11 interesting roles working with animals

If you’re an animal lover with a desire to make a difference, then there’s no reason why you can’t fulfill your dream of working with nature’s wonderful creatures. From retraining as a Veterinary Nurse to becoming a Pet Nutritionist; here are 11 interesting and varied roles that will allow you to spend your days working closely with all animals, great and small…

1. Assistance Dog Trainer

Are you looking for a career with a bit of ‘staying’ power? Could you help to train generations of canine heroes?

Dogs are incredible animals for many reasons; but top of the list has to be their intelligence and their strong sense of loyalty. These characteristics are so highly apparent in specific dog breeds, such as Labradors and Golden Retrievers, that they can be trained to guide, lead and assist people with disabilities such as sight or hearing loss, helping them to live as normal a life as possible.

Qualified assistance dogs act in such a protective and helpful manner that sometimes it’s hard to believe they aren’t human! However, as clever as they are, there is a lot of work that goes into training these dogs before they are paired up with a person with a disability. Their training must be flawless, otherwise they could lead the person they are helping into danger, e.g. a blind person into a busy road.

That’s where Assistance Dog Trainers step in – to make sure that a dog is fully qualified for his or her position, by teaching them everything they need to know to be able to help their future companion.

As an Assistance Dog Trainer, you could work with puppies, training them up to become fully qualified adult assistance dogs. This role has a really high satisfaction rate, as you will follow puppies on their journey to their new role, until ultimately they are able to give a new lease of life to someone who needs them.

So, how do you go about getting involved? There is no set criteria needed to apply for a job as an Assistance Dog Trainer, but it does help if you have a degree in animal behaviour or you have plenty of experience of working with dogs. If you’re new to the game however and are keen to get stuck in straight away, then organisations like Guide Dogs UK and Hearing Dogs for Deaf People will take on trainees with little or no experience in paid positions, and provide them with complete training. It’s best to start by contacting organisations like these directly, to find out more about what’s involved. They may also be able to point you in the direction of volunteering opportunities that could help give you a better idea about whether it’s the right role for you.

2. Veterinary Nurse

Are you a warm, friendly and compassionate person? Do you have a genuine love of animals? If yes, then it’s worth considering a career as a Veterinary Nurse, where you’ll help to care for and rehabilitate sick or injured animals. Veterinary Nurses typically work in veterinary surgeries or practices, but they can also work for animal charities or zoos, sometimes providing emergency or specialised care.

Generally, the day in the life of a Veterinary Nurse is full of variety because you never know which animals will come through the door, or what sort of care they’ll require. You could be caring for anything from a poorly Labrador who has eaten something they shouldn’t, through to an injured bird found stranded by the side of the road. General duties usually include monitoring animals, making sure they’re as comfortable as possible, administering treatments like injections, tablets and blood transfusions, as well as feeding, grooming and walking animals where necessary. Veterinary Nurses also work closely with Veterinarians to make sure that animals receive the best possible care.

Keen to make your dream of working with animals come true? One of the best ways to get started is by enrolling on a Level 3 Diploma in Veterinary Nursing at your local college, adult education or veterinary school. This vocational course will allow you to get hands on and put your theoretical knowledge into practice. You can either take the course full-time, or part-time on an apprenticeship-style basis alongside a part-time job as an assistant in a Veterinary practice.

Upon successful completion of the course, you will be able to apply for professional registration as a Registered Veterinary Nurse (RVN) with the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS), which means you can start applying for professional roles.

See a list of RCVS approved diploma courses

The link below will download a PDF containing a list of approved diploma courses from the RCVS website.

Or if you don't want to become a Veterinary Nurse, consider taking a Veterinary Support Assistant course instead...

3. Pet Behaviourist

pet behaviourist

Do you sometimes wish that you could get inside the minds of animals, and find out what they’re thinking or feeling? Well, as a Pet Behaviourist, you can.

