Careers in Animal Welfare Organizations: Education and Job Info

Oct 20, 2021

The level of education needed for a career in animal welfare varies. Veterinarians are required to be veterinary doctors, and must complete several years of postsecondary studies. Wildlife rehabilitators, who must be qualified as a veterinary technician or technologist, must also complete courses in animal husbandry, natural history, animal behavior and wildlife nutritional needs. Animal attendants may also need to complete technical courses and learn through on-the-job training.

Essential Information

Animal welfare organizations, such as the Humane Society of the U.S., often work with veterinarians, wildlife rehabilitators and animal attendants to treat and care for injured wild animals and abandoned or abused pets. Careers with animal welfare organizations are open to those with a range of education and skills, though typically they require formal coursework and training.

Career Volunteer Veterinarian Wildlife Rehabilitator Animal Attendant
Education Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) Specific college technical courses Technical courses and training
Projected Job Growth (2019-2029)* 16% 16% for veterinary technologists and technicians 23% for nonfarm animal caretakers
Median Salary (2020)* $99,250 $36,260 for veterinary technologists and technicians $26,080 for nonfarm animal caretakers

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Career Options

A career in animal welfare implies working for the benefits and rights of animals in a direct manner. Specific career options in the field vary widely, each with their own set of requirements and duties. For positions in this field, post-secondary education may be required, in addition to a passion and enjoyment of working with animals. A few specific career options are listed below.

Volunteer Veterinarian

Veterinarians diagnose and treat the ailments of various animals. They are used by animal welfare organizations to volunteer in helping needy and abused animals. Most veterinarians work with treating household pets; however, some vets may work exclusively with farm animals and horses. Animal welfare organization veterinarians have a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) degree and state licensing.


Organizations often desire veterinarians with full educational experience, which includes a DVM degree. The path to a DVM often involves successful completion of a 4-year study in an accredited AVMA (American Veterinary Medical Association) curriculum including courses in biological, physical and animal sciences. While an undergraduate degree is not conclusively required for the DVM program, a bachelor's degree involving physics, biology, chemistry or anatomy may prove beneficial in succeeding at the graduate level. Besides possible undergraduate classes, students often need to pass the GRE (Graduate Record Examination), VCAT (Veterinary College Admission Test) and MCAT (Medical College Admission Test) satisfactorily.

Job Information

All veterinarians working in the United States are required to be licensed before practicing. Licensing requirements vary by state; however, all require successful completion of the DVM program. In some instances, vets may also need to pass a state exam covering state laws and regulations.

Animal welfare organizations often use vets as unpaid volunteers. Because of their experience, licensed volunteering veterinarians frequently work as advisors, assistants and teachers in managing pre-doctorate student groups. Some aspects of instruction may include teaching students in specific medical procedures or surgical protocols. Normally volunteer vets work in an organization-sponsored clinic, but sometimes they may work elsewhere such as a farm.

Salary and Job Outlook

Veterinary medicine is a career field that should grow much faster than average at 16% from 2019-2029, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). There were 89,200 veterinarians employed in the United States in 2019. These veterinarians made a median annual salary of $99,250 as of May 2020, according to the BLS.

Wildlife Rehabilitator

Wildlife rehabilitators treat and release injured or diseased indigenous wildlife. Many rehabilitation organizations work with government agencies in completion of this endeavor. Generally, prospective wildlife rehabilitators require legal permits and some technical education.


Most wildlife rehabilitators work with veterinarians in treating wildlife. While rehabilitators don't need the same education as a vet, they still need technical instruction through taking technical courses or completing on-the-job training to get the necessary permits.

On-the-job work involves learning by assisting veterinarians in basic first aid techniques. Generally, rehabilitators work until they meet the requirements of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) permits. The second method involves taking college technical courses to satisfy permit requirements. Courses may be several weeks in length and cover topics in animal husbandry, natural history, animal behavior and wildlife nutritional needs. Certain types of animals may require additional education for permits.

Job Info

It is illegal to rehabilitate any animal without a permit. Due to this fact, wildlife rehabilitators need a permit for each type of animal they are treating. For instance, certain migratory birds need special FWS legal permits. These generally involve passing a thorough inspection of training, mentorship and education. Usually wildlife rehabilitators work in an animal rehabilitation center sponsored by an animal welfare organization or a government wildlife agency.

Generally, rehabilitators have many different duties associated with treating the animals such as cleaning enclosures, feeding, providing medical treatment, educating the public, writing natural history reports and fundraising. Fundraising is especially important since most rehabilitation centers are non-profit entities.

Salary and Job Outlook

Veterinary technicians and technologists can work as wildlife rehabilitators. Employment for vet technicians and technologists is expected to grow at a rapid rate of 16% during the 2019-2029 decade, according to the BLS. Veterinary technologists and technicians made a median annual salary of $36,260 as of May 2020.

Animal Attendant

Attendants are responsible for an animal's overall well-being whether that be at a zoo, aquarium, kennel or shelter. Most attendants only need a high school diploma and learn on-the-job.


Many attendants who work in animal welfare organizations volunteer freely and learn the necessary skills through effort. However, certain niche animal attendants may need additional education to understand animal behavior. This higher education may require taking technical programs or training courses offered through animal welfare organizations, like the American Humane Association and the Humane Society of the United States.

Job Info

Animal welfare organizations generally contract attendants to volunteer on an hourly basis. This often involves work in a kennel or clinic for a required amount time. Attendants who work for an animal welfare organization are given different tasks depending on skill level and education. This may include cleaning, feeding, washing or even playing with animals. While attendants mostly deal with abandoned or neglected pets, they may also work with zoo and farm animals.

When attendants receive these animals, they often make records about animal behavior, pet breed type and medical history. Because of these records, attendants may be used as witnesses in court cases involving animal cruelty. In addition, attendants must be prepared to answer any question the public requests about the operation of the kennel or shelter.

Salary and Job Outlook

Employment for nonfarm animal caretakers is projected to grow at a much faster than the average rate of 23% during the 2019-2029 decade, according to the BLS. The BLS reported in May 2020 that these workers made a median annual wage of $26,080.

A career in animal welfare can mean working as a veterinarian, an animal attendant, or a wildlife rehabilitator. The level of training required varies from technical courses and on-the-job training to several years of postsecondary education.

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