Animal Care Degrees: Training, Courses & Online Study Info

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What will you learn in an animal care program? Read about program requirements, the pros and cons of animal care certificate and associate's degree programs, as well as potential careers in the field.
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Studying Animal Care: Certificates and Associate Degrees at a Glance

Certificate programs in animal care usually provide instruction in pet care, training, and grooming, but others prepare you to work as a veterinary assistant. Alternatively, graduating from an animal care associate's degree program may qualify you to work as a kennel attendant, veterinary technician or in positions at animal research facilities, wildlife rehabilitation centers, animal hospitals, or equine training and breeding facilities.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) expects 23% job growth for animal caretakers during 2010 through 2020 (www.bls.gov). This faster-than-average growth means that there will likely be good job prospects for aspiring animal care workers. The BLS expects 14% job growth during 2010-2020 for veterinary assistants.

Certificate Associate Degree
Who Is this Degree for? People interested in pursuing animal care jobs that require proof of knowledge in certain animal care fields Individuals wanting to pursue a career in animal care and earn an associate's degree
Common Career Paths (with approximate median annual salary) - Pet Sitter ($20,000)*
-Kennel attendant ($20,000)*
- Veterinary assistant ($23,000)*
- Laboratory animal caretaker ($23,000)*
Time to Completion 7 months to 3 semesters 2 years full-time
Common Graduation Requirements - Internship
- Practicum
- Internship
- Practicum
Prerequisites - High school diploma or GED
-ACT scores
- High school diploma or GED
- Letter of recommendation
Online Availability Some courses available online Some courses available online

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011).

Certificate in Animal Care

Animal care certificate programs usually aim to increase your knowledge about dogs and cats. Some programs include instruction about business practices, while other, more vigorous programs prepare you to work as a professional in an animal care facility.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Could provide you with the credentials to gain more clients for your pet sitting or dog training business.
  • After completion, you might find a job working alongside veterinarians or other animal care professionals.
  • Projected job growth for non-farm animal caretakers is 28%, which is faster than average.*

Cons

  • Might be exposed to animal bites and other animal-inflicted injuries.
  • You may receive little or no hands-on instruction in distance learning programs.
  • Some admission prerequisites might prevent you from enrolling, such as possessing a high school diploma and passing psychological tests.

Source:*U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (projections for years 2010-2020).

Courses and Training Requirements

Basic certificate programs in animal care start with courses that teach you about dog and cat breeds, behavior, training methods and veterinary issues. Other courses commonly found in certificate programs include:

  • Anatomy
  • Biology
  • Business
  • English composition
  • Nutrition
  • Physiology
  • Medical terminology
  • Veterinary technology
  • Zoology

Some programs include internships that provide you with hands-on experience working with animal care professionals. Additionally, a program may be designed so that earned credits transfer to an associate's degree veterinary technology program.

Online Course Info

Animal care certificate programs are not usually available entirely online. However, some courses in a program may be offered over the Internet.

Getting Ahead with this Certificate

Determine what your immediate and future goals are before you decide which program is best for you. If you do not plan on becoming a veterinary assistant, attending a program with less coursework might allow you to enter the workforce faster. Additionally, because some programs do not include an internship, volunteering at an animal shelter or other animal facility might give you the work experience potential employers may prefer.

To really stand out with this certificate, however, consider attending a program that contains instruction in the technical aspects of animal care. Often, this instruction is provided through laboratories that accompany general lecture courses as well as practicums. Similarly, some programs include computer literacy training, which will help you demonstrate to employers that you are proficient in using computers in an animal care environment.

Associate Degree in Animal Care

Associate degree programs in animal care focus more on the care, husbandry and management of animals. Graduating from one of these programs may prepare you to work as a kennel assistant, laboratory animal caregiver or veterinary assistant. As a veterinary assistant, you focus on caring for animals and do not perform medical procedures or other technical tasks.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Employment in diverse work environments possible, from equine breeding facilities to wildlife rehabilitation centers.
  • Can care for animals alongside veterinary technicians and veterinarians.
  • Might be able to transfer credits to a bachelor's degree program.

Cons

  • Jobs might expose you to disease and injury.
  • Some programs and jobs require you to lift a certain amount of weight, which might prevent you from getting into the program or obtaining the position you want.
  • Jobs for veterinary assistants might decline between the years 2010 and 2020 because veterinary technicians with more skills might be in higher demand at certain animal care facilities.*

Source: *U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics (2010-2020 job outlook for veterinary assistants).

Course Requirements

Courses in an associate's degree program tend to focus on training you to provide excellent animal care and teaching you about business and management skills. Courses may also focus on specific animals groups, such as dogs, cats, reptiles, and birds, or on a specific topic, such as animal training and grooming. Some hands-on experience is usually also required, typically in the form of an internship or clinical rotation. Examples of coursework required for an associate degree program in animal care are:

  • Anatomy
  • Animal management
  • Biology
  • Breeding
  • Business
  • Ethics
  • Health
  • Nursing techniques
  • Nutrition

Online Course Info

Online associate's degree programs are very rare. Additionally, because of their hands-on components, most programs do not offer online courses. However, attending an in-person program can provide you with the hands-on experience and training helpful for finding a position in the field.

Stand Out with This Degree

To stand out above the competition, while studying you could volunteer at a local animal shelter, humane society, or wildlife rehabilitation center. This hands-on experience will show employers that you are knowledgeable about and capable of working in the field.

Many associate's degree programs offer opportunities to complete courses in computers, software or business computer applications. These courses will provide you with knowledge about how to use computers and animal care software programs when caring for animals. Completion of these classes may make you more attractive to employers.

Degree Alternatives

If you find you want to practice more medical procedures and have more responsibility in the veterinary field, you might want to consider earning an associate's degree in veterinary technology. This degree will lead to a career as a veterinary technician. Duties of veterinary technicians include talking with pet owners and collecting medical histories, performing lab tests and taking x-rays. The BLS reported that, in May 2011, veterinary technicians earned a median annual wage of $30,000, which is more than the median annual wage of $23,000 for veterinary assistants.

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