Animal health includes all aspects necessary to ensure the well-being of animals, including disease prevention and treatment, veterinary medicine, nutrition, proper handling and care, and more. Animal health is closely related to the broader concept of animal welfare, which is defined by the American Veterinary Medical Association as “how an animal is coping with the conditions in which it lives.” These fields cover the health of both pets kept for companionship as well as livestock and other farm animals.
The study of animal health is important--and challenging--in part because animals are limited in their ability to care for themselves and cannot directly express their needs verbally. Traditionally, animal health professionals had to rely largely on expert knowledge of animal behavior to diagnose illnesses, injuries, or other health issues. However, the ability to gather and analyze much more in-depth data on the health of animal populations as well as individual animals has provided valuable new tools in bioinformatics.
Regardless of the types of animals in question or the methods of diagnosis used, animal health is a growing part of the healthcare marketplace. Caring for the health of livestock and farm animals is particularly important, as outbreaks of diseases can have significant impact on public health and safety as well as consumer food prices.
Just as animal health is a wide-ranging topic of study, there are a number of different career pathways available to people interested in this field. Perhaps the most familiar animal health professionals are veterinarians, who are equivalent to doctors in this field and are generally required to have a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree from an accredited university as well as state-issued licenses to practice.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment of veterinarians is projected to increase by 18% from 2018 to 2028--a much faster growth rate than jobs in the rest of the economy. Similarly, employment of veterinary technicians, who are responsible for administering medical tests to diagnose animal health issues, is projected to increase by 19% over this period.
The opportunities to work in animal health don’t stop there. Wildlife biologists and wildlife rehabilitators study the condition of animals in natural ecosystems, and help restore injured animals back to health before they are returned to the wild. Animal behaviorists and trainers are experts on understanding why animals act the way they do. And there are a growing number of jobs providing services to pet owners, including pet insurance agents, animal psychologists, and even animal massage therapists.
In other words, if you love animals, there are plenty of opportunities to work in animal health, regardless of your skill set.
Compared to on-campus alternatives, online learning options for animal health can offer advantages such as lower costs and greater flexibility in pursuing the exact same level of education.
As the world’s leading online learning platform, Coursera offers a wide range of animal health-related courses from top universities like Duke University, University of Florida, University of Edinburgh, and Penn State. A survey of the most popular courses on the platform demonstrates the breadth of animals you can learn about online. Courses on topics like veterinary medicine, animal behavior and welfare, animal psychology, and even The Truth About Cats and Dogs are available to match your interests and goals--whether it’s launching a career in animal health or just better understanding your own pets or farm animals.
Time spent working with animals, either professionally or on a volunteer or personal level, is the best experience you can have before studying animal health. This could mean working as a technician at a veterinary clinic, volunteering at an animal shelter, working on a farm, volunteering at a zoo, or simply raising your own pets. A previous education in topics like biology, marine biology, equine science, poultry science, or any similar topic may also be beneficial.
People who enjoy working with animals and learning more about them are best suited for roles in animal health. You'll also have to be someone who works well under pressure and is able to think critically in urgent situations. Decisiveness is also important, especially if you plan to enter a field like veterinary medicine. You'll need to be flexible and able to adapt to any situation you encounter, and you'll need to be someone who maintains a positive attitude, even in situations that may be upsetting. Teamwork skills are important, because you'll likely be working with multiple other professionals in your field to come up with a solution to animal health problems. That means you'll need good interpersonal skills too. When working with animals, you often find yourself working with their owners, and, in some situations, you may be presenting them with news that is tough to hear. For this reason, you'll need to be empathetic.
Anyone with a passion for animals and their well-being is the perfect candidate to learn about animal health. Even if you don't want to enter the field professionally, learning about animal health can make you a better pet owner or hobby farmer.
Any type of science education, like biology, zoology, or chemistry, will complement your animal health studies. Psychology may also be beneficial, as can topics like veterinary science and agriculture, depending on what you want to do with your education.
Many people who study animal health go on to work in veterinarian offices, but the opportunities don't stop there. You can work on a farm, in a zoo, in an aquarium, in an animal shelter, at an animal rehabilitation center, or at a national park. You can work as an educator at the high school or college levels, or you may enter the field of research and work for a lab, university, private company, or government agency.