Unleashing Your Potential In a Career with Animals

I confess I had dreams of growing up and having a career with animals, which meant being the next Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, or Birute Galdikas. Fast forward: those dreams didn’t become a reality but if I were reflecting on options regarding careers with animals available today, I’d be excited to see how the possibilities are growing, and in some cases at a rate faster than other careers. In case you’re wondering about these opportunities, I’m going to list some out here.

These jobs run the gamut so I’m going to start by grouping these careers with animals into a few categories:

  • Careers With Pets
  • Careers In Veterinary Medicine/ Healthcare
  • Careers With Large Animals
  • Careers With Wildlife
  • Careers That Study Animals


Careers With Pets

Let’s start here, as each of us at Pet Harmony had different pathways to getting to where we are, including:

  • initially volunteering or being staff at an animal shelter or rescue, 
  • initially working at a dog day care, 
  • or assisting with group training for dogs and their pet parents. 

There is a growing list of options within the shelter/rescue world. For example, animal control officers investigate the welfare of pets and ideally support pet owners who are struggling. To provide care and support to animals brought in by officers, shelters typically have kennel technicians or animal care attendants. There is growing awareness that the shelter environment can be challenging for many pets so shelter career pathways are expanding to include behavior consultants and foster coordinators. Finally, with the goal of finding forever homes for shelter animals, positions include adoption counselors and trainers to support their transition.

In the private sector, I’ve already mentioned dog day care, which is sometimes combined with overnight boarding. Being a pet sitter, either in your own residence or going to a pet parent’s home, is a growing industry. There is even a global membership entity where at least one dog trainer I know jumped around Europe and the U.S. from one pet sitting gig to another. If you are someone who enjoys being outside and having opportunities to interact with different pets each week then being a dog walker may be for you. 

Another career with pets is becoming a dog trainer. Training can focus on providing life skills to pets and their parents, meeting the needs of puppies, providing specialized training in sports (e.g. agility or nosework), or uniquely focusing on training dogs who will either be of service to individuals–for example, who have a disability or service to the community, such as a trained scent detection dog. You can check with your local airport TSA if they utilize volunteers as decoys to assist with continuous training of their dogs. Many dog trainers work independently or may be employed by a training facility, pet shop, or as mentioned earlier in an animal shelter. 

Another career path in this category is pet behavior consulting, whether it’s a dog, cat, bird, rabbit or other species. A pet behavior consultant specializes in addressing maladaptive behaviors such as fear, anxiety, and aggression. A behavior consultant looks at a myriad of components such as history, health, and environment and not just the behavior as if it occurs in a vacuum.  

Some pets also need a groomer, which can be offered in a shop, in the pet’s home, or in a mobile vehicle. Lastly, while this may not involve direct or hands-on work with a pet, there is a growing industry of products for pets so whether that’s applying your creativity and ingenuity into creating the next best pet toy or being a sales associate, this sector involving careers with animals is likely to continue to grow.


Careers In Veterinary Medicine/ Healthcare  

One popular career with animals is veterinary medicine, which is similar to human medicine and continues to grow in terms of specialists. Besides general practice, your career with animals could lead to a focus on orthopedic surgery, oncology, rehabilitation, pain management, dermatology, veterinary behavior, and more. The veterinary industry includes not only vets, but vet technicians – who can also get specialized training to focus on particular areas of practice – vet assistants, kennel technicians, client care specialists, and even social workers who specialize in working with veterinary staff and other animal welfare workers. These positions may be found in private practice, shelters, and to some extent in research, technological, and pharmacological entities. 

There are growing health related careers with animals beyond veterinary medicine, such as small animal or equine physical therapists, massage therapists, osteopaths, chiropractors, and hydrotherapists. While vets who specialize in nutrition tend to work clinically with patients, one could get a graduate degree in animal nutrition to work in the growing pet food industry. Lastly, another health related opportunity, albeit one that works with the surviving human, is pet bereavement counseling.


