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Large Animal Veterinarians



Large Animal Vet with Stethescope

Large Animal Veterinarians tend to the medical needs of all large animals and most usually, the ones you might find on a farm. Although mostly treating cows and horses, large animal vets never know what will come up next. They’re often called upon to treat pigs, sheep, goats, llamas, emu, or even ostriches or birds. Large animal vets tend to work long hours and are often on call just like human doctors. Those in group practices may take turns being on call for evening, night, or weekend work. Solo practitioners may work extended and weekend hours, responding to emergencies or squeezing in unexpected appointments.


A large animal veterinarian has very similar experience, training, and knowledge, as do human doctors, but their passion is with animals. Veterinarians in large-animal practice spend time driving between their office and farms or ranches traversing all manner of back country roads. They work outdoors in all kinds of weather and may have to treat animals or perform surgery, under unsanitary conditions. The work tends to be fairly seasonal. In the spring, for instance, much of the work is with horses and cattle giving birth. Dairy work however is year-round as is performing routine check-ups and monthly pregnancy checks.


Large animal Veterinarians care for the health of pets, livestock, and animals in zoos, racetracks, and laboratories. In addition, some veterinarians use their skills to protect humans against diseases carried by animals and conduct clinical research on human and animal health problems. Others work in basic research, broadening our knowledge of animals and medical science, and in applied research, developing new ways to use knowledge.


Like most veterinarians, large animal vets diagnose animal health problems; vaccinate against diseases, medicate animals suffering from infections or illnesses; treat and dress wounds; set fractures; and perform surgery when necessary. Large animal vets also consult with farm or ranch owners and managers regarding animal production, feeding, breeding, and housing issues. Much of their work involves preventive care to maintain the health of the animals and prevent disease.


Some large animal vets also care for various kinds of food animals and therefore contribute to human as well as animal health. Veterinarians who are livestock inspectors, for example, check animals for transmissible diseases, such as E. coli, advise owners on the treatment of their animals, and may quarantine animals. Large animal vets who are meat or poultry inspectors examine slaughtering and processing plants, check live animals and carcasses for disease, and enforce government regulations regarding food purity and sanitation. More veterinarians are finding opportunities in food security as they ensure that the Nation has abundant and safe food supplies. Veterinarians involved in food security often work along the Nation’s borders as animal and plant health inspectors, where they examine imports and exports of animal products to prevent disease here and in foreign countries. Many of these vets are employed by the Department of Homeland Security or the Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service division.

Shortage of Large Animal Veterinarians

Large Animal Vet Consultation

Large animal vets compose of very small percentage of private-practice veterinarians and there is currently a severe nation-wide shortage of large animal vets. Since 1990, the number of veterinarians focusing on large animals has dropped to fewer than 4,500 from nearly 6,000, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association, which said those doctors now made up less than 10 percent of private-practice veterinarians. A recent study predicted that by 2016, 4 out of every 100 food-animal veterinary jobs would go unfilled.

“We look at it as a crisis,” said Dr. Roger Mahr, the association’s president. In a May 2008 interview with the New York Times, Dr. Mahr cited serious consequences not only for the well-being of farmers and their animals, but also potentially for food safety and the impact of non-native diseases like bird flu. Dr. Mahr offered the following concerns and observations regarding the shortage of large animal vets. “Of all the emerging diseases in people in the last 25 years, 75 percent of those were transmitted from animals. Veterinarians are the ones to identify those diseases in animals first. Across the country, veterinarians who care for the animals that provide the United States with food are in increasingly short supply. For one, there is generally more money to be made caring for cats and dogs. And with fewer students from farm backgrounds, fewer gravitate to rural jobs, especially if a spouse needs work, too. Large-animal care can be tough and even dangerous. Think of maneuvering in frigid weather around 1,000-pound cows in manure-filled pens. And more veterinarians are women, generally less inclined toward large animals."

Small-animal vet practices will typically be more profitable as they allow dozens of animals to be treated each day in an office setting, as opposed to large animal vets who are required to travel long distances to various farms and ranches to work with large farm animals. In addition, owners of small animals such as family cats or dogs are more likely to pay for expensive treatments or procedures.

The federal Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that demand for large-animal veterinarians - sometimes referred to as food-animal veterinarians - will increase 35% by 2016 - from 62,000 full-time jobs to 84,000. This shortage of large animal vets also causes concerns for food safety. As the population increases, the worldwide demand for food from animals is expected to increase by 50% by the year 2020, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA). This will inevitably create even more demand for large-animal veterinarians, the organization says.

The shortage is occurring mostly because an ever-shrinking number of people are involved in agriculture. According to the American Medical Veterinary Association, more than 70 percent of veterinarians who work in private medical practices predominately, or exclusively, treat small animals. Small-animal practitioners usually care for companion animals, such as dogs and cats, but also treat birds, reptiles, rabbits, ferrets, and other animals that can be kept as pets. About one-fourth of all veterinarians work in mixed animal practices, where they see pigs, goats, cattle, sheep, and some wild animals in addition to companion animals.

