How Much Do Veterinarians Make?

a small white dog with brown ears being treated by two vets in scrubs

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Veterinary medicine is an economically stable profession, with a salary that tends to increase steadily with each year of practice. In addition to years of experience, other factors influencing a vet’s salary include the type of practice, geographic location, and whether the vet is a partner or an associate in the practice.

Starting Salary

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that veterinarians earn a median salary of $88,770. The best-paid veterinarians earn $161,070, while the lowest-paid earned $52,470. Vets in their first year of practice can expect to earn a salary of approximately $60,000. The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) found some variations in starting salary based on the area of specialization. Small-animal exclusive vets started out with the highest average earnings of $71,462 in the first year.

Large-animal exclusive vets started at $68,933. Mixed-practice vets (who practice both large- and small-animal medicine) started with an average salary of $62,327. Equine vets started at the lowest first-year salary, just $38,468.

Practice Type

The national median earnings for the category of all veterinarians is $88,490 according to the BLS. According to the AVMA, private practice vets command median earnings of $124,768 per year. Veterinarians employed by the federal government make an average salary of $90,976. per year. Corporate veterinarians bring in a median salary of $117,000 per year. Veterinarians in the armed forces had the lowest earnings, with a median salary of $70,000 annually, or $34 per hour. The AVMA reports veterinarians with board certification in a specialty area command average incomes exceeding $110,000, while the salary of a generalist is $100,000 a year.

Location and the Best Paying Cities

Geography also plays a role in determining the amount that a vet can expect to earn. Vets in major metropolitan areas tend to make more money, but one must also take into account the higher cost of living in these places.

According to U.S. News & World Report, as of 2018, the best-paying cities for veterinarians are Honolulu, HI, Jacksonville, FL, Naples, FL, Springfield, MA, and San Rafael, CA. The average salary for a veterinarian working in Honolulu is $216,840, in Jacksonville it is $188,880, in Naples it is $161,460, in Springfield, the average salary is $157,040, and in San Rafael, it is $151,150.​​

Partners and Associates

As would be expected, partners who own the practice have earnings that significantly outpace those of hired associates. According to the AVMA, there was a $40,000 pay gap between practice owners and their hired associates. Owners averaged $120,000 in earnings per year, compared to $80,000 per year earned by associate employees. Consider that owners do have to bear significant additional expenses for the daily operation of the business, such as equipment purchases, clinic rent or mortgage payment, and insurance costs.

Owners also tend to work more hours on average than associates. Still, they do reap the financial rewards of being a business owner.

Future Growth

According to the AVMA, the average veterinarian’s salary increases at a rate of nearly 6 percent each year, outpacing both inflation and cost of living increases. While most veterinarians aren’t drawn to the career simply for the money, this very stable profession has an excellent outlook for salary growth in the future.

The BLS projects 14,400 new jobs will open in the field by the year 2026. Veterinarian jobs are set to grow by about 18 percent, compared with 16 percent in growth for other health diagnosing and treating practitioners occupations.