How to Become a Veterinarian for Exotic Animals

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The majority of veterinarians work with cats, dogs, cows, horses, pigs, sheep and other common pets or farm animals. Pet owners and farmers are not the only people who need veterinary services. Zoos, aquariums, circuses, hobby farms and other organizations hire veterinarians to care for exotic animals. By definition, exotic veterinary practice includes any animal not considered a common pet or domesticated species of livestock. To become a veterinarian for exotic animals, you must complete a certified veterinary medicine program and become board certified.

Take a series of preveterinary coursework at an undergraduate institution. Requirements vary by veterinary school, but most require students to complete biology, inorganic chemistry, organic chemistry, calculus and physics. Receive a grade of B or higher in all preveterinary coursework.

Take advanced science coursework to help you get into veterinary school and specialize in exotic animal practice. Consider anatomy, physiology, microbiology, animal science, zoology, nutrition or histology courses.

Gain experience working with exotic animals. Volunteer at a zoo, perform zoology or animal science research or work at a veterinary clinic. Network with veterinary professionals at your workplace to find out more about a career in exotic veterinary medicine.

Join clubs, honor societies or other organizations at your school. Take a leadership position in an organization to demonstrate your abilities to a veterinary school admissions committee.

Take the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) -- the admissions test accepted by thousands of graduate and business school programs worldwide. Practice by using a test prep manual or taking a preparatory course.

Ask professors or work supervisors for letters of recommendation. Choose professors who know you well, are familiar with your academic work and work in veterinary medicine.

Research veterinary medicine programs. Inquire about exotic animal training programs at each school. Some schools have specific exotic animal tracks, while others have a series of exotic animal courses. Apply to schools with a strong exotic animal specialty and faculty working in the field.

Complete an accredited veterinary medicine program. Take as many courses in exotic veterinary medicine as possible. Take the general veterinary medicine licensure examination.

Find an exotic veterinary medicine internship at a zoo, aquarium or clinic. Work as an intern for one or two years to gain experience working with exotic animals.

Complete a residency in exotic animal medicine. An approved American College of Zoological Medicine residency typically takes three to four years.

Take an examination to become licensed by the American College of Zoological Medicine or American Board of Veterinary Practitioners. This qualifies you to practice as an exotic animal veterinarian.


Although you may want to specialize in a specific type of exotic animal, getting general training in exotic animal medicine may help you market your skills when looking for a job.


The entire process of becoming a veterinarian for exotic animals takes eight years after your undergraduate degree and can be very expensive. Make sure you are committed to a career in exotic animal veterinary medicine before applying to veterinary schools.