How To Become an Exotic Animal Veterinarian

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published April 26, 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Besides the usual domestic animals and pets, zoos and animal care centers also need veterinarians to take care of their animals. In this article, we review how to become an exotic animal veterinarian, the qualification requirements and their daily duties.

What is an exotic animal veterinarian?

An exotic animal veterinarian specializes in undomesticated species of animals. Their principal duties include diagnosing and treating illnesses or injuries, vaccinating animals and completing other tasks to support the health of animals.

Exotic animal veterinarians have extensive training in taking care of wild animals. Their patients may include giraffes, elephants, lions, zebras, tigers, reptiles and aquatic animals. An exotic animal veterinarian typically works in an exotic animal hospital. They can also work in zoos and other wildlife rescue facilities, taking care of any rescued ailing or wounded animal. You can also find them in wildlife conservation centers and aquariums.

Read more: Types of Veterinary Careers

What does an exotic animal veterinarian do?

Exotic animal veterinarians are mainly responsible for the health of exotic animals held in captivity. Their daily responsibilities revolve around the well-being and care of the animals.

The following are some of their day-to-day duties:

  • Monitoring animals closely to identify any abnormal behavior change

  • Performing basic physical examinations on animals

  • Administering vaccines to increase or produce an animal's immunity against a specific disease

  • Diagnosing illnesses in sick animals

  • Treating injuries and wounds the animals may incur during fights or play among one another

  • Educating people on proper handling, feeding and living with exotic animals

  • Performing research on outbreaks, vaccinations and the production of more effective medicines.

  • Administering sedation to animals to calm them during treatment or transport

  • Determining feeding schedules and diets in wildlife facilities

  • Performing captive breeding programs

  • Controlling an outbreak of a disease in the zoo

  • Adhering to safety procedures and ensuring all staff and assistants are trained on them

  • Addressing the health of all incoming animals in a zoo or animal rescue facility

How to become an exotic animal veterinarian

Follow these steps to become an exotic animal veterinarian:

1. Earn a bachelor's degree

All aspiring veterinarians need to have an undergraduate degree to join veterinary school. The undergraduate degree equips students with a strong background in science. Programs such as animal science, anatomy, chemistry, biology and zoology are most preferred.

2. Gain entry to a veterinary school

Veterinarian students then join an accredited veterinary medicine school. They earn a degree in veterinary medicine, which takes an average of four years to complete. The course work covers topics such as animal illness, anatomy and physiology.

3. Obtain licensing

After graduation, you must obtain a state license to practice. Regulations to get a license can vary from state to state. Many states require you to complete the North American Veterinary Licensing Exam and pass an additional state's exam to be licensed.

4. Gain experience

The next step is gaining experience in the field. You are required to complete an internship as a new vet, which can be done through volunteering. Many zoos in the country offer internship programs and allow interns to perform duties under supervision. After completing the internship program, you become eligible to practice as an exotic animal veterinarian.

Related: All About a Zoo Veterinarian Career (With Salary)

Skills for an exotic animal veterinarian

Exotic animal veterinarians need both soft and hard skills to succeed in the role.

Soft skills for exotic animal veterinarians

An exotic animal veterinarian requires a variety of soft skills, such as:

  • Problem-solving skills: This is the ability to solve problems in a quick and efficient manner. When dealing with sick animals, you are required to think logically to diagnose any illness, as animals can't tell you how they feel. Administering treatment can also be problematic, as some animals may not be submissive to actions taking place. You have to come up with working ways to solve these challenges.

  • Communication skills: This the ability to pass a message efficiently. Exotic veterinarians educate clients on feeding and healthcare programs, which requires excellent communication skills for success. They are also responsible for giving instructions to the animal's caretakers and may also consult various experts in their line of duty.

  • Interpersonal skills: Interpersonal skills are the tactics an individual uses to interact with other people effectively. Sometimes exotic animal veterinarians work with potentially dangerous animals, a situation that demands teamwork in case of an attack. They are required to create a good relationship with all staff and workmates for effective teamwork.

  • Compassion: This is caring, affection, concern and generosity about others. Exotic animal vets should treat animals with sensitivity, care and respect.

  • Customer service: Exotic animal vets may interact with clients in the hospital or with those who offer private services. You should offer quality technical help and services to be successful in this position.

  • Working under pressure: This is the ability to work under constraints that are usually out of your control. They may include time, environment, or even high expectations. As a vet, you will sometimes be required to work fast to save a life of a badly hurt animal or relieve its pain. You will be required to learn to cope with pressures and always work to meet the expectations, no matter the constraints.

  • Adaptability: This is the ability to adjust and live with changing situations. In the medical industry at large, new or unknown diseases come up, and there are upcoming new technologies to cope with them. As an exotic animal veterinarian, you will be required to adapt to the changing norms of treatment and animal handling to be successful in the position.

Hard skills for exotic animal veterinarians

Below are some examples of hard skills required to become an exotic animal veterinarian:

  • Diagnostic tests: A diagnostic test is an examination to discover the cause of an animal's illness and determine its health condition. Exotic animal veterinarians perform laboratory tests, for example, using X-ray and blood samples to check or confirm illnesses.

  • Preventive care: This is health care aimed at preventing illnesses, injuries or diseases to animals. It includes immunizations, frequent vet visits, pest control and proper feeding. Exotic animal veterinarians are required to be well conversant with preventive care practices to educate clients and protect the animals they are dealing with.

  • Internal medicine: This is a medical specialty dealing with the treatment of internal organs. Exotic animal veterinarians should be able to identify, treat and prevent any internal diseases with the animals they are dealing with. They can do this by offering surgical services.

  • Medical records keeping: This is soft or written medical information of an animal from its birth to date. It helps vets in diagnosing and treating an animal's condition easily by identifying its history, common weaknesses and past medication administered. They must also be skilled in medical records computer programs.

  • Analytical skills: This is the ability to gather, analyze and interpret data. Animals cannot communicate or show what they feel. The exotic animal veterinarians go through the medical information provided to analyze what could be bothering the animal and the treatment required. They can also identify an animal's issue by enquiring about the behavior change and through critical thinking to identify the problem.

  • Technical skills: This is the ability to perform practical tasks, usually mechanical, scientific and mathematical related. Veterinary hospitals rely on lab equipment and other technical machinery for accuracy when dealing with sick animals. Exotic animal vets should be comfortable and skilled with these technologies and perform any required service.

  • Management skills: These are attributes an individual should possess to fulfill tasks effectively. Exotic animal veterinarians may choose to work privately and own their labs or animal clinics. In the business, they will be required to hire and train staff, lead them by delegating duties and oversee daily operations. All this will require them to have a good plan for maintaining their business.

Read more: Veterinarian Skills: Definition and Examples

Exotic animal veterinarian salary

Their salary varies from the region, level of experience and the facility they are working in. Exotic animal veterinarians earn an average salary of $61,758 per year.

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