Twenty-first century medical care has become extremely specialized. The body of medical knowledge has become so great that an individual can only develop a truly deep understanding of a limited subset of it. The same is becoming true for veterinary medicine. Certainly there will always be generalist veterinarians just as there will always be general practitioners of medicine, but it is the nature of science that the trend toward more specialization and more specialists will continue in the future.
Some veterinarians work with animals in clinical research. Animals are subjects in a broad range of research activities, and vets work with other types of researchers to test new drug therapies or new surgical techniques or to investigate how to prevent or control food- and animal-borne diseases. Most vets entering research have completed a three- to four-year residency program in a specialty such as microbiology or internal medicine after graduating from vet school.
Food Animal Vets
Food animal vets treat farm animals such as pigs, cattle, goats and sheep. These vets typically spend a good deal of time traveling in rural areas, making the rounds with local farmers and ranchers. Sometimes called large animal vets, they treat illnesses and injuries and perform a variety of vaccinations. Livestock owners also rely on their local vet for advice regarding feeding, housing and best health practices for their animals.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, around 6 percent of private vets include horses in their practice. Many, but not all, equine vets only see horses in their veterinary practice. Some equine vets specialize in surgery or dentistry. A significant number of equine vets are employed by horse breeders and horse racing tracks. Equine vets often make house calls to rural farms and ranches to treat horses or deliver foals.
Food Safety Vets
Food safety vets work in animal-raising facilities, slaughterhouses and food processing plants to help ensure that our food supply is safe. Their job involves inspecting livestock and animal carcasses, and enforcing state and federal food safety regulations. They frequently conduct tests to check food ingredients for purity, and confirm humane slaughtering and sanitary conditions by inspecting food production facilities.
More than three-quarters of private practice vets in the U.S. are companion animal or pet vets, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association. Cats and dogs are by far the most common pet, but vets also treat birds, lizards, snakes, turtles, pigs, rats, mice, rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters and a number of other animals. Some vets still classify their practice as small animal or large animal specialty, but many no longer make this distinction and treat pets of all sizes (sometimes even including horses). Pet vets also specialize in areas such as surgery, emergency care or nutrition. Most major cities also have at least one or two exotic animal vets who specialize in treating exotic animals such as snakes, insects, fish, tropical birds and monkeys.
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Outlook Handbook: Veterinarians
- The University of Vermont: Department of Animal Science (ASCI): Veterinary Medicine
- Vet Local: Types of Veterinary Practices
- Vet Info: 7 Types of Veterinary Specialists
- Illinois State Veterinary Medical Association: Resources: Veterinary Professions
- George Doyle & Ciaran Griffin/Stockbyte/Getty Images