If you have a love for animals, your top career choice might be the veterinary profession. Veterinarians get to work with animals every day, and the job can be highly rewarding both personally and monetarily.
Continue reading to learn everything you need to know about the average veterinarian salary based on where you live, how much education you have, the industry in which you work, and more.
Average Veterinarian Salary – $105,240
As of May 2018, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimates the average salary for veterinarians as $105,240—an average hourly wage of $50.59.
But salaries of veterinarians in the United States varies widely, as you’ll see below. You may end up earning much less than this average, or you may end up earning much more, depending on your veterinary career path.
Veterinarian Salary Range
Your salary as a veterinarian will depend on your education and skill level, where you choose to live and work, and a number of other factors.
Below is the salary range of veterinarians in the United States, as reported by the BLS in 2018:
- 10th percentile – $56,540
- 25th percentile – $73,580
- 50th percentile – $93,830
- 75th percentile – $122,180
- 90th percentile – $162,450+
The median veterinarian salary (the point at which 50% earn more and 50% earn less) was $93,830.
The lowest-paid 10% of veterinarians in the United States earned $56,540 or less per year, while the highest-paid 10% of veterinarians earned $162,450 or more per year.
Average Veterinary Salary by Industry
One of the leading factors that determine where you fall within this salary range is the industry in which you choose to work as a veterinarian.
The BLS reports that in 2016 (the date of the most recent survey) there were about 79,600 veterinarians holding jobs in the United States.
Below are the highest-paying industries for veterinarians, according to the BLS:
- Management, Scientific, and Technical Consulting Services – $134,060
- General Medical and Surgical Hospitals – $119,560
- Management of Companies and Enterprises – $114,470
- Scientific Research and Development Services – $111,620
- Other Professional, Scientific, and Technical Services – $106,150
Most Popular Industries for Veterinarians
The Bureau of Labor Statistics also lists the most popular industries in which veterinarians are employed in the United States.
Although they aren’t necessarily the highest-paying veterinary jobs, these are the most readily-available employment opportunities you will have as a veterinarian:
- Veterinary Services (92%): $94,130 median annual salary.
By far the largest employer of veterinarians in the United States is private veterinary practices for companion animals.
This category consists primarily of private animal clinics and hospitals, but it can also include self-employed veterinarians who make their own hours and have their own clients.
Many self-employed veterinarians live in rural areas and travel to treat horses or livestock animals.
In 2016, 79% of working veterinarians worked in veterinary services. In the same year, 13% of veterinarians were considered self-employed, adding up to a total of 92%.
- Government (3%): $90,000 median annual salary.
The next largest employer of veterinarians in the United States is the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, according to the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges (AAVMC).
Veterinarians can also work for the United States government in many different capacities.
Government veterinary jobs may be related to wildlife conservation, research and investigation, public health, or policy-making and enforcement. Government jobs for veterinarians can be found on usajobs.gov.
In 2016, the U.S. government as a whole employed 3% of working veterinarians in the United States, according to the BLS.
- Social Advocacy Organizations (1%): $93,900 median annual salary.
Veterinarians are often involved in social and animal advocacy organizations. This includes organizations that protect and represent animals, such as the Humane Society of the United States and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA).
It can also include social nonprofits and charities like Guiding Eyes for the Blind.
In 2016, social advocacy organizations employed 1% of working veterinarians in the United States.
- Educational Services (1%): $80,410 median annual salary.
As is the case with any other advanced degree, you can become an educator as a licensed veterinarian.
Teaching at a university or college can offer a more regular schedule than working as a practicing veterinarian. Some veterinarians may find a mix of clinical work and teaching even more rewarding.
Your salary as an educator will increase based on your experience as both a practicing vet and as a teacher or professor. You may also command a higher salary if you specialize in a more niche field like veterinary oncology or neurology.
In 2016, educational services employed 1% of working veterinarians in the U.S.
Average Veterinarian Salary Based on Specialty
As a veterinarian, you have the option to specialize in one or more fields. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, specialist vets are in short supply in both educational positions and in private practice. That means that you can command a higher salary by specializing.
There are currently quite a few veterinary board certifications you can earn, including the following:
- Clinical pharmacology
- Emergency care
- Internal medicine
- Zoological medicine
You can also choose to specialize in species-specific medicine, such as birds and small animals or cattle.
The growing demand for specialists in the veterinary field is due in part to pet owners demanding more advanced care. At the same time, relatively few colleges offer programs for veterinary specialty training.
Private practices that want to hire specialists in dentistry, ophthalmology, and dermatology have an especially hard time finding applicants. But you can specialize in a broader field, such as internal medicine, emergency vet medicine, surgery, or critical care, and still earn a higher salary than a general veterinarian.
