If you're a wildlife lover or devoted to your pets, the chances are your dream job involves working with animals. Well, there are lots of options out there, and to make things easier for you, we've put together some of the top jobs working with animals – along with tips and advice on how to get them.
What can I expect from a job with animals?
First of all, there are a few things you need to bear in mind if you're serious about a career working with animals.
Working with animals is hard work – it’s usually quite a physical job, with long, antisocial hours and, particularly if you’re working with poorly or neglected animals, it can be very upsetting.
And while some animal jobs are well paid (like being a vet), many (like a groom or animal care assistant) pay the minimum wage, especially at the beginning while you’re getting experience, so you’d be doing it for the love of animals rather than the money.
Our top animal jobs
This short video slideshow gives you an idea of some of the jobs with animals you can do. We go into more detail underneath.
This is one of the first things people think of when exploring jobs with animals – and being a vet is the number one dream job for young girls, according to a recent survey by reed.co.uk. There are around 20,000 registered vets in the UK.
Becoming a vet involves a lot of studying – you’ll need to go to university and take a veterinary degree, which lasts at least five years (it’s six years at some schools).
Current universities approved by the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) are Bristol, Cambridge, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Liverpool, Nottingham and London’s Royal Veterinary College.
Entry requirements are high – they vary depending on the university but generally you’ll need to have at least two As and a B (some want three As), and you’ll need to have studied biology and one or two subjects from chemistry, physics and maths.
You’ll also need to have at least a grade C (again, some expect an A) in English language, maths and science at GCSE. Some universities will consider applicants who have a distinction in vocational qualifications, like the BTEC Diploma in Animal Science.
All universities will want to see that you’ve done some work experience with animals before you apply – so get in touch with your local vet practice, animal hospital or farm to see if you can help out.
Veterinary nurses work alongside vets, helping to care for patients, and daily tasks include feeding and treating animals, and cleaning out kennels.
You could find yourself working at a private veterinary practice, an animal hospital or for a pet charity like Blue Cross or PDSA.
Entry requirements are not as tough as they are for vets. You’ll need to get a level three diploma in veterinary nursing and you can do this either full time or as an apprentice, earning while you learn. It takes two to three years.
You’ll need at least five GCSEs at grade C or above, including English language, maths and a science subject, or an animal nursing assistant or veterinary care assistant qualification.
For more information, Blue Cross has some great advice for how to become a veterinary nurse.
Animal care assistant
Most animal charities have animal care assistants (or a similar role), whose job it is to look after rescue animals. This could be any type of animal: dogs, cats, horses, rabbits, chinchillas, hamsters, degus, you name it!
Daily work includes cleaning kennels/hutches, feeding animals, helping to administer medication, walking dogs, grooming cats and making sure that all the pets get some love and attention. You may also deal with members of the public who come to the centre looking for a new pet.
Animal behaviourists work with pets and their owners to help with any problems – from nervous, anxious or aggressive pets to house training issues.
Some animal charities employ behaviourists to work with rescue pets and rehomed animals, but there are also many who work privately on referral from a vet.
The Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors can give you some more information. It’s worth noting that to become a member of the APBC, you’ll need to have a degree in either a biological or behavioural science.
You’ll also need lots of hands on experience of working with animals, either at a kennels, cattery, stables, vet practice or for a charity.
If horses are your passion then a career as a horse groom could be for you. You could work at a riding stables, private or livery yard or at a horse welfare charity.
Many competitive racing, showjumping and dressage yards employ grooms and some offer accommodation as part of the package.
Tasks will include mucking out stables, grooming, feeding, treating minor injuries and cleaning. Don’t assume that you’ll get to ride as part of your job – many don’t include this in the role so if this is a deal-breaker for you, you’ll need to check this.
A love of horses is a must but you’ll also need to be confident handling them. You may not need any qualifications at all to become a groom depending on where you apply, but you may find you get a better salary if you’re qualified.
You could work towards becoming a head groom, yard manager or train to become a riding instructor at the same time.
Check out the British Horse Society (BHS) for more information about courses you can do around the country to help you become a horse groom.
Horse riding instructor
Riding instructors work with people of all ages and abilities, from teaching them the basics to helping them compete at the highest level.
You’ll need to be a confident, experienced rider with good communication skills because you’ll spend a lot of your time working with both children and adults.
Many instructors work towards a BHS qualification and there are several different levels, depending on experience – the higher your qualification and the better your experience, the more you are likely to earn.
Dog groomers make sure that pets are looking paw-fect – doing tasks like washing, brushing, trimming their coats and clipping nails.
Some have their own "office" whereas others travel around in a van, visiting people’s homes. You’ll need to be confident around dogs, being able to handle them firmly but gently, and you’ll also need to have good people skills as dogs generally come with owners!
Some people become dog groomers through training on the job (so have a look for apprenticeships in your area) whereas others do a course or qualification – the Pet Industry Federation has some courses to suit every level.
Check out our 60 second interview with a dog groomer to find out more about what it’s like to do this job.
Zoologists study animals and their behaviour, either in the wild or in a zoo or lab.
Many zoologists are employed directly by colleges and universities where they do important research as well as teaching students. Others work for zoos, wildlife parks, government agencies and animal organisations.
This can be an amazing career if you love science and animals and it can offer great opportunities for travelling too – many work around the world, observing animals in their natural habitat.
The main route into this career is to do a degree in zoology and many go on to do a master’s or PhD. Entry requirements vary depending on the university. If, after doing this degree, you don’t think being a zoologist is for you, other options include a marine scientist, conservation officer, ecologist or environmental officer.
Find out more about science and research jobs and how to get into them in our article on STEM.
Dog handlers do a number of different tasks like helping to prevent and detect crime, or looking for missing people.
As well as a love of dogs, you’ll need to be very confident in handling them and have lots of patience. Training is usually provided by the employer but, as always, experience of working with animals is important.
The police, armed forces and the UK Border Force all employ dog handlers. If you’re interested in this job, the National Careers Service has some really great advice about all the different routes to becoming a dog handler.
Mounted police officer
Mounted police officers provide support to officers on foot or when it’s not safe to have anyone on the ground – you often see them patrolling when there are lots of crowds, like at sporting events, concerts and demonstrations.
You’ll have to start as a normal police officer and then specialise in this area later in your career. This is a pretty tough job to get as there are not that many mounted sections left and demand is really high.
That’s not to say that you shouldn’t go for it if that’s what you definitely want to do, but be prepared to stay strong and keep trying if at first you don’t succeed!
Get experience and skills to beat the competition
Animal jobs are very competitive so it’s important to give yourself a good head start by showing that you’re committed to a career with animals – getting relevant work experience or doing some volunteering are perfect places to start.