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Animals & Veterinary Science

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Animals & Veterinary Science

Veterinary science is vital to the both the study, and the protection, of all animals. It informs production practices and herd health, and most importantly, the monitoring and spread of disease.

Veterinary careers require the acquisition and application of scientific knowledge, and the use of technical and practical skills towards disease prevention, protection and care of both domestic and wild animals. New technological developments in veterinary medicine make this career area more exciting and challenging than ever before.

careers in veterinary and animals

Opportunities with Irish in this Sector
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Doctors of Veterinary Medicine or Vets, as they are more commonly known, are medical professionals. Their primary responsibility is protecting the health and welfare of animals. Veterinarians diagnose and control animal disease, treat sick and injured animals, prevent the transmission of diseases between animals and people, and, advise owners on proper care of pets, working animals and livestock. Vets also ensure a safe food supply by maintaining the health of livestock and inspecting meat and poultry products.

Employment opportunities for veterinarians are numerous - they include private or corporate clinical practice, teaching and research, regulatory medicine, public health, and military service.

The Veterinary Profession in Ireland

At the end of 2014 there were 2,408 registered veterinary practitioners in the State. 1,587 of these are male, with 821 female. 145 new veterinary practitioners joined the register for the first time in 2014 - 81 of these were new graduates. Of the 81 new graduates, 49 qualified in Ireland, 6 qualified in the UK and 26 qualified in other EU countries. Of the 26 EU graduate Veterinary Practitioners who joined the register, over 16 (60%) qualified in Hungary.

Source: Veterinary Council of Ireland Newsletter Issue 11 Winter 2015 ~ Click to view full size

The majority of vets are in private practice. There are also approximately 330 State vets, about 30 local authority vets, 20 to 30 in the industry and a small number in teaching and research in the veterinary faculty in UCD. 

Clinical Veterinary Practice

Practice vets are without doubt the best known sector of the veterinary profession, due in large part to the now infamous James Herriot books and television series All Creatures Great and Small.

Veterinary practitioners diagnose animal health problems, medicate those with infections or disease, vaccinate them against major diseases, treat and dress wounds, and perform surgery. In Europe, approximately 60% of veterinarians are engaged in the field of private or corporate clinical practice. Of these, many treat only pets such as dogs, cats, birds, small mammals (e.g. hamsters, guinea pigs), reptiles and fish. Other veterinarians limit their practice to the care of farm/ranch animals; some exclusively treat horses; and still others treat a combination of all species.

Source: The Federation of Veterinarians of Europe (FVE) - the umbrella body of veterinary organisations from 38 European countries. 

Public Health Veterinarians

Public Health Vets contribute to human as well as animal health. Many veterinarians work in the sector of food hygiene, where they protect the health of the consumer by watching over the safety of food products of animal origin, such as milk, meat, eggs and honey. They check and advise on how to prevent the possible contamination of food with germs, residues of medicines or environmental pollution. 

State Veterinary Officers

Vets who work for the government serve the public by preventing animal disease and promoting food safety. They may act as livestock inspectors, checking animals for transmissible diseases or carry out inspections in slaughterhouses. To prevent the introduction of foreign diseases into Europe, veterinarians are employed by state and federal regulatory agencies to quarantine and inspect animals and animal products brought into the country. They supervise interstate shipments of animals, test for diseases, and manage campaigns to prevent and eradicate diseases such as tuberculosis, brucellosis, BSE, and rabies that pose threats to animal and human health. Veterinarians also monitor the development and testing of new vaccines to ensure their safety and effectiveness and are responsible for enforcing animal welfare.

Veterinarian Teaching and Research

Some vets use their education to instruct veterinary students, other medical professionals, and scientists. Veterinary college/school faculty members conduct research, teach, and develop continuing education programs to help practicing veterinarians acquire new knowledge and skills.

Vets employed in research at universities, colleges, governmental agencies, or in industry are dedicated to finding new ways to prevent and treat animal and human health disorders.

