Questions to Ask When Choosing an Animal Career

5 Questions Career Seekers Should Ask

Silhouettes of orangutans swinging on a rope
  Amith Nag Photography / Getty Images

There are many different animal career paths to choose from (plus a vast array of animal-related businesses you can start as an independent owner).  But how do you know which career is right for you?  Here are five questions that you should ask yourself before deciding to pursue a specific animal career path:

Is This a Field You Are Truly Interested in Pursuing?

You really do need to be passionate about the specific type of work you intend to pursue professionally, and this is especially true for animal careers.  Animal career paths may appear to be much more glamorous than they are in reality, so be sure you have a clear understanding of the duties involved with the specific role.  It is important that you fully research all aspects of the career path before making your decision and investing your time, effort, and money.

Do You Have the Required Education and Training, or Can You Get Them?


Some animal career paths require degrees, certifications, internships, or other such professional qualifications for candidates to find employment.  Achieving these prerequisites can take a significant amount of time (as well as a significant financial investment in your education).  The time spent in training can also be significant for career paths that put an emphasis on hands-on “experiential” learning.  You may have to spend a significant amount of time as an unpaid apprentice or entry-level employee to move up the ladder in some fields.

Can You Handle the Schedule? 

Many animal career paths require more than the standard five days, forty hour work week that may be offered in many traditional office settings.  You should be prepared to work 6 to 7 days per week in many areas of the animal industry.  You might be given alternating weekends off, be asked to put in 8 to 10-hour shifts, or be required to work on weekend days and holidays as a part of your regular schedule rotation.  This can be a difficult adjustment, particularly for individuals with spouses, children, or pets of their own to care for.  There are some animal careers that offer more regular hours, but you need to research the typical scheduling demands for someone in your specific field of interest.

Can You Afford to Live on the Salary?

Dream jobs don’t always come with a dream salary, and this is particularly true for many career paths in the animal industry.  Zookeepers, for example, have amazing access to exotic animals but the salary that they earn is relatively low.  You also need to take into consideration that starting salaries can be particularly tough to live on for many career paths.  This is the general case with veterinary medicine: young vets must scrape by on relatively low starting salaries (or worse, residency salaries if they are pursuing a specialty) for the first few years.  This situation can be extremely difficult, as they are trying to pay off six-figure educational debt with relatively little income.

Are You Willing to Relocate?

Some animal career paths have relatively few (if any) prospects in certain areas.  For example, you would have very few options for working in the Thoroughbred industry in states where racing is not legalized, but you would have a plethora of options if you moved to Kentucky or Florida.  You may also have to relocate if you are seeking a position in a highly competitive field that has relatively few positions available (marine mammal trainers and zookeepers are two such options that readily come to mind).  If you are pursuing a career path that has many openings across the country (like a veterinary technician), you will be more likely to find local employment options.  Decide in advance if you are willing to sell your house, leave friends and family, and move to another city or state to pursue your dreams.