Avian Veterinarian - Animal Career Profile

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Avian veterinarians are small animal practitioners that specialize in the veterinary care of birds. Avian veterinarians are licensed animal health professionals who are qualified to diagnose and treat illnesses or injuries found in many species of birds.

Duties

The typical routine for an avian vet 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 (i.e., chickens, turkeys). 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 or exotic animals.

Avian vets might be called if there's a disease outbreak or epidemic in the local bird population since avian vets understand the unique health of a bird's immune system, digestive system, and dietary needs. Whether it's the family parrot that's sick or a chicken that won't reproduce, avian vets are the go-to resource for the bird population.

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 an animal hospital while others might take on roles in education, research, and in the government.

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 many 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 a recent AVMA employment survey, there were over 110,000 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 (AAV) 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. These groups can serve as valuable networking connections for avian professionals and may also offer publications or conference events to members.

Salary

The median salary for veterinarians was approximately $90,000 according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The lowest 10% of vets earned roughly $53,000 while the top 10% earned over $159,000 per year.

The AVMA’s recent salary survey indicated that new graduates specializing in companion animal practice could expect to earn approximately $73,000 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 such as ophthalmology, oncology, and surgery, can command significantly higher salaries due to their level of experience and education. 

Job Outlook

According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there are over 80,000 veterinarians, and the veterinary profession will show growth at a significantly greater rate than the average for all professions.

Employment demand has been on the rise as it's expected to grow by 19% from 2016 to 2026. The controlled number of students being accepted to and graduating from veterinary programs will result in continued demand for new practitioners.

There are over 80 million households in the U.S. that own a pet and over 8 million own birds as pets according to the American Veterinary Medical Association or AVMA. 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.