinarians may work out of a customized mobile unit with equipment for their patients. Veterinarians have to be prepared for whatever illness or injury may be ailing the animals in question.
While working, veterinarians may conduct health exams, administer vaccinations, confirm pregnancy, evaluate breeding qualities, or conduct tests. Vets are also needed to assist with troubled births, take ultrasounds or x-rays, or apply casts.
Working with large animals can be unpredictable, and may bring on stress. Vets may have to travel to more than one location throughout the day or may work long hours “on call” as needed. Vets may work on holidays or weekends to meet the demand of their patients.
A veterinarian can choose to specialize in multiple types of livestock animals, or even be trained to handle a mix of large and smaller animals.
Unlike working with companion animals, the focus on veterinary care for livestock animals revolve around livelihood and preventing disease.
Since many livestock animals are gathered into herds, a large animal veterinarian may specialize in epidemiology, which hones in on incidents of disease in large populations. Success is created by making it a priority to generate vaccination strategies and make herds feel more comfortable and less stressed.
Vets who work on a dairy farm may find themselves elbow deep in cows, as they conduct routine health examinations or check on pregnancies.
When working with cows that can become nervous easily, it is essential for vets to approach an animal in a way that keeps them calm. Cows may have a sudden reaction to being examined through their digestive tract, so the risk of getting kicked, or them moving about is a possibility.
Luckily, most vets avoid getting kicked and learn to be an expert in keeping dairy cows comfortable. On the odd chance, a vet might suffer a bruise or two from on-the-job injuries.
Working as a vet with large animals is not glamorous, and may cause vets to incur rotator-cuff injuries or a stressed out shoulder.
Depending on the needs and size of a farm, a vet may visit on a weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly basis. Vets may encounter cows with a prolapsed uterus, hernia, or laceration.
Clothing changes may often happen, as vets may risk getting soiled by fecal matter, bodily fluids, and wish to reduce cross-contamination between patients. To prevent the risk of spreading infection, soiled garments will be thrown into a bag, and equipment gets scrubbed down between use.
Working as a mobile vet who attends to horses requires long hours and dedication. Vets may attend to rodeo horses to animals for recreational horseback riding.
Being on call may lead to a lack of freedom on holidays and weekends, but clients may require an emergency visit. Lacerations require stitches and treatment to prevent infection. Horses may need to be examined for colic, urinary tract infection, or postpartum challenges.
In addition to administering vaccinations or sedating animals before surgical procedures, vets may encounter practicing dental work. Continuing education is still a benefit for veterinarians, who may call on their skills to assist with caring for patients.
Executing examinations to confirm pregnancy, conducting blood tests, or doing routine health check-ups are regularly part of the job. However, a vet may refer severe cases of injury, or patients who require intensive surgery to appropriate sources. It is not uncommon to have to dole out antibiotics or take on unscheduled appointments that come up at short notice.
Running exams on fecal matter is a significant part of preventative veterinary care for horses, as stool samples can display signs of infection, parasites, or overall health of an animal. When an animal has a change in diet, is dealing with a long-term illness, or has other conditions that require diagnosis, stool tests can provide an answer.
There is always a lot of work to do working with large farm animals, but the reward outweighs the risks and long hours. Horses are fascinating and beautiful animals that provide a lot for humans.