Animal Health Degrees: Master's, PhD & Online Course Info

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What kind of job can you get with a graduate degree in animal health? Find out program requirements, online options and information on courses and animal health master's and PhD programs.
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Study Animal Health: Degrees at a Glance

Animal health studies focus on analyzing the biological causes and effects of diseases that are found in various animals. Animal health graduate studies can lead to careers in public health, agribusiness, pharmaceutical research and animal management. The master's program can prepare you to continue your studies at the PhD level or pursue a career in private and public sectors, while the PhD program is meant for people who want to find a career in academia.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), zoologist and wildlife biologist positions were projected to increase by 7% from 2010-2020, which was slower than the average for all occupations. The BLS found that agricultural and food scientist positions were projected to increase by 10% between 2010 and 2020. Although you may find some positions with only a bachelor's degree, mid- and high-level zoology and wildlife biology positions typically require a master's or PhD.

Master's Doctorate
Who is this degree for? Individuals interested in mid-level positions related to animal science or those who wish to pursue a PhD People who want to work as researchers and/or postsecondary teachers in the field of animal science
Common Career Paths (with approximate median annual salary) - Zoologist or wildlife biologist ($57,000)*
- Animal scientist ($61,000)*
- Food scientist/technologist ($58,000)*
- Postsecondary animal science professor (salary unavailable)
- Animal health researcher (salary unavailable)
Time to Completion About 2 years, full-time 3-5 years, full-time
Common Graduation Requirements - About 6-10 animal science and animal health courses
- Master's thesis/research paper
- Several graduate level courses
- PhD qualifier exams
- Dissertation
Prerequisites Bachelor's degree in animal health or a related field
- GRE scores
Bachelor's or master's degree in animal science, veterinary medicine or a related field
- GRE scores
Online Availability Not at this time No

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

Master's in Animal Health

Animal health studies at the master's level are typically found as a specialization or research area within an animal science program. Most master's programs require incoming students to have a background in biological and related sciences. Some schools may offer thesis and non-thesis plan options; the non-thesis plan is usually for students who are pursuing a terminal master's degree and have no intent of ever pursuing a PhD. You may also have the opportunity to participate in a research or teaching assistantship that gives you financial assistance.

Pros and Cons


  • A master's degree program in animal health can prepare you for a doctoral program
  • Some programs allow you to choose your own advisory committee, coursework and areas of research
  • Animal health studies can be useful in a number of career fields, such as agriculture and food management, pharmaceutical development and biological research


  • You'll probably need to earn a doctorate degree for most academic careers
  • Many of the jobs you're qualified for only require a bachelor's degree
  • The median salary for some animal health careers is less than the national median for master's degree holders (animal scientists earned roughly $61,000 and food scientists/technologists earned about $58,000, while master's holders earned approximately $66,000 in 2011)*

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

Courses and Requirements

Animal science programs that allow you to focus your research in animal health may not always have a specific course plan for animal health studies, so it'll be up to you to work with an advisor and choose the electives that fit your goals. Although many of the courses that you'll take in a master's degree program vary between schools, you'll usually encounter courses like:

  • Animal anesthesiology
  • Physiology of animals
  • Animal nutrition
  • Infectious disease in animals
  • Advanced animal production
  • Molecular epidemiology
  • Animal research ethics

You'll typically be required to complete a master's thesis or major research project, depending on your career goals.

Online Degree Options

Animal health tends to be a very hands-on area of study that includes lab work, observation, research and work with actual animals and is not suited for an online plan of study. Some non-thesis animal science programs may be offered over the Internet, but animal health studies are not typically included.

Getting Ahead With This Degree

While you're earning your master's degree in animal health or a related field, you may be able to get ahead by volunteering at an animal hospital or laboratory. Not only could you gain experience from volunteering, but it could even lead to a permanent job after you graduate. Volunteers may be asked to do a number of different tasks, including data entry, testing and medication dispensing. Volunteer opportunities may take place during the summer months, so you can focus on getting practical training while you're out of school.

PhD in Animal Health

At the doctoral level, you'll find animal health studies in the form of a concentration or research specialty within an animal science program. If your area of research lines up with a professor's interests, you could end up working as a research assistant while earning your PhD. The length of the program may vary depending on if you already have a master's degree or not; bachelor's degree holders can expect to be in the PhD program for up to 5 years.

Pros and Cons


  • A PhD in animal health could lead to a tenured teaching position at a university
  • Your scientific research findings could potentially affect the future of animal care, nutrition and testing
  • The level of specialization and depth you can get at the doctoral level is much more extensive than a master's program


  • A PhD isn't needed for most animal health positions outside of academia
  • Although animal health PhD programs are available, these studies are somewhat rare at this level and may be difficult to get into
  • Even if you get a postsecondary teaching position, there's no guarantee that you'll earn tenure

Courses and Requirements

At the PhD level, coursework tends to be somewhat specific to your area of expertise. A few courses you might expect to take include:

  • Molecular reproduction
  • Grazing livestock nutrition
  • Swine management
  • Animal digestion
  • Animal cytogenetics

Coursework and exams are only a fraction of earning a doctoral degree in animal health. You'll also be required to present a dissertation proposal before a board and eventually defend it after you've completed the research and writing. Your research for the dissertation gives you a chance to explore a particular interest you have in animal health.

Online Degree Options

Unfortunately, online PhD programs in animal health disciplines are not available. Animal heath at the PhD level is simply too hands-on of a discipline to be taught online.

Stand Out With This Degree

There are numerous ways in which you can take measures to stand out from the crowd with your PhD. Here are a few:

  • Try to have research from your dissertation or other writings published in peer-reviewed academic or scientific journals. This will typically earn you professional respect and is a solid way to build your resume.
  • Knowledge of the latest medical technology is highly desired by many employers in today's animal health job market. For this reason, staying abreast of the latest software trends and technological developments used in your industry can help you stand out.
  • Get experience by joining school organizations. Clubs can give you a chance to network with other students, manage a dairy herd and increase your knowledge of animal agriculture.

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