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Feline Veterinarian

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Veterinarian with cat
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Feline veterinarians are practitioners that specialize in providing comprehensive health care for cats.

Duties

Feline veterinarians are small animal veterinarians who specialize in diagnosing and treating health problems in cats. Many feline veterinarians work at cat-exclusive animal hospitals or small animal clinics.

The typical routine for a feline veterinarian includes performing basic health exams, giving vaccinations, prescribing medications when warranted, performing spay and neuter surgeries, drawing blood, suturing wounds, performing post-surgical exams, and cleaning teeth. Other duties may include monitoring the reproductive health of breeding animals, assisting with distocias (problem births), operating specialized equipment such as ultrasound machines, and evaluating x-rays.

Veterinarians frequently work long and varied schedules, as they may be “on call” for potential emergencies on nights, weekends, or holidays. Many vet offices are closed on Sunday, but it is common for clinics to be open at least part of the day on Saturday. Feline vets may also choose to offer mobile veterinary care, driving to their clients’ homes in a van that has been fitted with the necessary medical equipment.

Career Options

According to statistics from the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), more than 75% of vets work in private practice. Feline vets may be a part of cat-only clinics, small animal clinics, emergency hospitals, or mixed practices that also provide equine or large animal veterinary services.

Outside of private practice, veterinarians may also work in education, veterinary pharmaceutical sales, the military, or government research labs.

Education and Training

All small animal veterinarians graduate with a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree, which is achieved after a comprehensive course of study focused on both small and large animals. There are currently less than 30 colleges of veterinary medicine in the United States that offer a DVM program, and admissions are highly competitive.

After graduation, veterinarians must pass the North American Veterinary Licensing Exam (NAVLE) to become professionally licensed to practice medicine. Approximately 2,500 veterinarians graduate and enter the profession each year. At the end of 2010, the most recent AVMA employment survey available, there were 95,430 practicing U.S. veterinarians. Small animal exclusive vets were responsible for more than 67% of that total.

The American Board of Veterinary Practitioners (ABVP) offers board certification to feline specialists. Applicants for board certification must have at least 6 years of experience and pass a rigorous examination to achieve diplomate status.

Professional Associations

The American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) is a prominent professional association that publishes the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery. The AAFP also has a Cat Friendly Practice certification program.

The International Society of Feline Medicine (ISFM) started as the European Society of Feline Medicine in 1996, but changed its name to reflect its worldwide scope in 2010. The society hosts an annual Feline Congress event that attracts more than 500 feline practitioners.

Salary

The median wage for all veterinarians was approximately $82,040 ($39.44 per hour) in 2011, based on salary data collected by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Earnings in this survey varied from less than $49,910 for the lowest 10% of all veterinarians to more than $145,230 for the top 10% of all veterinarians.

According to the AVMA, the median professional income for companion animal exclusive veterinarians (before taxes) was $97,000 in 2009. Vets in companion animal predominant practice earned a similar median income of $91,000. Feline exclusive data was not available. Small animal vets fared the best of all new graduates, with average compensation of $64,744 in their first year of practice.

Veterinarians who are board certified in a particular specialty area (including feline specialty) generally earn significantly higher salaries due to their significant training and experience. In 2010, AVMA survey results showed that there were 473 board certified canine and feline diplomates and 290 board certified small animal surgeons (some vets hold dual certifications).

Job Outlook

According to data from the BLS, the veterinary profession is set to expand much more quickly than the average rate for all careers—nearly 33% during the decade from 2008 to 2018. The extremely limited number of graduates from accredited veterinary programs should keep vets in high demand.

The AVMA’s most recent employment survey (conducted in December 2010) found that there were 61,502 vets in private practice. Of that number there were 41,381 vets in companion animal exclusive practices, and an additional 5,966 in companion animal predominant practices.

As the number of cats kept as pets continues to rise, and spending on medical care for cats also shows steady increases, all signs point to a strong market for feline veterinary services over the next decade.

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