Pet Behaviourists are commonly called to deal with cats or dogs who are exhibiting unusual or worrying behaviour – usually after any sort of medical condition is ruled out by a vet. For example, a dog might be resisting going out for a walk for no known reason, or a cat might have withdrawn and taken to hiding in strange places. Pet owners will be looking to find out from you, why their pet is acting this way and what they can do to resolve it; usually so that both the animal and the owner can become much happier and strengthen their bond.

The routes into this profession can vary with some people preferring to study a degree in animal behaviour, and others preferring to apply for a job working closely with animals (for example in a dog kennel, or animal rescue centre) and train on the job.

If you’re still trying to work out whether a career in animal behaviour is something that you’d really like to do, then you could also start by gaining voluntary experience with an animal charity – which will give you a chance to talk to people in the industry and find out more about whether it’s the right career for you.

4. Zoo Keeper

Were you born to be wild? Then a job as a Zookeeper could be just what you’ve been looking for…

Zookeepers are responsible for looking after the welfare of animals in places like zoos, safari or wildlife parks, aquariums or any other animal attractions that are open to the public. These animals could be anything from lions and tigers, through to dolphins and penguins. Zookeepers generally make sure that animals have a safe, yet stimulating space to live in, which mimics how they would live in the wild as much as possible. They also watch animals for signs of illness, injury or pregnancy, as well as feeding them and administering regular medication where necessary. The role would best suit individuals with a strong interest in wild animals and conservation, who aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty – as the role can often involve tasks such as cleaning out animal pens, and fixing equipment!

It’s not essential to have a degree to become a Zookeeper, but you will need to work at gaining the knowledge and skills needed to really excel in the role, and understand the animals that you’re looking after. One way to do this is by taking a Level 3 Extended Diploma in Animal Management at your local college or adult education centre, and then applying for a Trainee Zookeeper role, so you can continue to learn on the job.

If you’re unsure whether a career as a Zookeeper would be suitable for you, then before investing time in qualifications and training, it’s a good idea to contact your local zoo or animal attraction near you, and ask them whether they can take you on as a volunteer. This will give you the chance to network, see exactly what Zookeepers do and work out whether this is something that you’d enjoy.

5. Dog Walker or Sitter

Are you barking mad about the idea of spending your days hanging out with a bunch of mutts? Then why not try your hand at dog walking or sitting…

They’re usually in high demand and once a dog owner sees how well you’ve bonded with their companion, it’s likely that they’ll become a regular user of your services, and may also recommend you to others. Dog owners want to be able to go to work, or out in the evening, feeling confident that their pooch will be well looked after while they are away.

The great thing about walking or sitting for dogs (apart from being surrounded by dogs) is that you can do it on a self-employed basis; choosing how many dogs you want to take on at any one time, and what days or hours you are prepared to work. You’ll also be able to set your own hourly or daily rate, which will usually be influenced by what others are charging for walking or sitting services locally.

If you think you’d like to give it a go, then all you really need to get started is a reasonable level of fitness and a love of dogs – and it’s also worth getting specific insurance for dog walkers or sitters, which will usually include public liability insurance. This means that if a dog is to be injured or become unwell whilst in your care, then the cost of any claims against you are covered.

The best way to start building a client base is to start dog walking or sitting for friends or family, and ask them to recommend you to people they know. You can also try making and handing out leaflets advertising your services in your local area, or you can visit websites like Tailster, which will connect you with dog owners near you.

6. Animal Care Assistant

animal care assistant

Being poorly or injured can be a very distressing time for animals, but Animal Care Assistants can make all the difference. As an Animal Care Assistant you could work for a veterinary surgery or an animal charity such as the RSPCA, where you’ll be responsible for tending to each animal’s individual needs (which could involve things like comforting, socialising or grooming them), meeting and greeting pet owners, communicating with supporters / adopters, and completing relevant paperwork.

