Animal Care Specialists Careers: Job Description & Salary Info

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An animal care specialist's average annual salary is around $23,000. Is it worth the training requirements? See real job descriptions and get the truth about career prospects to find out if becoming an animal care specialist is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of Being an Animal Care Specialist

Animal care specialists handle the everyday needs of animals. You can learn additional pros and cons to becoming an animal care specialist by reading below.

PROS of Being an Animal Care Specialist
Good job prospects*
Minimal education requirements for most positions*
Get to work with animals*
There are self-employment opportunities for this occupation*

CONS of Being an Animal Care Specialist
Income is below the national average (about $23,000)*
High rate of work-related illness and injuries compared to other careers*
Irregular work hours are common, including evenings and weekends*
Strong competition for positions working with zoos and horses*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Occupational Information

Job Description

Animal care specialists might have different job titles depending on the area their employment is focused on. For example, groomers predominantly focus on improving a pet's appearance, while kennel attendants and pet sitters take care of animals and pets whose owners are away from home. An animal care specialist that works with rescue leagues and animal shelters is sometimes referred to as a non-farm animal caretaker. Generally, as an animal care specialist, your duties consist of feeding animals, giving them water and examining them for injuries or illnesses, as well as exercising, bathing, monitoring and cleaning them.

Salary Info

As reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the hourly average wage for non-farm animal caretakers was $11 or so in May 2014. This makes the average salary for this occupation about $23,000 a year. If you were in the top ten percentiles of wage estimates for non-farm animal caretakers, then you saw earnings of at least $33,880. On average, the top paying states for this career were Hawaii, Oregon, California, Washington and New Jersey.

Job Outlook

The employment growth for animal care and service workers from 2012 to 2022 was roughly 15%, according to the BLS. Overall, this is a faster-than-average growth. However, the job outlook can vary based upon the specialization or area that an animal care specialist works in. For example, employment with horse trainers, marine mammal trainers and zookeepers isn't expected to be good due to the wide number of applicants those positions draw.

Vocational Requirements

Education and Training

Many animal care specialists acquire their skills through on-the-job training. For example, a new groomer would work under the supervision of an experienced groomer. Overtime, the new groomer would become familiar with the different techniques and tools used in the trade. As an animal care specialist, you normally work your way up from basic tasks to more complex ones. Generally, a GED or a high school diploma is preferred for animal care specialists. You might also receive formal training if you work at a shelter from an organization like the American Humane Association or the Humane Society of the United States. For positions associated with zoos, you may need an associate's degree or a bachelor's degree.

What Do Employers Want in Animal Care Specialists?

Previous work experience and job training is important for many employers looking for animal care specialists. Other qualities that are significant for employers hiring animal care specialists include patience, stamina and compassion. As many animal care specialists have to work with clients and customers, interpersonal communication skills are often considered crucial. If you were wondering what real employers were asking for in job advertisements for animal care specialists, you can find out by reading some information below that was summarized from November 2012 job postings.

  • An opening in Texas called for an animal care specialist willing to work weekend and evening hours.
  • A Wyoming production company needed an animal care specialist to handle general husbandry duties with swine.
  • An animal care specialist job in California required applicants to have at least one year of work experience in a similar field.
  • An associate's degree in a suitable major or two years of work experience in an appropriate field were necessary for a Louisiana animal care specialist position.

How to Stand Out as an Animal Care Specialist

As certification is not a requirement for employment, animal care specialists that are looking to stand out might want to consider pursuing certification, which would depend upon the job duties you want to focus on. For example, there are professional associations that have dog training certification. Additionally, groomers can pursue certification with the National Dog Groomers Association of America. Pet Sitters International and the National Association of Professional Pet Sitters also have pet sitter certification programs that can be pursued from home. Certifications generally require an examination and you normally have to meet other requirements, like possessing a certain amount of job experience.

Other Career Choices

Veterinary assistant and laboratory animal caretaker are alternatives similar to animal care specialist. In these roles, you would work in clinics, laboratories and animal hospitals to provide basic care for the animals at those locations. For example, you would make sure surgical equipment and instruments are sterilized and maintained properly. You would also disinfect and clean operating rooms, kennels and cages. For the 2010-2020 decade, the BLS expected a 14% growth in employment for veterinary assistants and laboratory animal caretakers. Around $24,000 on average was the yearly earnings for veterinary assistants and laboratory animal caretakers as of May 2011.

If you're interested in handling nursing care and first aid for animals, you may want to look into becoming a veterinary technologist. In this occupation, you can administer vaccinations and medications that have been prescribed by a veterinarian. You can also perform tests on animals, like blood counts and urinalyses. A state license and a 4-year degree are necessary to become a veterinary technologist in most cases. The average annual income for veterinary technicians and technologists was about $32,000 according to the BLS in May 2011. A 52% employment growth was projected for veterinary technicians and technologists from 2010 to 2020.

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