15 Rewarding Careers With Animals (From Pets to Wildlife)

Published January 4, 2022
Woman in barn with sheep

Are you looking for a way to turn your love for animals into a career? Whether you like the idea of working with pets or farm animals, or prefer the idea of working with horses or wildlife, there are a lot of rewarding opportunities to consider. Discover 15 real-world career options that involve working with animals.

High-Paying Careers With Animals

The highest-paying careers that involve working with animals generally require extensive education and/or experience. Some require four-year degrees, while many require graduate school and/or licensure. Others require extensive hands-on experience working with animals, as well as management skills.

Veterinarian

Young French Bulldog on the visit to the vet

Working as a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) involves diagnosing and treating medical conditions in animals. Some veterinarians specialize in working with small animals, while others focus on large animals or treat animals of all sizes. Preparing to work as a veterinarian requires extensive education, including a bachelor's degree and successful completion of veterinary school, followed by state licensure. Most veterinarians work in private practice, though some are employed in zoos or scientific research settings. The median pay for veterinarians is more than $99,000 per year, making this the highest-paying career that involves working directly with animals.

Wildlife Biologist

Wildlife biologists are scientists who study animals, such as deer, elk, birds, and more, in their natural habitats. These research-focused jobs involved collecting and analyzing data related to animals and their habitats. They investigate how various factors within those habitats impact the animals that live in them, and seek ways to maximize wildlife conservation. Wildlife biologists typically work for state or federal agencies or nonprofits focused on conservation or habitat protection. These jobs require at least a bachelor's degree in biology or a related field of scientific study. Many wildlife biologist roles require an advanced degree. The median pay for wildlife biologists is around $66,000 per year.

Marine Biologists

Scientist analyzing Sea Water

Marine biologists focus on studying animals that live in the water and their aquatic habitats. Some focus on studying animals that live in saltwater habitats, while others specialize in researching aquatic life in freshwater habitats. Some marine biologists work at sea to gather data, while others spend most of their time analyzing data in a laboratory setting. Some do both. Most work for government agencies or conservation-focused nonprofit organizations. Some may work for attractions like aquariums or Sea World. Some entry-level jobs may require only a bachelor's degree in biology or a related field, but many roles require a master's degree or Ph.D. As with wildlife biologists, the median pay for marine biologists is approximately $66,000 per year.

Animal Nonprofit Executive Director

Working as the executive director (ED) of a large animal welfare organization can be a good career option for people who want to improve the lives of animals. This type of role requires strong supervisory and leadership skills, fundraising expertise, the ability to inspire volunteers, and a passion for animals. This type of role generally requires at least a bachelor's degree and a significant amount of professional experience in the nonprofit sector. Pay varies greatly based on the size and scope of the organization. The average pay for an ED of an animal or environmental charity with $500,00 in revenue is just under $70,000 per year. For a group with $5 million in revenue, the average annual ED compensation is more than $137,000.

Zoo Director

If you like the idea of working in a leadership role but want to be around animals on a daily basis, you may find it rewarding to work as the director of a zoo. This is a high-level managerial job with a lot of responsibility. It involves overseeing all aspects of zoo operations. As zoos are typically nonprofit organizations, zoo directors are responsible for the same things as an ED plus supervision of animal care operations and oversight of the zoo grounds. People in this job usually have a significant amount of zoo experience paired with a degree related to animal care or business management (or both). The average annual compensation for zoo directors is around $65,000, with the highest pay going to those in large, well-funded zoos in large cities.

Farm or Ranch Manager

Man and woman managers using tablet on diary farm

Farmers, ranchers, and others who oversee such operations can be described as agricultural managers. Some own the farms or ranches that they oversee, while others are employed by the owners. People in these jobs are directly responsible for managing all farm or ranch operations, including ensuring that the livestock and other animals on the farm are properly cared for. They manage farm or ranch animal workers (see below) and are responsible for the overall efficient and effective operation of the farm or ranch. The median pay for agricultural managers is just over $68,000 per year. Many people in this field have a degree in agriscience or a related field, though it is not necessarily required. Hands-on farm experience is a must.

Animal Careers Working With Pets

The careers listed above are not the only ones that involve working with animals. There are a number of animal-related careers to consider, some of which primarily or solely involve working with pets. If you love being around domestic animals, consider one of the following career options.

Veterinary Technician

Many animal health clinics employ veterinary technicians to work alongside veterinarians. The relationship between veterinarians and veterinary technicians is similar to the doctor-nurse relationship in human patient care settings. Veterinary technicians perform a variety of tasks, including examining animals, collecting samples, performing medical tests, administering vaccinations and medications, prepping animals for surgery, caring for post-op patients, and much more. This type of job requires a field-specific associate degree. In some states, licensure is also required. The average pay for veterinary technicians is around $15 per hour.

