Veterinary Pathologist Career Profile

Male vet examining a cat while female vet writing prescription
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Veterinary pathology is an area of veterinary medicine which diagnoses diseases and other conditions through the examination of animal tissue and bodily fluids. The people responsible for this work are called veterinary pathologists. They play an important role in veterinary medicine because they help evaluate specimens collected from animals. Through their findings, veterinarians are better informed about an animal's condition and can then make the best determination for its care.

Veterinary pathologists need a lot of patience not only because of how long it takes to get a degree, gain clinical practice and eventually become certified, but also because of the nature of the work — which may be done independently. It also requires a strong personality because these pathologists aren't necessarily dealing with live animals — instead, they may be handling deceased animals, tissues or fluids.

But for those who love working for the betterment of animals, it can also be a very challenging and rewarding career.

Here is a look at some of the key facets of a veterinary pathologist's role.


Veterinary pathologists are veterinarians (DVMs) who specialize in the diagnosis of animal diseases. Primary responsibilities may include examining animal tissues and fluids, performing biopsies or necropsies, determining the cause of disease through observation and laboratory analysis, utilizing microscopes and other specialized pieces of laboratory equipment, and advising veterinarians in the field about the diseases they detect in sample tissues or fluids.

Veterinary pathologists may also contribute to the development of drugs and other animal health products. They also conduct scientific research studies and advise government agencies about the spread and progression of various animal diseases that may affect herd health. These pathologists were responsible for diagnosing some of the well-known diseases affecting large animal populations that hit the news including swine flu (the H1N1 virus) and the bird (or avian) flu.

Career Options

Those selecting this career usually specialize by working in either anatomical veterinary pathology or clinical veterinary pathology. Anatomical veterinary pathologists diagnose diseases based on examination of organs, tissues, and bodies, while clinical veterinary pathologists diagnose diseases based on laboratory analysis of bodily fluids including urine and blood.

Further specialization is possible for those who pursue doctorate degrees in molecular biology, toxicology, and other pathology-related fields. It is very common for pathologists to choose to focus on just one particular type of animal. For example, there is an American Association of Avian Pathologists.

Veterinary hospitals, colleges and universities, government agencies, research laboratories, pharmaceutical companies, and diagnostic laboratories, all hire vet pathologists.

According to the American College of Veterinary Pathology (ACVP), 44% of veterinary pathology diplomats work in private industry, 33% work in academia and the remaining 33% work with government agencies or other private employers. Of those working in private industry, nearly 60% are employed by pharmaceutical companies.

Education and Training

Veterinary pathologists must complete a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree before pursuing a multi-year residency which provides additional specialty training.

The path to board certification requires three years of additional training after the basic DVM degree. Those pursuing a Ph.D. degree in the field must complete even more training. Coursework may include immunology, molecular biology, necropsy and biopsy, and hematology.

The final step in the process is passing a rigorous board certification exam. Continuing education credits must also be completed annually in order to maintain certification status.

The ACVP administers the certifying exam for veterinary pathology in the United States. The ACVP boasts more than 2,000 members in 17 countries. The organization also provides scholarship opportunities and maintains a listing of externships that are designed to help aspiring veterinary pathologists gain the necessary experience to enter the field. United States-based externships are available at many top facilities including Johns Hopkins, MIT, Purdue University, Texas A&M, Emory University, Wake Forest, the National Institute of Health, the National Fish and Wildlife Forensics Lab, SeaWorld, and the Smithsonian National Zoo.


Veterinary pathologists working in industrial fields (especially in pharmaceutical drug development) tend to earn top dollar. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, the median salary for veterinary pathologists is $157,000. Those with more than five years of post-training experience can expect to earn a median salary in the range of $170,000 to $180,000 or more.

Career Outlook

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does not separate the specialty of veterinary pathology from data for all veterinary careers, but it does project a positive outlook for those pursuing a career in any veterinary-related career. According to the agency, the veterinary industry should see a growth of about 19% between 2016 and 2026. This is due to a rapid increase in the way consumers are spending on animal healthcare and wellbeing. The agency also cited quick advancements in veterinary medicine and technology.

This means there should be solid job prospects for those able to gain entrance to a veterinary school and graduate successfully with a DVM degree.

The limited number of veterinary pathology residences combined with the rigorous nature of pathology training programs and board certification exams should translate to continued demand for qualified professionals in this specialty animal health career.