What Does a Small Animal Vet Do? Exploring a Pet Doctor’s Role


There are few animals you don’t find fascinating, but pets have always held a special place in your heart. You love hearing about the connections that inevitably form when people care for animals in their homes. It’s always made you wonder what it would be like to pursue a career as a veterinarian.

You’re not alone in your desire to work with household animals. In fact, the majority of private practice veterinarians work exclusively or mostly with pets. Though job titles vary, most of these professionals would classify themselves as a small animal vet.

Though it might seem like an easy decision to pursue this career path, you should know a typical day for veterinarians who work with small animals involves much more than petting and playing. Join us as we take a closer look at what it’s really like to be a small-animal vet.

First, what exactly is a small animal vet?

Before we get too deep in the details of what small animal veterinarians do, it’s important to clarify what the role is. The job title is actually a bit of a misnomer.

“When people hear ‘small animal,’ some think we spend all our time with gerbils or hamsters,” says Dr. Richard Kane, founder and Chief of Staff at Care Animal Hospital. “While we do treat pocket pets, a small animal vet primarily treats cats and dogs.”

“While we do treat pocket pets, a small animal vet primarily treats cats and dogs.”

The role also extends beyond patient care, because vets spend just as much time with pet owners as they do with animals. “We are part practitioner, part therapist, and part peace keeper,” explains Dr. Krista Magnifico, owner of Jarrettsville Veterinary Center and founder of Pawbly. “It is a lot of hats to wear.”

What does a small animal vet do?

Pet owners have at least a glimpse of what small animal veterinarians do. First-time visits and annual check-ups are some of the most common reasons a pet needs to visit the veterinarian. “Many of my appointments are wellness visits for animals who need vaccinations, parasite control, annual blood tests, and routine physical exams,” Dr. Kane says.

That said, plenty of pet owners make unexpected trips to the veterinarian when their furry friends aren’t feeling well. “This requires diagnostic care, talking with pet parents about signs and symptoms, and prescribing medication—often antibiotics and anti-inflammatory drugs,” Dr. Kane explains.

Beyond the basics, you might not realize just how much small animal vets are capable of and how vast their services are. Spay and neuter surgeries are relatively routine, but so are many other procedures and treatment strategies. Small animal vets are involved in cancer treatment, tumor removals, trauma surgery, and much more. “A typical day is extremely busy,” says Dr. Diarra Blue, co-owner of Cy-Fair Animal Hospital.

"A typical day is extremely busy."

For vets who are also business owners, duties extend even further. Dr. Blue explains that responsibilities include “being an everyday leader and motivator for the staff.”

Small animal vets clearly need to be prepared for anything, because they might see an extremely sick patient immediately after one that is happy and healthy. No day is the same. “Often, days are so atypical that they classify as typical,” Dr. Magnifico notes.

What skills do small animal vets need?

Small animal vets have diverse roles, so they need a pretty substantial skill set they can tap into. Some of the most important qualities are manual dexterity, the ability to swiftly make decisions, and great communication skills. Being able to effectively communicate is especially important since vets spend so much time interacting with pet owners.

Dr. Blue points out vets need to pay particular attention to how they convey information. “You need to be able to effectively verbalize and communicate vet medicine at an elementary level since not all people have the same knowledge,” he explains.

"You need to be able to effectively verbalize and communicate vet medicine at an elementary level."

Other personal qualities also matter. Veterinary medicine can be a challenging profession, and some people are better suited for it than others.

“It takes grit, determination, and a constant reflection of self-truth to be successful in this profession,” Dr. Magnifico says. She adds that it’s crucial to keep sight of what made you want to become a veterinarian in the first place.

What is the job outlook for small animal veterinarians?

Veterinarians as a whole have a bright future. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment of veterinarians is projected to grow 19 percent through 2026. This growth is substantially faster than the average for all other occupations.

While the BLS doesn’t single out projections for small animal veterinarians, you have every reason to feel confident about the future. “The pet industry and profession is impervious to market trends, market dips, and influences,” Dr. Magnifico says. “People are happy to pay in order to help their pets’ health, happiness, and longevity.”

“People are happy to pay in order to help their pets’ health, happiness, and longevity.”

Dr. Kane feels similarly optimistic. “The pet-care industry is booming,” he explains. “It is a demanding job, but we are always looking for qualified doctors to join our team.”

Picture yourself working with pets

It’s easy to see that small animal vets play an important role in keeping our furry friends happy and healthy. The job might not be easy, but it’s incredibly rewarding for individuals who are passionate about pets.

If you think you might be interested in a career caring for companion animals, you might want to become a little more familiar with what it takes to become a vet. It all starts with thinking about veterinary school. Learn more about the full process by reading our article, “How to Become a Veterinarian: Your 8-Step Guide.”

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