Dog Groomer

Chow-chow dog at grooming salon

For those who enjoy working hands-on with pets but prefer not to be in a healthcare setting, working as a dog groomer could be a good career choice. Dog groomers are responsible for bathing dogs and performing other grooming services, such as trimming or brushing their coats, shaving them, cleaning their ears, and clipping their nails. Most professional dog groomers work for a company or veterinary practice that offers grooming services, though some are self-employed. There is not a degree or license requirement for dog groomers, but it may be a good idea to complete a dog grooming training program if you want to do this type of work. The average base pay for dog groomers is around $15 per hour.

Pet Sitter

Working as a pet sitter is another great option that involves working with pets. People who work as pet sitters provide in-home care for pets while their owners are out of town or otherwise cannot be at home. Some simply stop by a few times per day to feed and care for pets, while others stay overnight in the home with the pets in their care. Some pet sitting companies hire people to work as pet sitters, though most pet sitters are self-employed entrepreneurs. Many offer services via sites like Care.com or Thumbtack. Pet sitters usually charge $25 per half-hour visit, assuming that out-of-area travel is not required. For overnight in-home pet sitting, fees generally range from $45 - $75 per night.

Dog Walker

Woman yellow jacket walking several dogs

Working as a dog walker is another option for people who want to work with pets without being directly involved in healthcare. As with pet sitters, most dog walkers are self-employed sole proprietors and find clients through sites like Thumbtack and Care.com, as well as via local marketing and networking. It's not unusual for an individual to offer both pet sitting and dog walking services to their clients. Combining these sources can be a great way to build a successful small business that involves working with animals. Dog walkers typically charge between $10 and $35 for a half-hour walk.

Dog Trainers

Working as a dog trainer is also a good option for people who enjoy working with dogs. Dog trainers often provide dog obedience classes via kennels or pet stores, or as solo self-employed practitioners. Some focus on working with pets and their owners, while others work with organizations that train service animals to be placed with individuals who need their assistance. Some trainers specialize in working with police dogs or animal/owner teams that provide search and rescue services. There is not a specific education or license requirement to work as a dog trainer, though professional dog trainers must be highly skilled. The average pay for dog trainers is around $15 per hour.

Animal Careers Working With Large Animals

There are also a number of animal-related career opportunities that involve working with large animals. If the idea of working in the presence of large animals excites you, one of the following fields might just be your dream career.

Equine Therapy Professional

Working as an equine therapist is an option for mental health professionals seeking to help individuals who can benefit from therapeutic care that involves interactions with horses. Working in this field requires postgraduate study in equine-assisted therapy. Such programs are open only to qualified mental health professionals who already hold bachelor's and master's degrees. Equine therapy professionals often work for inpatient or outpatient treatment centers that offer equine therapy. Some may be mental health professionals who offer equine therapy as one of many patient- or client-care services. The average pay for equine therapy professionals is just over $50,000 per year.

Horse Trainer

Young woman trainer holding chestnut horse

Working as a horse trainer involves preparing horses to be ridden. This involves getting them accustomed to wearing a bridle and saddle and otherwise preparing them to safely carry a rider. The duties of a horse trainer involve teaching the horse to obey commands and to prevent them from exhibiting behavioral problems. Many trainers work with horses that will be ridden primarily by their owners or the patrons of horseback riding stables. Some train horses and riders to compete in shows highlighting various riding styles, and some work with racehorses. Beyond being highly skilled, there is not a specific credential requirement to do this kind of work. The average pay for horse trainers is around $38,000 per year.

Horseback Riding Instructor

There are also opportunities for skilled riders who have the ability to communicate effectively with people and horses alike to work as horseback riding instructors. They focus on teaching people how to ride horses. Some horse trainers provide horseback riding lessons in addition to training horses. No specific credential is required for this type of equine employment. The average pay for riding instructors is around $35,000 per year. Many horseback riding instructors work with stables as independent contractors, where they may be paid an hourly rate or a percentage of the enrollment fees for the classes or groups they teach.

Farm or Ranch Animal Worker

Farms and ranches employ people to help care for the animals that are being raised on-site. People who do this kind of work are responsible for tending livestock and other animals. Common duties include feeding and providing clean water to cows, pigs, horses, chickens, sheep, goats, or other animals, as well as maintaining the pens, pastures, or coops in which they reside. If there are dairy cows or goats on the farm, they may also be responsible for milking. This field does not have a specific education requirement. On-the-job training is common for farmhands. The median pay for farm or ranch animal workers is near $29,000 per year.

Explore Careers Working With Animals

As you can see, there are many careers working with animals. No matter where you are in your career, there are plenty of opportunities to consider. If your ultimate goal is to pursue one of the highest-paying careers with animals, start making plans now to gain the education and experience that you'll need to do just that. Any experience you can get in an animal-related occupation along the way will help provide you with a competitive advantage when you're ready to apply for your dream job.

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