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Large Animal Veterinarian

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Large Animal Veterinarian

Goats are one of the species treated by large animal vets.

Image by M.H. Kramer

Large animal veterinarians are practitioners that specialize in health management of livestock species such as cattle, horses, sheep, goats, and pigs.

Duties

Large animal veterinarians are licensed animal health professionals that are trained to diagnose and treat illnesses that affect a variety of livestock species. Large animal practitioners commonly treat cattle, horses, sheep, goats, and pigs. Large animal vets tend to travel to visit their patients on farms using a customized truck outfitted with the requisite medical equipment.

The usual routine for a large animal vet includes conducting health exams, giving vaccinations, drawing blood, prescribing any necessary medications, cleaning and suturing wounds, and performing surgeries. Other duties may include monitoring the reproductive health of breeding stock, performing artificial inseminations, assisting with problem births, conducting pre-purchase exams, and taking ultrasounds or x-rays.

Large animal veterinarians frequently work long hours and spend a great deal of time on the road as they travel from farm to farm. They also must be “on call” for potential emergencies on weekends and holidays. The work can be particularly demanding for large animal vets, as they must be capable of restraining and treating animals of substantial size. Large animal vets must be careful to take safety precautions while treating their patients.

Career Options

According to statistics from the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), more than 75% of vets work in private practice. The vast majority of practitioners work on small animals. While most large animal vets work on a variety of livestock species, some choose to focus on offering services exclusively for equine, bovine, or porcine patients. Others offer mixed practice services for both large and small animals.

Outside of private practice, vets also find work as educators, pharmaceutical sales representatives, military veterinarians, government meat inspectors, and research scientists.

Education and Training

All large animal veterinarians graduate with a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree. The DVM program is a rigorous course of study that covers all aspects of health care for both small and large animal species. There are currently 28 colleges of veterinary medicine in the United States that offer a DVM degree.

Upon graduation, vets must pass the North American Veterinary Licensing Exam (NAVLE) to become licensed. Approximately 2,500 veterinarians graduate, pass the NAVLE exam, and enter the veterinary field each year. At the end of 2010, the most recent AVMA employment survey available, there were 95,430 practicing U.S. veterinarians. Large animal exclusive vets make up less than 8% of that total.

Professional Associations

The American Veterinary Medical Association is one of the most prominent veterinary organizations, representing over 80,000 practitioners. Other groups for large animal practitioners include the American Association of Bovine Practitioners (AABP) and the American Association of Small Ruminant Practitioners (AASRP).

Salary

The median wage for veterinarians is approximately $79,000 according to the 2010-2011 salary survey by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Earnings in the 2010 BLS salary survey varied from under $46,000 for the lowest 10% of veterinarians to more than $143,000 for the top 10% of veterinarians.

According to the AVMA, the median professional income for food animal exclusive veterinarians (before taxes) was $103,000 in 2009; this is the highest median amongst all branches of veterinary private practice. Food animal predominant veterinarians earned a median professional income of $91,000.

In terms of average starting salary right out of veterinary school, large animal vets begin their career with a mean compensation of $71,096 for food animal exclusive practice and $67,338 for food animal predominant practice.

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 480 board certified large animal internal medicine diplomates and 171 board certified large animal veterinary surgeons.

Job Outlook

According to the latest 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 of veterinary medicine.

The AVMA’s most recent employment survey (December 2010) found that there were 61,502 vets in private practice. Of that number there were 3,890 veterinarians in food animal predominant practice and 1,109 veterinarians in food animal exclusive practice.

Due to the fact that a majority of vets choose to go into small animal exclusive practice (over 41,000 currently employed in this type of work), there should be a continued need for large animal veterinarians in the marketplace, especially in rural areas.

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