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Equine Veterinarian

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Veterinarians with horse
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Equine veterinarians are large animal practitioners that specialize in health management of horses.

Duties

Equine veterinarians are licensed animal health professionals who are qualified to diagnose and treat horses involved in various activities, from competition to production. An equine vet can work in a variety of environments, but will generally interact with both animal patients and human clients.

The typical routine for an equine vet includes performing basic exams, giving routine vaccinations, drawing blood, prescribing medications, evaluating and suturing wounds, performing surgeries, and post-surgical follow up exams. Other duties may include performing pre-purchase exams, monitoring the reproductive health of breeding stallions and broodmares, assisting with foalings, and taking x-rays.

Equine veterinarians may work in conjunction with a farrier to correct angular limb deformities, solve lameness issues, and ensure proper balance of the equine foot.

It is common for equine veterinarians to work a five to six day week with additional “on call” emergency responsibilities as needed. Work may occur outdoors in varying temperatures and weather conditions. Veterinarians, especially those working with large animals, should always follow proper safety precautions to minimize the risk of injury while working with their patients.

Career Options

According to statistics from the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), more than 75% of vets work in private practice. Equine veterinarians in private practice may either work from their vehicle (making farm visits) or in an equine veterinary clinic. Many equine vets offer a combination of both clinic-based and mobile services.

It is not uncommon for equine veterinarians to have a mixed practice which includes other livestock species such as cattle, sheep, or goats. Others choose to offer a mixed practice serving both small and large animal patients.

According to the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP), nearly half of equine veterinarians are involved with performance horses (44.8%). Other major areas of service include pleasure/farm work (17.2%), racing work (13.7%), and reproductive work (13.2%). The AVMA’s most recent (Dec. 2010) employment survey indicated that there were 3,753 veterinarians in exclusively equine practice, with an additional 4,326 involved in mixed practice.

Outside of private practice, vets also find work as college professors or educators, pharmaceutical sales representatives, military personnel, government inspectors, and researchers.

Education and Training

All equine veterinarians graduate with a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree, the culmination of a rigorous course of study involving both small and large animal species. There are 28 colleges of veterinary medicine in the United States that offer a DVM degree.

Upon graduation, vets must also successfully complete the North American Veterinary Licensing Exam (NAVLE). Approximately 2,500 vets pass this exam and enter the field each year. At the end of 2010, the most recent AVMA employment survey available, there were 95,430 practicing U.S. veterinarians.

Professional Associations

The American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) boasts 10,000 member veterinarians from 67 countries, making it the world’s largest equine veterinary organization. The AAEP puts on a major convention each year with over 100 hours of lectures and demonstrations available to equine veterinarians.

Salary

The median wage for veterinarians is around $79,000 according to the 2010-2011 Occupational Outlook Handbook from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Earnings in 2010 varied from under $46,000 to more than $143,000.

According to the AVMA, the median professional income for equine veterinarians (before taxes) was $85,000 in 2009.

Small animal vets fared the best in terms of average starting salary right out of veterinary school with average compensation of $64,744; large animal vets started out at an average of $62,424.

Veterinarians who are board certified in a particular specialty area (ophthalmology, oncology, surgery, etc) generally earn significantly higher salaries as a result of their advanced education and experience. As of 2010, AVMA data indicated there were 89 board certified equine diplomats and 171 board certified large animal surgeons.

Job Outlook

According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the veterinary profession will expand at a much faster rate than average—nearly 33% from 2008 to 2018. The limited number of graduates from vet programs will translate to excellent job prospects in the field.

The AAEP reports that their highest numbers of U.S. equine vets are located in California, Texas, and Florida. Outside of North America, the three countries with the highest concentrations of equine veterinarians are Australia, Germany, and the United Kingdom.

With over nine million horses in the United States alone, demand for equine medical services should continue to increase at a healthy rate for the foreseeable future. Demand for equine specialists should continue to grow.

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