Career Paths in Animal Care: A Guide for Aspiring Professionals

Career Paths in Animal Care: A Guide for Aspiring Professionals

Embarking on a career in animal care is not just a job; it's a fulfilling journey dedicated to the well-being of our furry and feathered friends. Whether you are passionate about wildlife conservation, veterinary medicine, or animal behaviour, the realm of animal care offers a diverse range of career paths. In this comprehensive guide, we explore various avenues within the animal care industry, providing aspiring professionals with valuable insights to help them find their perfect career.

Veterinary Medicine

The job: Most animal lovers at some point have toyed with the idea of pursuing a career in veterinary. However as many have discovered, becoming a vet is a noble pursuit and the path to get there is very long, exam heavy and expensive with a degree taking up to six years to complete. Once successful there are a range of options available for vets such as working in private clinics, zoos, research facilities and government agencies.  As a vet you can then become specialised in areas such as exotic animal medicine or radiology.  Veterinarians diagnose and treat illnesses, injuries, and medical conditions in animals. The job of a vet is a hugely rewarding one with new challenges every day. However it is not all sunshine and roses and can be extremely difficult at times both physically and mentally.  Vets will often encounter poor welfare and upsetting situations often having to make some difficult decisions.  There will also be times you need to be on call during unsociable hours such as nights and holidays.

Entry requirements: Each university has different requirements, but all require work experience in an animal setting. Entry requirements differ each year but students are expected to have very good GCSE and A-levels (or equivalent) to include Biology and Chemistry and either Maths or Physics, veterinary medicine is highly popular and universities can afford to be selective. You will also be required to attend an interview.

Where to study: The following places of study currently offer veterinary medicine in the UK: Royal Veterinary College, University of London, University of Cambridge, University of Liverpool, The Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies, University of Edinburgh, University of Glasgow, University of Bristol, University of Central Lancashire, University of Nottingham, University of Surrey, Harper and Keele Veterinary School, The Aberystwyth School of Veterinary Science (in collaboration with the Royal Veterinary College). 

Veterinary Nursing

The Job: Veterinary nursing is a great alternative to veterinary medicine. Nursing is a multifaceted role that requires a blend of expertise, empathy, and dedication. Veterinary nurses are the heart of animal care facilities, and no day is the same.  They are required to undertake a range of roles such as administering medication, comforting anxious pets, assisting in surgery and providing post-operative care. As a veterinary nurse you are expected to offer valuable advice to pet owners on topics ranging from nutrition and exercise to behaviour and preventative healthcare. Their role as advocates for animal welfare extends beyond the clinic, as they actively promote responsible pet ownership and contribute to community education initiatives.

The role is both challenging yet rewarding.  The job of a vet nurse requires empathy as they have to guide families through difficult decisions, offering comfort and understanding during times of illness or loss. Their ability to provide solace and assurance is invaluable to pet owners facing emotional challenges.

Entry requirements: There are currently two pathways into Veterinary nursing:

A level 3 advanced apprenticeship, studying while working alongside a veterinary practice (contact veterinary practices to see if this offer this route).

Non apprenticeship route studying Level 3 diploma in Veterinary nursing or a Degree at university.

Both require a minimum of 5 GCSE grades A-C (or equivalent) and some work experience.

Where to study: Warwickshire college and University, Harper Adams University, University of Bristol, Nottingham trent University. 


Animal Behaviourist

The Job: Animal behaviourists study and analyse Animal Behaviour to understand their mental processes and emotions. They work with pet owners to address behavioural issues and may also conduct research to enhance our understanding of animal cognition. Animal behaviourists often collaborate with veterinary practices, animal shelters, training centres, and academic institutions. As an animal behaviourist you need to have excellent communication skills as you will be working with owners just as much as the animals.  In order to become a recognised behaviourist you will need to register with animal behaviour and training recognised organisations who will certify your status and enable you to promote your services. Once qualified as a behaviourist there is the opportunity to become self employed which will allow you to select how often you work, how much you charge and who you work with.

Entry requirements: A minimum of a degree in a recognised animal behaviour subject.

Where to study: Animal Behaviour degrees are getting more and more popular, with lots of places offering courses in this field.  Here are just a few:

University of Exeter, University of Chester, Hartpury University, Harper Adams, University of Aberystwyth, Angila Ruskin University


Wildlife Biologist

The Job: If your interest in animals lies with protecting the natural world than becoming a Wildlife biologist may be the job for you. Wildlife Biologists study animals and their habitats in the wild. They conduct research to conserve and protect animal species, often working with government agencies, conservation organizations, and research institutions. Wildlife biologists may specialise in specific species or ecosystems. They educate the public, policymakers, and communities about the importance of biodiversity and ecological balance. Through public engagement initiatives, Wildlife Biologists inspire others to appreciate and protect the natural world.

