Veterinarian handles a cute cuddly kitten

The Difference Between Small Animal Vets and Large Animal Vets

All animals that interact with humans have to be treated and examined routinely by veterinarians. Veterinarians follow federal and state guidelines to diagnose animal diseases and prevent the passage of disease onto humans. They also help take care of general animal health and help protect the animal itself. If you’ve ever had a pet before, you’ve probably visited a companion animal vet. However, veterinarians are trained to take care of animals other than just pets. There are both large animals and small animals, and the veterinarians who take care of them have a different set of job experiences and work environments.

Small Animal Veterinarians

Small animal veterinarians generally work with companion animals that live inside or near people’s homes. These veterinarians do routine checkups, vaccinations, spaying and neutering procedures, and euthanizing. They focus on animals like dogs, cats, rabbits, gerbils, and hamsters. Most veterinarians are small animal specialists, and they typically work in small practices or animal hospitals. Their typical days involve seeing pets and their owners for regular checkups, treating cats and dogs for illnesses, and performing various surgical procedures.

Large Animal Veterinarians

There are many kinds of large animal veterinarians. Typically, large animal veterinarians are equine, zoo animal, or livestock and farming specialists. Equine specialists treat horses in various capacities. For instance, horses that are used for sports have to be treated for injuries. This means that equine veterinarians have to make recommendations to horse owners about the welfare of the horse.

Livestock veterinarians work with farm animals in various agriculture settings. Because livestock interact with humans through the production of food, these veterinarians are intimately involved in the welfare of both the animals and humans who consume food from the animals. For instance, veterinarians may treat and diagnose diseases for livestock and make recommendations as to whether they can be used in the process of production with certain medical conditions. Livestock vets are also concerned with the eating and living habits of livestock animals.

Zoo animal veterinarians work with animals that are kept in captivity at zoos and animal sanctuaries. These animals tend to be very big and can be somewhat exotic. These animals interact less directly with humans, so the primary concern of these veterinarians are the health of the zoo animals living in limited spaces.

If you’re thinking of becoming a veterinarian someday, you should consider what kind of animals you would like to treat. The veterinarians who make the most money are small animal veterinarians, but their job and work environments are generally universally similar. Large animal veterinarians, on the hand, get paid less, but may have more variable and changing schedules. 

Last Updated: April 15, 2015