According to the AAVMC’s 2016 Market Report, veterinarians who graduate with their DVM (Doctor of Veterinary Medicine) and earn board certification are more likely to find employment and receive a much higher salary than their non-certified counterparts.
How to Earn a Veterinary Board Certification
To earn board certification as a specialist, you need to graduate with your DVM. Next, you will need to complete advanced education and training offered by a specialty veterinary college or board recognized by the American Veterinary Medical Association.
Achieving board certification as a specialist veterinarian will allow you to list your services or practice as “board-certified”. It will also allow you to publish articles as a board certified specialist, which can further your career opportunities in research and education.
Veterinary Practice as a Business
As can be observed from the list of top paying industries for veterinarians above, company management is one of the most lucrative positions you can hold as a vet.
Many veterinarians choose to start their own veterinary practices, moving from self-employed or employed at another office to hiring their own employees.
If you have a unique combination of a passion for animals, the ability to lead and manage people, and a strong mind for business, you may want to consider starting a practice on your own or with partners.
Average Veterinarian Salary by State and City
The average salary of veterinarians in the United States also varies based on location. Where you live and work as a veterinarian will help you determine how much you can expect to earn.
Below are the highest paying states for veterinarians, from top paying to lowest paying:
- Virginia – $125,360
- Texas – $124,060
- California – $121,750
- Alaska – $121,010
- New Jersey – $120,700
The top paying metropolitan areas for veterinarians are as follows:
- Lubbock, TX – $228,450
- Sherman-Denison, TX – $213,260
- Naples-Immokalee-Marco Island, FL – $161,280
- El Paso, TX – $159,930
- Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, CA – $151,350
And the top paying nonmetropolitan areas for veterinarians are as follows:
- West Central Illinois nonmetropolitan area – $157,990
- Nevada nonmetropolitan area- $122,940
- West Central-Southwest New Hampshire nonmetropolitan area – $121,780
- North Coast Region of California nonmetropolitan area – $120,840
- Central East New York nonmetropolitan area – $117,690
Average Veterinarian Starting Salary
The AAVMC’s 2016 Market Report shows the income data for veterinarians based on their years of experience. This information is valuable because as a veterinarian—as in most other professions—you will earn more money as you gain experience.
Here is how your income breaks down based on years of experience (mean income, 2015):
- 0 years (entry-level): $45,000
- 1-5 years: $81,000
- 6-10 years: $83,000
- 11-15 years: $101,000
- 16-20 years: $118,000
- 21-25 years: $142,000
Average Veterinarian Income by Title and Position
Your salary as a veterinarian also depends on how much education you have and what position or title you hold. Earning extra degrees in addition to your DVM can significantly increase your value as an employee.
The AAVMC reports the following mean incomes by education as of 2015:
- DVM only: $122,000
- MBA: $128,000
- PhD: $151,000
- Other Doctoral: $178,000
The mean salaries below will give you an idea of how your salary can changed based on your title or position, according to the same study:
- Clinician: $95,000
- Other (Public): $100,000
- Researcher: $110,000
- Professor: $140,000
- Manager: $175,000
- Executive: $260,000
Veterinarian Schedule and Work-Life Balance
One reason many veterinarians can command high salaries is the long hours they work. Your salary as a veterinarian will depend a great deal on how much time you spend in the office and treating animals.
As of their last report in 2016, the BLS reported that most veterinarians worked full-time, and they often worked over 40 hours per week, including nights and weekends. Many veterinarians spent time responding to emergencies outside of their scheduled hours.
If you’re willing and able to spend these extra hours in your career as a veterinarian, you can command a more substantial salary. Veterinarians who work less than full-time or don’t offer emergency care are more likely to earn a smaller salary.
Veterinary School Debt
Another essential thing to keep in mind as you plan your career as a veterinarian is your debt-to-income balance. Is earning your veterinary degree worth the cost?
According to the 2016 report by the AAVMC, 2015 Doctor of Veterinary Medicine graduates incurred a debt of nearly $250,000 on average. That’s a significant number nominally, as well a substantial percentage of your income as a veterinarian when you break it down into monthly loan payments.
Graduates in the past owed significantly less upon graduation, and they were usually able to pay off that debt in 4 to 10 years. Now, student loan borrowers who earn their DVM are encouraged to join income-based repayment programs, which allow them to pay back their loans over 25 years.
Income-based loan repayment can certainly help if you’re a veterinarian with significant student loan debt. If you choose to work in the public sector, you may be eligible for tax-free loan forgiveness once your repayment term is over.
Average Veterinarian Salary Summation
Becoming a veterinarian takes about as much education and dedication as any medical degree. But if your passion is animals, there’s no better career path than becoming a veterinarian.
If you can manage student debt repayment, and you don’t mind working with people as well as animals on a daily basis, you can look forward to a rewarding career as a vet.