Vets are also employed in management, technical sales and services, and other positions in agribusinesses, pet food companies, and pharmaceutical companies. 

Other Professional Veterinarian Activities

Vets also work in the military service and are responsible for food safety, veterinary care of government-owned animals, bioterrorism protection and biomedical research and development.

Some vets work in zoologic medicine, aquatic animal medicine, aerospace medicine (shuttle astronauts), animal shelter medicine, sports medicine (race horses, greyhounds), animal-assisted activity and therapy programs, and wildlife medicine also employ veterinarians. Two vets have even travelled into space as part of the NASA space shuttle program!

Read: Veterinarians - Vital for Animals, Vital for People!

Veterinary Nursing

A hugely popular career choice for those who passionately want to be involved in veterinary medicine is to become a Veterinary Nurse or Technician. Many veterinary nurses achieve more than enough leaving certificate points to become veterinary surgeons but choose veterinary nursing because nursing animals is what they wanted to do and it is a totally different job.

Veterinary Nursing in Ireland

In 2014, the total number of registered Veterinary Nurses in Ireland was 667. Of these, 92% (642) are female.  128 Veterinary Nurses joined the register in 2014 - 91 of these were new graduates:
  • 33 from UCD
  • 18 from Dundalk IT
  • 17 from Athlone IT
  • 14 from St. John's Central College of Further Education & Training and
  •  9  from Letterkenny IT

The growth in scale, demands and sophistication of veterinary practices has created a significant market for the services of veterinary nurses. 

Certified Veterinary Technicians or Nurses perform many lab procedures, aid in physical examination and restraint of pets during veterinary visits, perform dental cleaning procedures, help with surgeries, monitor anaesthesia and do many other things that people often think of as the Veterinarian's job. The college courses for this career usually take two to four years.

Currently, and for the foreseeable future, employment prospects for Veterinary Nurses are excellent. As with all animal-related work, it is crucial that you are dedicated, committed and that you don’t suffer from animal allergies. Working hours are unpredictable and varied and you will probably be required to work or be on call at weekends and evenings.

Getting into Veterinary Practice in Ireland

The only veterinary course within the State is the degree in Veterinary Medicine at UCD. Applicants should make sure they know exactly what they're getting into. It's important for any prospective candidates to talk to vets who are in practice and dispel any romantic notions that they might have. However, he says the job prospects for Vets are promising. "The career requires a high level of commitment, but there are great opportunities and virtually full employment". 

View UCD Veterinary Medicine video here.

Mandatory continuing veterinary education (CVE) was introduced in 2012 for all registered Vets to ensure that they remain up to date with current developments and offer reassurance to owners that their animals are receiving optimal veterinary care.

View UCD Graduate Certificate in Equine Sports video here.

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Animals header image

Alternatives to Veterinary Science for those interested in working with animals include Bioscience and Animal Science. A Bioscience degree involves studies in the structure and function of animals, their management and welfare in an agricultural, para-veterinary, laboratory or wildlife contexts. 

As an Animal and Bioscience student, you would learn how to apply the knowledge and principles of science to the understanding and management of the production, processing and marketing of animal products and to the management and conservation of our natural resources, including native and endangered species. A degree in this field provides good prospects for careers in the animal industries, and animal and biomedical research. 

Visit Teagasc Animal & Bioscience Research Department here.

Animal Science graduates have been highly successful in gaining employment in a wide variety of areas including:

  • Advisory and research roles
  • Animal feed industry
  • Procurement, processing and marketing of animal products
  • Second-level and agricultural education
  • Private consultancy
  • Farming and enterprise management.

In recent years, employment opportunities have risen in both the public service and private industry. The Animal Science qualification is also very suitable if you intend combining a professional career with part-time farming.


Zoologists study animals for a living, which can mean a wide range of career possibilities from conducting careful research work on rats and mice in a laboratory, to observing near-extinct animal species in their natural habitat, in remote locations. Zoology Research topics range from animal breeding patterns to disease resistance or how animals survive and adapt to new habitats.

