Vet School Not An Option? Consider These Alternative Careers

By Paula Fitzsimmons

If your dream of becoming an animal doc is not attainable, don’t feel too badly  . . .veterinary medicine is not for everyone. Relatively few are able or willing to commit to years of post-graduate training or take on tuition debt.

Luckily, you have other options.

If you want to help heal animals, don’t let your skills and compassion go to waste. Consider these alternative careers, which require a fraction of the education, training, and tuition expense.

Thinking of becoming a veterinarian? Read “Want to Become an Animal Doc? First Ask Yourself These 6 Questions” for a reality check.

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Become an essential part of the team: Veterinary technicians

It’s hard to imagine any vet practice functioning effectively & efficiently without a qualified tech on staff. Part nurse, technician, assistant, and coordinator, they’re crucial members of the veterinary team.

To get a feel for just how diversified this field has become, check out the National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America’s Specialties page. Some of your options include specializing in veterinary behavior, emergency & critical care, and nutrition.

Licensing requirements vary by state, but you’ll likely need at least a two-year degree in an accredited vet tech program; and a Bachelor’s degree if you want to become a veterinary technologist.

Per the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, this is a very fast-growing field, so your skills will be marketable. Yet considering the level of work and responsibility, pay for vet techs (and for veterinarians, for that matter) . . . well, it could be better. The median salary for vet techs in 2012 was only about 30 thousand per year, consistent with position descriptions I’ve run across. Keep in mind that this is just a median salary, so it’s possible to earn more (or less) depending on your specialty, education, location, and employer.

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Use your healing touch: Animal massage specialists

A job where you spend your days making animals feel good and relieving them of their discomfort. It doesn’t get much better than that. But before even thinking about placing your hands on animals aside from your own, make sure you have the proper credentials – and that you can even practice.

If you look at this chart prepared by International Association of Animal Massage & Body Work, you’ll notice that each state has its own legal definition of what animal massage is, and who can perform it. For instance, in Delaware you can only work under the direct supervision of a veterinarian; and in Maine, the practice isn’t even allowed.

If you’d like to work as an animal masseuse, your best bet is to check the requirements for the state you’d like to work in, then determine your course of training.

According to pet massage schools, such as Northwest School of Animal Massage, you can charge between $50.00 to $120.00 per hour for your services; but I suggest checking individual animal massage websites to get a feel for what you can realistically earn.

Opportunities may be available in vet clinics and hospitals, day care & boarding services, and grooming salons. Or you can try setting up your own business.


Don’t feel as if you have to settle on one career – combining your skills or services makes you that much more marketable. Some examples:

  • Trainer & masseuse
  • Vet tech & pet sitter
  • Writer & behaviorist

The possible combinations are limited only to your skills and imagination.


Heal the Animal Psyche: Trainers, Counselors, and Behaviorists

Animals can suffer from emotional and mental disorders – and can benefit from professional help. Hmmm . . .not much different than us. But not all behavior therapy is considered the same.

According to the ASPCA, there are different categories of animal behavior professionals – trainers, certified professional dog trainers, applied animal behaviorists, and DVMs who can become certified veterinary behaviorists. Each of these titles requires different levels of experience and credentials; and encompasses different sets of responsibilities.

Work for a veterinarian or academic setting as a behaviorist for example, and you’ll likely need a Masters or doctorate degree in an animal behavior discipline. As a dog trainer or “counselor” you may simply need experience working with dogs – although if you want to take this profession seriously, you’d be wise to work toward credentialing through an organization like Association of Professional Dog Trainers.

The BLS shows that animal trainers as earning a median 2012 salary of $25,270, but this doesn’t take into account the diversity of titles, such as behaviorist.

In addition to APDT, you can find additional guidance with organizations such as International Assocation of Behavior Consultants and Animal Behavior Society.



Help teach the healers: Academic writers

This career is different from the others listed, in that you won’t be working directly with animals. But you can play an important part by helping to write supplement materials for textbook and specialty publishers. This is a great line of work to consider if you love working independently and enjoy intellectual challenges.

For this line of work (you’ll likely be working as an independent contractor) you’ll need at least a Bachelor’s degree in an animal science.

John Soares, president of Productive Writers and author of Writing College Textbook Supplements, earns $50.00 an hour as an academic writer; but keep in mind he also has experience in the field. Still, he had to start somewhere – and so can you.

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Protect the defenseless: Animal rescue & sanctuary directors

There are so many animals out there who need to be healed – from cats, dogs, birds and other animals society has tossed to the side; to exploited wildlife in need of permanent sanctuary.

Start your own sanctuary, and you’ll have a lot of hands-on time with animals, in the ultimate role of healer. The need is high, and the pay stinks. But you won’t have a shortage of work, and you’ll be providing a very needed service to some of the most defenseless animals on this planet. To see if this line of work is for you, read my article “6 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Starting an Animal Rescue.”

If becoming a veterinarian is your dream, work hard to achieve that goal. But also know that there are options available in case vet school isn’t a possibility. Being a vet is only one of an assortment of ways to make a difference in animals’ lives.


Husky dog image credit (minus type and additional design): 71988915 from

1 Comment

  1. love animals because that why I want to be a veterinarian

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