Wanting to Be a Veterinarian or Animal Cop

Vets help rescue pets from illnesses.
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Deciding whether to hang out in a white coat with a stethoscope looped around your neck or in an officer's uniform while wearing a badge calls for deep introspection, because a vet and animal control officer represent two very different jobs. Although they share similar skills, the stark differences become clear when you look at their qualifications, responsibilities and salary.

Animal Control Officer Qualifications

Having experience dealing with animals brightens your animal control officer job prospects. DogChannel.com suggests working at a kennel, lending a hand at your local Humane Society, or finding employment at a vet office. Animal control officers don't necessarily need a college education, but having one can help. Misha Goodman, director of the Iowa City-Coraville Animal Care and Adoption Center, points out that some officers study criminal justice or animal science. Although education isn't a must, certification sometimes is, depending on what state you live in. State and national organizations offer certification programs.

Veterinarian Qualifications

Just as aspiring medical doctors must first earn a doctorate of medicine through a college of medicine, vets must earn a doctorate of veterinary medicine through a college of veterinary medicine. While most vet schools don't require interested students to possess a bachelor's degree, most have minimum undergraduate requirements -- typically three years of undergraduate study, according to Rutgers University Laboratory Animal Services. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics notes that all states require veterinarians to pass a national test before they are allowed to practice, and many states have state exams that vets must also pass.

Skills and Qualities

Vets and animal control officers share many skills and qualities. Excellent communication and people skills help officers de-escalate situations, obtain information, and relay critical information to other officers, pet owners, business owners, vets and others. Those skills, along with empathy and compassion, help vets calm down emotional pet parents and convey important medical information. Strong manual dexterity helps vets perform successful surgeries and enables officers and vets to subdue and calm animals and apply necessary aid. Decisiveness is key for both positions. To regain control of a situation and prevent animals and people from getting injured, officers must quickly react and make decisions. For vets, quick decision-making and knowing what to do in case of an emergency can mean the difference between life and death for animals.

Veterinarian Duties

Vets examine animals to ensure they're in good health and to determine what's causing any abnormal symptoms. They order necessary tests, evaluate those tests, operate medical equipment, make diagnoses, treat injuries, prescribe medication and perform surgery on furry and not-so-furry animals. Vets also perform euthanizations, if necessary. If a veterinarian owns his own practice, he might be in charge of other duties, such as bookkeeping, creating schedules and ordering supplies. Vets, much like doctors, choose a specialty, such as general practice, dermatology and orthopedics, and they also focus on specific animals. For instance, a vet might treat dogs and cats, but not accept reptile patients. Some veterinarians encompass other roles, such as research vets and food inspection and safety veterinarians, but the American Veterinary Medical Association estimated that 81.8 percent of active veterinarians in the United States worked in a clinical setting in 2012.

Animal Control Officer Duties

Animal control officers protect the public from dangerous animals and animals from dangerous people. Fulfilling those duties calls for capturing and relocating threatening wildlife, responding to reports of rabid animals, investigating cases of abuse and neglect, and responding to dog-biting incidents. They use a variety of tools to help subdue and capture animals, from catchpoles to non-lethal traps. DogChannel.com notes that officers are granted the legal right to enforce local, state and certain federal regulations regarding animal incidents and cases of animal cruelty. Animal control officers also play an active role in the community, promoting adoption, neutering, spaying and proper care for pets.


Animal control officers and veterinarians have fairly stark salary contrasts. The BLS reports that in 2012 animal control officers earned a median annual wage of $31,680, while vets weighed in at a median annual wage of $84,460. Of course, many vets must pay off student loans that accumulated during vet school and potentially during their undergraduate studies.

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