Their work is pivotal in understanding, protecting, and preserving biodiversity. Wildlife biologists need a diverse set of skills. Strong analytical skills are crucial for data analysis and research interpretation. Fieldwork demands practical skills such as animal tracking, habitat assessment, and species identification. Effective communication skills are vital for presenting research findings, writing reports, and collaborating with diverse teams. Adaptability, patience, and resilience are essential qualities, especially when working in challenging environmental conditions.

Wildlife Biology offers a wide range of career pathways. Whether studying endangered species, migratory patterns, or conservation genetics, choose a area that aligns with your interests. Many Wildlife Biologists focus on conservation efforts, working to protect habitats, reintroduce species, and raise public awareness about environmental issues. 

Entry Requirements: These vary by university but most require 5 GCSE grades 4-9 including Maths and English along with A levels or equivalent (such as a BTEC level 3 Animal Management qualification).

Where to study: University of Wolverhampton, Harper Adams University, University of Reading, Aberystwyth University, Oxford Brookes University, Bournemouth University, Bristol University of the West of England.


RSPCA inspector

The Job: RSPCA inspectors work to protect animals from cruelty and ensure they are treated humanely. Becoming an RSPCA inspector is not for the faint- hearted. They investigate reports of animal abuse, enforce animal protection laws, and work with animal shelters and rescue organisations. Animal welfare officers play a crucial role in advocating for the ethical treatment of animals.

Becoming an RSPCA Inspector requires a unique set of qualities. Compassion, empathy, and a deep love for animals are fundamental. Inspectors must also possess good communication skills, resilience, and a sense of justice. They should be able to work well under pressure and be committed to continuous learning, as animal welfare laws and practices are constantly evolving. You are also expected to have a good level of fitness which will be tested during training.

As an RSPCA inspector you will conduct inspections of homes, farms, and commercial establishments, and rescue animals from dangerous situations working closely with law enforcement agencies.  You may be required to provide evidence in court and educate communities about responsible pet ownership and animal welfare.

Working as an RSPCA Inspector is not without its challenges. Inspectors often encounter heart-breaking cases of animal abuse and neglect, requiring emotional resilience and strength. The job can be physically demanding and requires the ability to handle stressful situations. You will also be expected to work unsociable hours such as nights, weekends and holidays. Despite these challenges, the rewards are immeasurable. Saving animals from suffering, ensuring justice is served, and witnessing rehabilitated animals finding loving homes are deeply fulfilling aspects of the role.

Entry requirements: A GCSE English grades 4-9 (or equivalent), a good level of fitness, able to swim 50m fully clothed, a full driving licence, able to cope with working at height.

Where to study: Jobs are advertised through the RSPCA and all training is done through them.


Pet Groomer

The job: Pet groomers specialise in maintaining the hygiene and appearance of pets. They provide services such as bathing, grooming, nail trimming, and fur styling. Pet groomers work in grooming salons, pet spas, and veterinary clinics, ensuring pets look and feel their best. Groomers must have good communication skills as they will be working with customers daily, they must have good behaviour management and be able to handle and restrain different sized pets. Although rewarding there will be situations where poor welfare is encountered and this must be delt with professionally and sensitively.

Entry Requirements: There is currently no specific route that must be taken to become a groomer in the UK but extensive experience and knowledge of the field is needed before offering your services however a recognised qualification is preferred by many salons and owners looking for a groomer.  Places offering this course usually ask for some GCSE’s including maths and English.

Where to study: City and Guilds and iPet Network are both popular awarding bodies that offer grooming qualifications. These are delivered throughout grooming salons and colleges all over the UK.



The job: Becoming a zoologist is ideal for those who enjoy research.  Zoologists study animals in captivity and the wild to understand their biology, behaviour, and ecological roles. They often work in zoos, aquariums, research institutions, and conservation organizations. Zoologists contribute to conservation efforts, educate the public, and conduct research to protect endangered species.

The job is research heavy, strong analytical and problem-solving skills are essential for interpreting data. Communication skills are crucial for presenting findings, writing research papers, and educating the public. Patience, attention to detail, and a genuine passion for animals are fundamental qualities that drive zoologists to explore and understand the complexities of the animal world.

Zoologists often gain practical experience through internships, volunteering, or research assistant positions. Hands-on experience in the field or in laboratories provides valuable insights into animal behaviour and conservation efforts. Conducting research projects, whether in the wild or controlled environments, allows zoologists to contribute valuable data to scientific knowledge and conservation initiatives.

Zoologists often specialise in specific areas of interest such as marine biology, wildlife conservation or genetics and once qualified can embark on a career that can take you all over the world.

Entry requirements:  Becoming a zoologist typically requires a degree in zoology, biology, or a related field. Pursuing a higher degree, such as a master's or a Ph.D., can open doors to advanced research opportunities and specialized career paths within the field. Zoologists are expected to have extensive practical experience and evidence of research.

Where to study: Aberystwyth University, University of Hull, University of South Wales, University of Plymouth, Nottingham Trent University, Bangor University.


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