All creatures great and small: large animal vet or small animal vet?

girl, horse and dog

Image © Dusan Kostic / Fotolia

What inspired you to become a vet? Watching David Attenborough nature programmes or playing doctors and nurses with the family pet?

All animals require some level of healthcare, but the kind of vet you become will depend on the kind of animals you feel most comfortable around and how challenging you prefer your veterinary practice to be.

Cute and cuddly

A small animal vet works with our everyday companions, including cats, dogs, rabbits – even snakes and lizards.

Your working day will be structured around routine check-ups and procedures like neutering and spaying, vaccinations and, occasionally, euthanising terminally ill or injured animals.

You will typically work in a small practice or an animal hospital and may be required to set fractures, treat wounds and perform surgeries.

If supervet Dr Noel Fitzpatrick is your inspiration, then being a small animal vet will appeal.

Big and bold

If you were pony mad as a child or have a lifelong fascination for big beasts, then large animal veterinary practice will set your pulse racing.

There are generally three specialisms in the field:

  • Equine
  • Livestock
  • Zoo animals

Livestock vets are responsible for the welfare of all farm animals, making vital decisions on suitable breeding stock and diagnosing and treating a range of livestock-specific complaints. You will need to be prepared to travel, work long hours and be on call for emergencies.

Glamorous or exotic?

The life of an equine vet can be a glamorous one, involving the care of racehorses and showjumpers, as well as domestic ponies. A hospital-based veterinary surgeon will perform surgeries or investigate specific complaints.

But if wild animals are your thing, then becoming responsible for the health and welfare of exotic animals in captivity as a zoo vet will appeal to you.

You will work as part of a team, with responsibilities ranging from checking tropical fish for parasitic diseases to castrating a zebra. But be warned, this work can be stressful and it often doesn't pay particularly well.

For a newly qualified vet, there's a huge range of choices – big or small is just the beginning.

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