Wildlife Veterinarian

person pushing wheelbarrow full of chimpanzees
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Wildlife veterinarians are practitioners that specialize in treating many different types of wildlife including birds, amphibians, reptiles, and mammals.


Wildlife veterinarians are licensed animal health professionals that are trained to treat a variety of wildlife species. Wildlife vets treat mammals, birds, and reptiles. They may work either in a veterinary office setting or the field.

The typical routine for a wildlife vet may include sedating animals for procedures, performing exams, giving vaccinations, taking blood samples, administering fluids, performing surgeries when needed, prescribing medications, evaluating and treating wounds, taking x-rays and ultrasounds, cleaning teeth, assisting with captive breeding programs, and providing “intensive care” for very young animals abandoned by their parents.

Wildlife veterinarians often work in conjunction with wildlife rehabilitators at a rehabilitation facility. They also must be able to interact and communicate effectively with veterinary technicians, wildlife officials, and members of the public.

It is not unusual for vets to work some nights, weekends, and holidays. Some wildlife veterinarians have schedules that involve “on call” time for treating emergency cases, and it is not uncommon for vets to put in 50 hours of work (or more) per week. Some wildlife veterinarians conduct research or treat patients in the field, so travel may be involved for some practitioners.

Career Options

Vets may work primarily as small animal, equine, or large animal vets and combine that career path with wildlife work. Some wildlife vets choose to work exclusively with exotic animals or native wildlife species.

Wildlife vets may work in education (as college professors or biology teachers), veterinary pharmaceutical sales, the military, government organizations, research facilities or labs, wildlife rehabilitation centers, zoological parks, museums, or aquariums.

Education and Training

All wildlife veterinarians graduate with a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) degree, which is achieved after completion of a demanding course of study which covers both small and large animal species. There are currently 30 colleges of veterinary medicine in the United States that offer a DVM degree to their graduates.

The Tufts University veterinary program is well known for its Wildlife Medicine Program. The Tufts Wildlife Clinic affords veterinary students the opportunity to work on over 1600 native species patients each year. These animals are brought in for treatment by fish and game wardens, local rehabilitators, and members of the public.

UC Davis also offers access to its Wildlife Health Center as part of its veterinary medicine program. Veterinary educational options involving wildlife are plentiful at UC Davis. Options include a DVM degree with an emphasis in wildlife health, a 2 year post-DVM Masters degree focused on wildlife health and epidemiology, and a post-DVM residency in zoo medicine and pathology.

After graduation, aspiring vets must pass the North American Veterinary Licensing Exam (NAVLE) to become eligible to be professionally licensed to practice. Each year approximately 3,000 veterinarians enter the veterinary field. At the end of 2015, the most recent AVMA employment survey available, there were 105,358 practicing U.S. veterinarians. Only a small percentage of these vets focus their practice on wildlife or exotic animal medicine.

Professional Associations

The American Veterinary Medical Association is one of the most prominent veterinary organizations, representing over 100,000 practitioners. The vast majority of practicing U.S. veterinarians maintain a membership with the AVMA.

The European Association of Zoo and Wildlife Veterinarians (EAZW) is a well known international wildlife association, with 600 members hailing from 48 different countries. The EAZW publishes professional papers and hosts scientific meetings each year to promote advances in the field of wildlife health.


The median wage for all veterinarians was approximately $87,590 ($42.11 per hour) in 2014, according to a salary survey conducted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Earnings in the 2014 BLS salary survey varied from less than $52,530 for the lowest paid ten percent of all veterinarians to more than $157,390 for the top-paid ten percent of all veterinarians.

Veterinarians who are board certified in a particular specialty area (ophthalmology, oncology, surgery, etc.) can expect to pull in higher salaries due to their extensive experience and education. As of 2015, AVMA data indicated there are 164 board-certified specialists in the field of zoological medicine.

Job Outlook

According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the veterinary profession will expand faster than the average for all—about 9 percent from 2014 to 2024.  With interest in wildlife and conservation steadily increasing, a growing number of veterinarians are expected to enter the field of wildlife medicine.