I want a job working with animals – what careers are there?

A leopard relaxing - one of many animals you could work with
Fancy a career working with animals? Discover different options and how to get into them, from helping poorly pets in a job as a small animal vet to becoming a big cat zookeeper or army dog handler.

There are lots of good jobs with animals, whether you want to go to university or start work as soon as possible. Many involve being physically active and going outdoors in all weathers, but some allow you to stay warm and dry. Use our list of careers working with animals to give you some ideas, then find out what’s involved and how to get into them.

How to become a vet

Vets can work with pets, farm animals and animals in zoos. To become a vet you need to take a veterinary degree that’s approved by the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, which will typically last five years. You often need A grades in your A levels or Scottish Highers to get a place. Your subjects should include biology and at least one other science subject or maths – different universities ask for different combinations. You’ll also need several weeks of relevant work experience in a variety of settings, such as vets’ surgeries, animal rescue centres, farms or zoos.

‘Emotions run high when pets are unwell’ – Sara Croll on her career as a vet

Sara Croll is a small animal vet at Maes Glas Vets in Wales, which involves holding consultations with pets and their owners, performing operations, going on house calls and dealing with insurance queries. Sara comments: ‘I took a veterinary degree at Royal Veterinary College after studying biology, chemistry and physics at A level and undertaking voluntary work lambing, on dairy farms, in an abattoir and at a local vets’ surgery.’

Sara continues: ‘I need to be able to listen, to have compassion and empathy, and to communicate clearly and effectively. Each patient has an owner attached and the pet is often regarded as member of the family so emotions often run high when they are unwell. I also need to be able to multi-task and problem solve (patients don't talk!) and have a calm and gentle manner with animals.’

The job has its highs and lows. Sara explains: ‘Clients’ expectations are often beyond the scope of your work, and sometimes clients try to treat their pets at home after Googling their symptoms. The workload is also often very stressful. However, the best bit is being able to make a difference to a pet and its owner.’

How to become a zookeeper

Zookeepers look after animals in zoos or safari parks by carrying out practical tasks such as feeding them and cleaning out their enclosures. They keep an eye on their well-being, make sure that their environment is stimulating (known as enrichment) and talk to visitors about the animals.

Some zookeepers have relevant qualifications such as animal management diplomas or degrees in biology, animal science and zoology; others don’t.

You’ll also need lots of voluntary experience – sometimes one or two years’ worth – such as an unpaid internship at a zoo.

‘Find joy while being soaked’ – Hollie Weatherill’s career as a zookeeper

Hollie Weatherill is carnivores section head (senior zookeeper) at Wingham Wildlife Park. Her job involves the daily care of animals, which Hollie describes as ‘all the glamorous bits (feeding, interaction, training and providing enrichment) and all the not-so-glamorous bits (cleaning, poo picking, site maintenance)’.

‘We work outside all day,’ Hollie comments. ‘So you need to be able to find the joy in things while being soaked down to your underwear. It is quite physically demanding and you’ll work long days with very early starts. But I spend my days building trust and relationships with some of the world's most endangered and most dangerous animals. You have to be able notice quite subtle changes in animals’ behaviour or physical condition to pick up if something is wrong. Oh, and I'd be sure to develop “padlock paranoia” pretty sharpish. The two main parts of my job are “keep everything alive” and “make sure they do not get out”.’

To get her job, Hollie says: ‘I volunteered as a part-time big cat keeper before I went to uni. I did a BSc in zoology, then stayed on to complete an MSc in wildlife management and conservation as I was considering going into academia. I then worked in retail for two years to get some cash behind me; during that time I volunteered as a warden for Kent Wildlife Trust before I finally got a job at Wingham as a cover keeper. All the keepers I work with volunteered at some point.’

Working for an animal charity

Some jobs with animal charities involve working directly with animals (eg RSPCA inspector – see below) but many others keep the charity running smoothly. For example, there are fundraising, finance, IT, marketing and admin roles available. To get into a charity you’ll typically need to do a lot of voluntary work before starting your first paid job, or begin your career outside the charity sector and move into it once you have a few years’ experience. See our charity careers section for more detail.

‘Seeing bears saved from a life of hell’ – Gayle Kelly’s career as a charity fundraiser

Gayle Kelly is UK fundraising development manager at Animals Asia Foundation, which involves raising money from wealthy individuals, businesses and charitable trusts. She comments: ‘I always knew I wanted to work with animals, but I am too squeamish to be a vet, so I volunteered with various animal charities, then realised fundraising was a great way to help. I originally worked in sales and marketing, then for a non-profit housing association, which gave me great experience in communicating effectively and persuasively. You could start off by gaining experience in administration or sales in any sector, while volunteering for a charity will show your dedication.’