Specialised zoology and zoo-keeping roles are few and far between in Ireland, so some graduates will pursue their chosen career abroad. Others may decide on academic, research or teaching careers. Zoologists may also work as consultants for zoo management, or with aid agencies, national governments, and pharmaceutical companies. Other career areas include environmental management, animal feed manufacturing and even journalism with the media.

People with animal science or zoology qualifications can also find employment in agriculture, fish farming, environmental science, wildlife conservation and the environmental management sectors.

The Equine Industry

Horse Racing and Breeding contribute almost €1bn annually to the Irish economy and employ over 17,000

people. There are some 7,700 registered thoroughbred horse breeders in Ireland and nearly 1.2m people attend race meetings during every year. Over 9,000 horses are in training, with are over 20,697 registered stallions, mares, and foals in the country.

The Irish sports horse sector caters for related disciplines such as show jumping and dressage. This sector directly employs 11,417 people and involves 47,096 people overall. There are an estimated 124,000 sports horses in Ireland. They contribute to the household incomes of 29,295 people. Sports horse breeding accounts for a total expenditure of €226m within the economy and the sector has 15,110 active breeders.

Careers for Dog-lovers

Animal Behaviorist - a person who works with both pets, and their owners, in implementing training programmes to solve undesirable pet behaviours. Animal Behaviourists are animal specialists who have focussed on research in the area of behavioural science.

Public Service dogs
 - people who work with public service canines such as military or police dogs; customs drug sniffer dogs; search and rescue dogs that are specifically trained to look for lost persons, or pair with dog therapists who visit hospitals, nursing homes, and schools to connect with sick, elderly or disabled people.

Dog Trainer
 -a person who teaches dogs both basic and advanced commands, and helps dog owners to teach the directives to their pets. Some dog trainers work with working breeds and service dogs; others may train dog actors for TV and film.

Dog Breeder - Dog breeding is about producing purebred puppies and selling them, but it is also about maintaining the specific dog breed standards and keeping the animals happy and healthy. This is a demanding line of business requiring serious time and monetary investment to become a reputable and responsible dog breeder.

The Petcare Industry - Petshops, Grooming, Daycare, Training, and Kennels are just some of the many areas that make-up the pet care industry in Ireland.

Boarding Kennel Attendant or Doggie Day Care Worker - Kennel Attendants care for and clean up after dogs admitted to boarding kennels for several days or weeks while their owners are on holiday etc.

Doggie Day Care Worker - typically looks after dogs while their owners are at work. Tasks will include walking and supervising a dogs’ playtime. Both kennels and daycare may operate from the same facility.

Petshop Assistant - Working in a pet supply outlet is generally about marketing all kinds of animal products, including dog foods, accessories and toys. With training and experience, you can progress to store manager or start your own pet supply business.

Dog Groomers - If you love to coif Cocker Spaniels, or primp Poodles, and like to make any dog look and smell good, this could be the career for you. Professional dog groomers style dogs not just for everyday comfort, but also for confirmation to breed and standards.

Dog Sitter / Dog Walker - Dog sitters generally go to homes to care for dogs by feeding, playing, walking, and cleaning up after them while their owners are away. Dog walkers provide daily walking services and are particularly common in larger cities where apartment dogs require more physical exercise than their masters have time to give them.
Dog Show Handler / Judge - Dog show handlers handle dogs during dog shows and championships, usually working towards earning champion titles. They are required to have lots of working experience with dogs and a strong understanding of dog breed standards. Dog show judges have lots f experience and a superior knowledge of breed standards, down to the line’s finest details.
Animal Welfare - Trained, authorised officers work with welfare organisations. The area of animal welfare and protection has been in the spotlight in recent years following the implementation of the new Animal and Welfare Act 2013. The Act includes provision for increased powers for authorised officers, such as a Vet, Gardaí or an ISPCA Inspector to investigate complaints of animal cruelty, impose stricter penalties on convictions. 

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