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Avian Veterinarian

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Two barn owls in captivity at Flamingo Gardens, Davie, Florida, USA
Juan Silva/Photodisc/Getty Images

Avian veterinarians are small animal practitioners that specialize in the veterinary care of birds.

Duties

Avian veterinarians are licensed animal health professionals who are qualified to diagnose and treat illnesses or injuries found in many species of birds.

The typical routine for an avian vet (in companion bird practice) includes performing basic exams, diagnosing illnesses, drawing blood, prescribing medications, making dietary recommendations, setting fractures, performing surgeries, and completing follow up exams.

Avian vets working in poultry production may be involved with flock health management procedures, vaccination programs, inspections, meat or egg evaluation, and other related duties carried out on livestock farms or in government processing facilities.

It is common for avian veterinarians to work a five to six day week with additional “on call” emergency hours always a possibility. Avian veterinarians that work in the poultry production industry may work outdoors in varying temperatures and weather conditions. Companion bird veterinarians usually work in an office setting.

Career Options

Most avian veterinarians focus on either companion bird practice (i.e. parrots and songbirds) or poultry production practice (chickens, turkeys, etc). It is also possible to focus on the care and treatment of birds of prey or other native species as an avian wildlife veterinarian. Other vets operate a mixed practice that offers services for pet birds while also offering care for small animal or exotic animals.

According to statistics from the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), more than 75% of vets work in private practice. If they do not choose to work in private practice, avian vets may also find employment in pharmaceutical sales, education, research, and governmental roles.

Education and Training

All avian veterinarians must graduate with a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) degree, which is achieved after a comprehensive course of study on both small and large animal species. There are 28 colleges of veterinary medicine in the United States that offer a DVM degree.

After graduation, new vets must successfully complete the North American Veterinary Licensing Exam (NAVLE) to be eligible to practice medicine in the United States. Approximately 2,500 vets are qualified to enter the veterinary profession in the U.S. each year after completing their education and passing the NAVLE exam. In the latest AVMA employment survey (late 2010), there were 95,430 practicing U.S. veterinarians.

Professional Associations

The Association of Avian Veterinarians (AAV) is one of the largest professional organizations focusing on avian medicine and publishes the well known Journal of Avian Medicine and Surgery. The AAV hosts a well-attended national conference each year for its member veterinarians. There is also an international division of the AAV known as the European Committee of the Association of Avian Veterinarians (EAAV) with members from Europe, Dubai, and Northern Africa.

There are also a number of avian veterinary societies that operate with a state or regional focus, such as the Mid-Atlantic States Association of Avian Veterinarians. These groups can serve as valuable networking connections for avian professionals and may also offer publications or conference events to members.

Salary

The median wage for veterinarians was $82,040 in May of 2010 according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Earnings in 2010 varied from less than $49,910 to more than $145,230.

The AVMA’s 2010 salary survey indicated that new graduates specializing in companion animal practice could expect to earn approximately $70,000 in their first year of employment. Experienced vets in companion animal exclusive practice earned a median salary of $97,000.

Veterinarians who are board certified in a particular specialty area (ophthalmology, oncology, surgery, etc) command significantly higher salaries due to their level of experience and education. In 2011, AVMA data indicated there were 140 board certified diplomates in the specialty area of avian medicine, with an additional 275 board certified diplomates in the specialty area of poultry medicine.

Job Outlook

According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the veterinary profession will show growth at a significantly greater rate than the average for all professions—nearly 36% over the decade from 2010 to 2020. The controlled number of students being accepted to and graduating from veterinary programs will result in continued demand for new practitioners.

There are over 16.2 million birds currently kept as pets (in 5.7 million United States households), according to a 2012 American Pet Products Association survey. With the popularity of pet birds showing significant increases in recent years, the demand for avian medical services should continue to increase steadily for the foreseeable future. The continued strength of the poultry meat and egg production industries should also result in additional employment opportunities for poultry practitioners.

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