She continues: ‘I love the fact that every day, whatever I do, is helping to save animals and increase animal welfare awareness. The only bad thing is that we see some awful animal cruelty. My favourite part of my job is seeing bears being rescued from a life of hell, watching their first steps onto grass and seeing them play and make other bear friends at our sanctuaries. Knowing that I helped make that happen brings a smile to my face each day.’

How to become an RSPCA inspector

RSPCA inspectors rescue animals who’ve had accidents or suffered cruelty and in some cases prosecute people who have mistreated animals. You only need GCSEs to join but must be physically fit, able to lift animals and a good swimmer. You need a full driving licence and the ability to work with people and animals in stressful situations. And you must be prepared to work in potentially dangerous places and to do evening and weekend shifts.

Getting into wildlife documentary production

Jobs on wildlife documentaries include technical roles (such as camera operator and sound recording), creative roles (such as presenting and script writing) and organisational roles (such as runner, researcher or producer). Different people take different routes in. Some study for a relevant degree, such as zoology or media production, but what really helps is working on your own projects and getting any experience you can with a wildlife documentary team. Be prepared to apply for lots of short-term jobs; while you’re inexperienced, some will be unpaid.

‘Patience is vital’ – Eleanor Hamilton on launching her career as a wildlife documentary camera operator

Eleanor Hamilton has a degree in zoology and is studying for an MA in wildlife documentary production, which includes producing her own ten-minute documentary. Eleanor comments: ‘To work on a wildlife documentary, patience is vital. Sometimes it takes days or even weeks to get the right shot. You also need to be very flexible as things may not go to plan.’ In terms of her own career, Eleanor says: ‘I hope to one day become a camera operator. I plan to continue making my own films, developing my camera skills and building up my portfolio while looking for any opportunity to get my foot in the door.’

How to become a veterinary nurse

Veterinary nurses can work in zoos, with farm animals and with pets. You’ll carry out tests and simple treatments as well as care for animal inpatients. To get qualified you can either study veterinary nursing as a degree, or as a level 3 diploma at college. Make sure that your course is accredited by the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, as not all of them are. You can typically get onto a degree course with B or C grades at A level or equivalent, and only need GCSEs to take the level 3 diploma.

‘Stretching out half a ton of horse can be demanding’ – Jemma Cooper-Boot’s career as a veterinary nurse and animal physiotherapist

Jemma Cooper-Boot is a veterinary nurse and animal physiotherapist at Maes Glas Vets. Jemma comments ‘As a nurse I assist vets with procedures, consultations, anaesthetising animals for operations, medicating, nurse consultations and providing general care for our inpatients. I am also responsible for training students, the day to day running of the branch, paperwork and keeping the practice clean and tidy. As a physiotherapist I treat a variety of animals but mainly dogs and horses.’

Jemma continues: ‘The best part of being a veterinary nurse is nursing a patient back to health and educating clients. The worst is working very long hours for quite a low income – you do it for the love of it! A good nurse needs to be able to listen to clients and vets effectively, be a practical person and show compassion to clients. As an animal physiotherapist I need to be physically fit as stretching out half a ton of horse can be demanding on your muscles.’

Jemma’s career path was a little unusual. ‘I firstly undertook an equine science degree and realised that this is not where my true passion lay,’ she comments. ‘I then took a level 3 diploma in veterinary nursing, then completed a diploma in animal physiotherapy.’

How to become a marine biologist

Marine biologists study sealife – for example the behaviours and populations of sea creatures, their travel patterns and how they are affected up human activities. Expect a combination of sea trips, office work and lab work. If you’re employed by a university, you’ll also teach students. You’ll need a relevant degree, such as biology, marine biology or similar, and often a PhD. Voluntary experience also helps.

How to become a police dog handler

Police dog handlers work with their dogs to carry out tasks such as searching for drugs or criminals, crowd control or dealing with dangerous people and situations. To become a dog handler you need to join the police and qualify as a police constable (which normally takes two years) before applying for this specialist role. Find out more about how to get into the police and the types of jobs available.

You can also be a police dog handler in the RAF Police. Again, you need to join via the standard process but can progress on to dog training more quickly. Find out more about how to get into the armed forces.

How to become an army dog handler

The Army also needs dog handlers and you can apply directly to join the 1st Military Working Dog Regiment. You’ll learn to handle dogs trained in protection, and can then specialise in working with dogs in roles such as tracking or searching for arms or explosives. Find out more about how to get into the armed forces.

How to become a zoologist

Zoologists study animals and their habits, behaviours and populations. Some jobs focus on education and conservation while others help businesses to achieve their objectives while complying with relevant laws – for example pest control or ensuring that a building project does not harm a protected species. You could work for a university, an environmental consultancy or in industry. You’ll need a degree in a subject such as zoology, ecology or biology and sometimes a PhD. Relevant volunteer work may also be necessary.

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