Careers With Large Animals

While the number of individuals choosing farming as a career path may be diminishing, permaculture farming benefits the environment and also involves livestock care. In addition to farming, there is also a need for individuals to work as livestock and or barn managers. These positions may also be found outside of the agriculture realm via animal rescue–in other words, providing care for large animals in a sanctuary or at a facility that provides, for example, equine-assisted therapy or hippotherapy. Zoos and aquariums house large animals (& small) which require personnel for animal care and training, particularly around husbandry. Farriers are another career path providing care for horses and other hoofed cousins. While bees are obviously not large animals, I’m including being an apiarist or beekeeper here. Lastly, this category of careers with large animals include a couple of unique occupations such as being a jockey or perhaps a snake venom milker.


Careers With Wildlife

If your interest in animals includes a love of the outdoors, you may want to consider a career in wildlife conservation and rehabilitation of animals. Wildlife biologists study animal behavior, population dynamics, and habitat requirements to help conserve and manage wildlife populations. They may work for government agencies, non-profit organizations, or research institutions. Wildlife biologists often conduct field research, collect data, and develop conservation plans to protect endangered species and restore habitats. One animal trainer has an ongoing project to teach elephants how to avoid poachers! Wildlife rehabilitators provide care and medical treatment to injured or orphaned wildlife with the goal of releasing them back into the wild. These individuals work closely with veterinarians to assess and treat wildlife, provide appropriate diets and housing, and monitor their progress. 


Careers That Study Animals

While there may be some overlap with the prior category, I’m including here all the ‘-ologist’ careers with animals, these include being an ethologist, zoologist, entomologist, herpetologist, ornithologist, ichthyologist, cetologist, mammologist, and perhaps an ecologist. Let me know if I’ve left off an ‘-ologist’ career that you had considered! Most of these positions require an advanced degree to conduct research or fieldwork, carry out experiments, and contribute to conservation efforts.  


Closing Thoughts

Depending on the specific career path you choose within the animal industry, the education and training requirements can vary. Some of these fields are regulated in the sense that one needs to demonstrate competencies in order to legally perform the job – e.g. veterinary medicine and pet massage therapy – while others are unregulated–e.g. dog training and behavior consulting. If you are interested in working in an unregulated field, be aware that there is a lot of misinformation that can make it challenging to learn how to operate in the field in a competent and ethical way. A common thread among many animal-related careers is the need for a strong foundation in animal science and behavior, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that all careers with animals require a trip through academia to get that education. If academia is inaccessible to you for any reason, look for careers that you can learn through trade schools, online certification programs, or direct mentorship.

Physical stamina is often required in many animal-related career opportunities. From lifting and restraining animals to spending long hours on your feet, being physically fit can be a critical requirement to handling the demands of some of these jobs. The good news is that there are many other careers with animals that are more accessible to a wide variety of abilities, so if you live with a disability or chronic illness, you can still find your niche within the many careers with animals. 

When considering a career with animals, it’s important to assess your skills, interests, and goals to find the perfect fit. Whether you prefer hands-on care, working behind the scenes, or even starting your own business, there’s a path that aligns with your passion.

And finally, be aware that careers with animals can be fraught with ethical issues, but no field is intrinsically unethical. It is important to find a community of people who practice the career with animals that you’re interested in with a commitment to science, ethics, critical thinking skills, and a growth mindset so that you can acquire those skill sets as well. Remember, pursuing a career with animals is not only about fulfilling your own dreams but also about making a positive impact on the lives of animals, which means that their welfare and well-being should always be our pollstar. 


Now What?

  • Did you know that Pet Harmony offers a program to start or grow your own pet behavior consulting business?  Check it out here. We’re here to help you achieve your career goals. 
  • If you were not familiar with any of the career opportunities I mentioned, google it and grow your learning.


Happy Training! 


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