Many people enjoy working with animals and the idea of making it their career can be appealing. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), the median salary for private practice veterinarians is $90,000, with some specialty veterinary careers paying higher. You might not get this average veterinarian salary at first, but you can work up to it.
How much you earn as a veterinarian depends on whether you work in the public or private sector, how long you’ve practiced, your specialty, location and other factors. If you’re trying to decide which path makes sense for you, here’s some information about the highest-paid veterinarian careers.
Top 10 highest-paid veterinarian careers
When looking at veterinarian careers, it’s important to consider your salary, and how it’ll help you tackle your student loan debt. The AVMA reports that the median debt for vet school is $160,000. Indeed’s data suggests that you could make anywhere from $10.50 an hour up to a six-figure veterinary salary, depending on which veterinary career path you take.
10. Zoo veterinarian
Average salary: $59,986
As you might expect, a zoo veterinarian mainly works with animals in zoos. You’d see to the health of animals, including treating injuries and giving medicine and vaccinations. To be a veterinarian, you must complete a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine program and obtain a license to practice in your state.
It takes about eight years to obtain the requisite degree (including undergraduate and graduate work), and you might need to complete another one or two years of residency or other training to become a zoo veterinarian.
9. Public health veterinarian
Average salary: $67,343
To help prevent infectious diseases from spreading in the animal and human populations, a public health veterinarian works with state and local (and possibly federal government) officials to provide education and research.
According to the AVMA, the starting public practice salary for veterinarians is between $45,275 and $122,750.
In general, you’d need to complete your veterinary education, and potentially, public health training. Public health and healthcare specialists need a bachelor’s degree, although you might need a Master’s in Public Health degree.
Getting a master’s degree can take an additional two years on top of your four-year bachelor’s degree. As a public health veterinarian, you’d need to complete your Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, which typically takes eight years. Additionally, when you work in public health, especially if you’re working for a government agency, you might be eligible for Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF).
8. Regulatory medicine veterinarian
Average salary: $83,781
Rather than working in live-animal healthcare, this next-highest-paid veterinarian career focuses on testing the meat that humans eat. In this veterinarian job, you need to understand how to test for diseases and check for illness in the food animal population.
If you’re going along this path as a veterinarian, you’d need a degree in veterinary medicine, taking up to eight years to complete. However, some agricultural and food scientists can do the job with a four-year bachelor’s degree, although your salary might not be as high.
7. Veterinary radiologist
Average salary: $97,608
In general, radiologists use scanners to create images that can be used to diagnose animals for various conditions. They’re part of the healthcare infrastructure and can focus on different areas, such as oncology (cancer) or on large animals, like horses.
To become certified by the American College of Veterinary Radiology, you need to complete a doctorate education, and then finish a one-year practice or internship program. Then, after completing a rigorous residency of three to four years, you must pass a two-part exam.
6. Equine veterinarian
Average salary: $100,000
This type of veterinarian specializes in healthcare for horses. It’s a career path that allows you to diagnose and treat horses, and provide preventative care. The American Board of Veterinary Practitioners offers certifications for this specialty.
There are two veterinary career programs within this specialty. The Practitioner path requires five years of practice after you complete schooling and the submission of case reports. The Residency path requires one year of practice or internship, and then a two- or three-year residency, along with case report submission.
5. Small animal veterinarian
Average salary: $100,708
If you like working with small animals, such as companion animals and pets, this veterinary path can be a good choice for you. A small animal veterinarian makes six figures while caring for ill or injured pets. They also perform surgery, when needed, and create recovery plans to help pet owners understand how to care for their animals better.
This veterinarian specialty requires a degree in veterinary medicine, and a state license to practice. This can be comprised of eight years of formal higher education, as well as a residency that might mean another one or two years.
4. Military veterinarian
Average salary: $103,090
Military veterinarians travel to different areas of the world alongside military and service dogs. They provide medical service to animals, including bomb dogs and other animals used to support military operations.
Completing your doctorate in veterinary medicine is required, which takes up to eight years. However, you can get help paying off your student loans, including being eligible for PSLF and other military benefits if you spend enough time working within the military.
3. Veterinary Ophthalmologist
Average salary: $109, 471
Veterinary ophthalmologists specialize in animal care related to their eyes. To become a veterinary ophthalmologist you need to complete your eight years of formal education to obtain a doctorate degree. Afterward, you’re required to have at least one year of clinical practice. The profession also requires you to complete a three-year residency in ophthalmology, and pass an exam to become recognized by the American College of Veterinary Ophthalmologists.
2. Veterinary research scientist
Average salary: $111,691
This veterinary career focuses on using animals for research. As a veterinarian, you’d take care of the lab animal subjects and manage their health. However, you don’t necessarily need a veterinary degree for a career in veterinary research science.
In some cases, an advanced degree in biology or some other life science is sufficient. If you want to receive higher pay, however, you need to complete eight years of education. It’s also important to learn how to manage research and work in a setting where you understand lab animals and their care.
1. Board-certified veterinary surgery specialist
Average salary: $266,908
For those who go beyond being a licensed veterinarian, it’s possible to get a surgical specialty. This comes with the highest salary among animal health specialists. You’d perform surgery on various animals, including large animals, and be expected to help with recovery afterward.
In addition to completing your veterinary medicine degree, you need to complete a one-year internship and a three-year residency.
If you want to work with animals as a physician, there are a number of careers you can choose from. You’ll be eligible for higher salaries by working toward a veterinary specialty and working in areas of high demand.
Learn more about the highest-paid veterinarian careers and estimate your potential annual salary by using the AVMA’s salary estimator.
Keep reading: The Veterinarian Job Outlook is Good