Large Animal Veterinarian Employment

Veterinarians held about 62,000 jobs in 2006. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, about 3 out of 4 veterinarians were employed in a solo or group practice. Most others were salaried employees of another veterinary practice. Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics show that the Federal Government employed about 1,400 civilian veterinarians, chiefly in the U.S. Departments of Agriculture, Health and Human Services, and, increasingly, Homeland Security. Other employers of veterinarians are State and local governments, colleges of veterinary medicine, medical schools, research laboratories, animal food companies, and pharmaceutical companies. A few veterinarians work for zoos, but most veterinarians caring for zoo animals are private practitioners who contract with the zoos to provide services, usually on a part-time basis.


Employment is expected to increase much faster than average and excellent job opportunities are expected in the future. Employment of veterinarians is expected to increase 35 percent over the 2006-16 decade, much faster than the average for all occupations. Continued support for public health and food and animal safety, national disease control programs, and biomedical research on human health problems will contribute to the demand for veterinarians, although the number of positions in these areas is limited. Homeland security also may provide opportunities for veterinarians involved in efforts to maintain abundant food supplies and minimize animal diseases in the U.S. and in foreign countries.


Excellent job opportunities are expected in part because there are only 28 accredited schools of veterinary medicine in the United States, resulting in a limited number of graduates—about 2,700—each year. New graduates continue to be attracted to companion-animal medicine because they prefer to deal with small pets and to live and work near heavily populated areas, where most small pet owners live. Employment opportunities are good in cities and suburbs, but even better in rural areas because fewer large animal veterinarians compete to work there.


Beginning veterinarians may take positions requiring evening or weekend work to accommodate the extended hours of operation that many practices are offering. Some veterinarians take salaried positions in retail stores offering veterinary services. Self-employed veterinarians usually have to work hard and long to build a sufficient client base.


The number of jobs for large-animal veterinarians is likely to grow more slowly than jobs for companion-animal veterinarians. Nevertheless, job prospects should be better for veterinarians who specialize in large farm animals because of lower earnings in the farm-animal specialty and because many veterinarians do not want to work in rural or isolated areas. Large animal veterinarians with training in food safety and security, animal health and welfare, and public health and epidemiology should have the best opportunities for a career in the Federal Government.


Median annual earnings of veterinarians were $71,990 in May 2006. The middle 50 percent earned between $56,450 and $94,880. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $43,530, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $133,150. The average annual salary for veterinarians in the Federal Government was $84,335 in 2007.


According to a survey by the American Veterinary Medical Association, average starting salaries of veterinary medical college graduates in 2006 varied by type of practice as follows:


  • Large animals, exclusively               $61,029
  • Small animals, predominantly          $57,117
  • Small animals, exclusively               $56,241
  • Private clinical practice                   $55,031
  • Large animals, predominantly                $53,397
  • Mixed animals                               $52,254
  • Equine (Horses)                             $40,130

The above wage data is from the Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) survey program

unless otherwise noted.

Large Animal Veterinarian Education

Like all veterinarians, large animal vets must obtain a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree and a State license. Prospective veterinarians must graduate with a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (D.V.M. or V.M.D.) degree from a 4-year program at an accredited college of veterinary medicine. In the USA, there are 28 colleges in 26 States that meet accreditation standards set by the Council on Education of the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) as shown in the below list. There is keen competition for admission to veterinary school. The number of accredited veterinary colleges has remained largely the same since 1983, but the number of applicants has risen significantly. Only about 1 in 3 applicants are accepted. When deciding whom to admit, some veterinary medical colleges place heavy consideration on a candidate’s veterinary and animal experience including formal experience, such as work with veterinarians or scientists in clinics, and less formal experience, such as working with animals on a farm or ranch.


Below is a complete list of national and international Veterinary Medical Schools and Colleges accredited by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) all of which offer a large animal veterinary curriculum.



United States Veterinary Medical Schools and Colleges


  • Auburn University
  • Colorado State University
  • Cornell University
  • Iowa State University
  • Kansas State University
  • Louisiana State University
  • Michigan State University
  • Mississippi State University
  • North Carolina State University
  • Ohio State University
  • Oklahoma State University
  • Oregon State University
  • Purdue University
  • Texas A&M University
  • Tufts University
  • Tuskegee University
  • University of California, Davis
  • University of Florida
  • University of Georgia
  • University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
  • University of Minnesota
  • University of Missouri
  • University of Pennsylvania
  • University of Tennessee
  • University of Wisconsin-Madison
  • Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine
  • Washington State University
  • Western University of Health Sciences

Canadian Veterinary Medical Schools and Colleges


  • Université de Montréal
  • University of Calgary
  • University of Guelph
  • University of Prince Edward Island
  • University of Saskatchewan

International Veterinary Medical Schools and Colleges


  • Massey University
  • Murdoch University
  • University College Dublin
  • University of Edinburgh
  • University of Glasgow
  • University of London
  • University of Melbourne
  • University of Sydney


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