Wildlife Veterinarian Careers

Wildlife vets may specialize in other branches of veterinary medicine

Wildlife vet pushing wheelbarrow full of orangutans.
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Christian Aslund / Photographer's Choice / Getty Images

Wildlife veterinarians are medical practitioners who specialize in treating many different types of wildlife including birds, amphibians, reptiles, and mammals.

These licensed animal health professionals are trained to treat mammals, birds, and reptiles. They may work either in a veterinary office setting or in the field.

Duties of a Wildlife Veterinarian

The typical duties of 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 for Wildlife Veterinarians

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.

These vets may find work in veterinary pharmaceutical sales, the military, government organizations, research facilities or labs, wildlife rehabilitation centers, zoological parks, museums, aquariums, or academic institutions as professors or biology teachers educating wildlife interns.

Education and Training

All wildlife veterinarians graduate with a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) degree, which is achieved after completing a demanding course of study which covers both small and large animal species.

The Tufts University veterinary program is well known for its Wildlife Medicine Program. The Tufts Wildlife Clinic affords veterinary students the opportunity to work with over 1,600 native species patients each year. These animals are brought in for treatment by fish and game wardens, local rehabilitators, and members of the public.

The University of California at 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.

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 that publishes professional papers and hosts scientific meetings each year to promote advances in the field of wildlife health.

Veterinarians who are board certified in a particular specialty area (eg, ophthalmology, oncology, surgery, etc.) can expect to pull in higher salaries due to their extensive experience and education.