To land a job as an Animal Care Assistant, you’ll usually need to be kind and approachable with excellent communication skills. It may also help to take a short course to boost your confidence and enhance your employability. Oxbridge Home Learning offer a Level 3 distance-learning course in Animal Care, which covers all the main areas of animal care from correct handling, to understanding body language, through to basic anatomy and physiology.

Get trained up...

Ready to apply for roles now?

7. Beekeeper

Beekeeping can be an un-bee-lievably rewarding way to make a living. Not only will you get a real buzz from working in the great outdoors, you’ll also get to work closely with these hardworking, fuzzy little creatures; maintaining healthy beehives and providing them with everything they need to be able to pollinate plants and produce honey.

Beekeeping is about so much more than simply ‘keeping an eye on a beehive’ – the role involves a lot of hard work, dedication and patience. Whilst a Beekeeper will monitor a hive to assess its health, check for mite infestations and treat it when health problems arrive, Beekeepers can also be responsible for feeding bees, cleaning and constructing hives, preparing equipment for pollination activities, raising and replacing queen bees, dividing colonies if needed and replacing combs. As a Beekeeper, you’ll usually work long hours during the summer months to provide the bees with everything they need come rain or shine.

To do well in this role you’ll need to be fairly brave and have a genuine passion for bees – it’ll also help if you can stay calm under pressure, as bees don’t respond well to erratic behaviour.

Think you’d like to make a beeline for a career in beekeeping? Then it’s worth taking a short online course to give you some basic background knowledge on beekeeping first, which will help you decide whether it’s definitely something that you want to do. Whilst you’re getting familiar with your beekeeping responsibilities, it’s best to start small – for example, by keeping a small colony of bees as a hobby. It can also help to join the British Beekeeping Association (BBKA) who can give you plenty of advice and guidance.

Once you’re comfortable in your role, you can think about the business side of things and start making a profit by selling honey, beeswax and royal jelly – and when you’re feeling confident enough, you can also offer a bee collection service, where you can safely remove bees nests from people’s homes and add them to your own bee farm.

8. Animal Physiotherapist

Animal Physiotherapists work with animals who are injured or have problems with movement, to try and help improve their pain and quality of life. There are no limits on the range of animals you may end up treating in this role, from pets, to farm, or even zoo animals. You will typically focus on problems affecting bones, muscles, the heart, lungs and circulation system and you can use a range of physiotherapy techniques including hydrotherapy, massage and specially formulated exercise plans.

In order to excel in this role, you will need to have an in depth knowledge of the anatomy and physiology of animals, and be able to recognise when they have limited movement, or any other conditions that may affect their health whilst they are in your care. Animal Physiotherapists do not have the advantage of speaking to their client about their mobility problems to get greater insight into the problem (like physiotherapists who work with humans do), so they must really know the animals they work with.

If you’re interested in becoming an Animal Physiotherapist, then you will need to do some higher education training. However, the course you take will depend on your background:

If you have no experience or qualifications at all, then you could complete an undergraduate degree in veterinary physiotherapy.

Or, if you already have a degree in human physiotherapy or veterinary nursing, then you could take a postgraduate course in animal/veterinary physiotherapy.

Both routes above will enable you to register as a Veterinary Nurse with the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, and start practicing in the UK.

To get accepted onto a degree course, it will help if you have some experience working with animals already. If you don’t then you can always start by contacting your local vets to ask if they have any opportunities for you to volunteer.

Once qualified, it’s a good idea to join a professional organisation like The Association of Chartered Physiotherapists in Animal Therapy (ACPAT) or the International Association of Animal Therapists (IAAT). You’ll also be able to decide whether you want to work on a self-employed basis or apply for a role in a veterinary practice or with an animal charity.

9. RSPCA Inspector

Would you like to help put an end to animal cruelty? Could you swoop in and save an animal when they need you the most? RSPCA Inspectors form the frontline in the prevention of animal cruelty, changing animals lives for the better and educating the owners who care for them. You could be doing anything such as rescuing a dog from unsanitary living conditions, to assisting a horse that has become entangled in a wire fence.

Whilst this role can be hugely rewarding, because everyday you are actively making a difference to an animals wellbeing, it can also be very challenging both physically and emotionally. Sometimes you will need to lift heavy equipment and animals, and on occasion could find yourself working around water, so you’ll need to be a strong swimmer and reasonably fit. You may also find yourself having to face confrontational, aggressive, or emotionally disturbing situations, so you should be prepared to handle anything that’s thrown your way!

You don’t need any formal qualifications to become an RSPCA Inspector, however experience working with animals will give you an advantage. Once you’ve applied for a role, if accepted, you will receive full training, some of which will be a 16 week residential programme, where full-board accommodation will be provided.

If you’re keen to apply for a position, then it’s best to contact your local RSPCA centre to find out more.

10. Wildlife Conservation Officer

wildlife conservation officer

If you love being outdoors and you feel passionate about protecting beautiful, natural areas through publicity, conservation work and scientific monitoring, then you might want to think about becoming a Nature Conservation Officer. They tend to work for local authorities, wildlife trusts or government organisations, and their main responsibility is to help wildlife flourish via a range of methods including; monitoring biodiversity, increasing awareness of conservation in the community and preparing conservation plans and reports.

In today’s modern world, it is not uncommon for the importance of wildlife and natural spaces to be overlooked, but Wildlife Conservation Officers do their bit to reduce the threat that human activity can have on natural habitats, to allow species to continue to thrive.

To become a Wildlife Conservation Officer, you will usually need to choose one of two options:

  1. Complete an undergraduate degree in Wildlife Conservation, or if you already have a degree in a subject related to wildlife, such as Biology, Environmental Studies or Geography, then you may still be considered.
  1. If you would prefer not to take a degree, then it’s also possible to gain entry into the role without one, but you’ll need to build up some work experience in the field first. You could apply to be a conservation volunteer or a Wildlife Assistant with a charity or a wildlife centre. This will allow you to build up skills, network and find out whether the role is right for you.

11. Dog Groomer

dog groomer

Dog Grooming is a great option for anyone who wants to unleash their creativity, whilst getting to work closely with lots of four-legged friends. But whilst dog grooming can be a fun and varied career, it can also be quite physical as you’ll be working with dogs of all sizes, coat types and temperaments – and not all dogs enjoy being washed and fluffed!

However, for those up for taking on a new challenge, this is a role that will allow you to carry on learning long after you do your initial training. Dog Groomers are essentially like hairdressers or beauty therapists for dogs! They make dogs look and smell fantastic by providing a full range of grooming services from washing, drying, brushing and trimming, through to nail clipping, ear and teeth cleaning. The way that you groom a dog will usually follow the specific grooming standards for their breed, or could be based on a specific look or style that the owner has in mind.

Whilst some Dog Groomers prefer to work in a salon as part of a team, others prefer to go solo and set up their services on a self-employed basis, often grooming dogs in their own home. You don’t need any formal qualifications to start grooming dogs, as there are plenty of salons out there that will take on trainees. But, for those who are keen to gain a few extra skills and boost their confidence before they apply for their first role, or alternatively if you want to head out on your own straight away, it can be helpful to take a Level 3 Dog Groomer course, which will teach you all the basics you need to give every dog the pawfect look!

Take a Dog Grooming Diploma course

Or apply for a job as a trainee...

For those who want to work with animals on a voluntary basis…

If you think that a career working with animals isn’t for you, but you’d still like to spend some time with them and help where you can, then it’s worth looking at volunteer opportunities that may be available near you. These are wide-ranging – some require just an hour of your time a week, whilst others could involve an animal coming to live with you for a while. To explore your options, try taking a look at our section on volunteering with animals.

Do you have any other ideas for roles that work with animals? Or do you have an experience you’d like to share? We’d love to hear from you at [email protected].

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