How Much Do Veterinarians Make?

a small white dog with brown ears being treated by two vets in scrubs

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How much money do veterinarians earn? Veterinary medicine is an economically stable profession with a salary that tends to increase steadily with each year of practice. In addition to years of experience, other factors influencing a veterinarian’s salary include the type of practice, geographic location, and whether the vet is a partner or an associate.

Compensation Overview

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that vets earn a median salary of $93,830. The best-paid veterinarians earn $162,450, while the lowest-paid earn $56,540.

Veterinarians surveyed by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) reported 67% of veterinarians’ incomes were between $60,000 and $150,000.

Starting Salaries for Veterinarians

Most veterinarians specialize in an animal category, and earnings depend on the type of veterinary practice in which you’re working. The American Veterinary Medical Association found some variations in starting salary based on the area of specialization.

 Companion animals include domestic pets, such as dogs, cats, and other small animals like rabbits, gerbils, and hamsters. Companion animal veterinarian clinic practices employ the most veterinarians. According to the 2019 AVMA Economic State of the Veterinary Profession, small animal vets start at a mean salary of $87,000 a year.

The starting salary for large animal exclusive vets is about $75,000. These veterinarians are also known as food animal vets (those treating farm animals like cows and pigs), zoological, or exotic animal vets.

Some vets serve more than one animal category (generalize), and these are known as mixed animal vets.

Mixed practice vets start with an average salary of $75,000.

Equine vets (those treating horses) start at the lowest salary, just above $50,000 a year. These are both the lowest paid and least common vets in the United States. Many equine vets work as mixed animal vets.

Veterinarian Salary by Experience Level

The average salary of a veterinarian steadily increases as they gain more experience. An internship after veterinary school may be required to gain additional experience if the vet wants to specialize.

Most veterinary post-graduate internships are paid, though it’s often at a lower rate than an entry-level job.

  • Internship: Pursuing an internship is optional. However, internships are a path toward specialization and potentially higher earnings. An internship is also an opportunity to gain mentorship experience that helps vets climb faster in the industry. According to the AVMA, vets who start their careers with an internship receive a mean starting salary of $32,894.
  • Entry-Level: An increasing number of graduated vets start directly in public or private practice and begin receiving entry-level salaries. First-year vets can expect to earn an average annual salary of between $70,000 and $85,000, according to the 2019 AVMA Economic State of the Veterinary Profession. The AVMA found some variations in starting salary based on the area of specialization, as noted above.
  • Mid-Level: After practicing veterinary medicine for a few years, veterinarians begin earning closer to the national average salary for vets at $84,555 annually, according to PayScale. Some private practices offer profit sharing and bonus incentives for their experienced doctors. Also, mid-level vets caring for companion animals are in higher demand and are likely to make above the average salary.
  • Experienced: The AVMA reports that veterinarians with board certification in a specialty area command average incomes exceeding $150,000 a year, while PayScale reports the salary of a generalist averages $88,326 a year before profit sharing and commissions.
  • Late Career (Partners): Partners in a practice have earnings that significantly outpace those of hired associates. According to PayScale, the average salary for late-career vets (non-specialized) is $91,752 and can be as high as $143,000, including regular salary, profit sharing, and dividends.

Salary by Type of Practice

Veterinarians work in a variety of industries in addition to private veterinary practices. With law enforcement and military branches using more animals to assist with security and locating contraband materials, local and national governments now require veterinarians. Some veterinarians conduct scientific research, and others hold faculty or staff positions in veterinary schools.

Commercial and Consulting: Commercial vets make the most money, with a mean annual salary of $160,000. These practices are for-profit practices specializing in one of the veterinary types listed above. The next highest-paid vet is the consultant, averaging around $150,000 a year. These vets may practice on animals while also providing industry guidance to other practices. 

Research and Education: Veterinary professors earn an average salary of $120,000 a year. As in all medical fields, discoveries further enable more sustainable treatment of diseases and disorders. The same is true in the field of animal care. Vet researchers earn a mean salary of about $110,000 a year.

Private Practice (Companion, Mixed, Food, & Equine): Private practices generally specialize, as noted above, by type of veterinarian. Companion animal practice vets generally earn the most, at an average of $110,000 a year. Mixed animal vets are generalists and earn an average annual income of $100,000 a year.

Food animal practice vets (usually treating farm animals) average about $100,000 annually, as well. The lowest-earning vet practices are equine (horses), with their vets paid a mean annual salary of $90,000.

Government & Military: Veterinarians working within the federal government or the armed forces also generate a mean income of about $100,000 a year. These vets often work with dogs, such as therapy or security dogs.

State and local governments need vets for their law enforcement dogs and other animals critical to government work. Also, local government-funded animal control facilities need vets to assist with diseased animals. These vets do about as well financially as federal and military vets, with an estimated annual income of $100,000.

Non-profit Practices: Non-profit rescue organizations also employ vets, who earn a mean salary of about $90,000 a year.

Salary by Location

Geography also plays a role in determining the amount that a vet can expect to earn.

Vets in major metropolitan areas tend to make more money but must also take into account the higher cost of living.

According to Zippia, the top 10 best-paying states for veterinarian salaries are Delaware, Arizona, Texas, Vermont, New Jersey, Alaska, Ohio, New Hampshire, California, and New York.

Job Outlook for Veterinarians

The BLS projects 15,600 new jobs will open in the field by the year 2028. Veterinarian jobs are set to grow by about 18%, compared with 16% in growth for other health diagnosing and treating practitioners occupations.

Estimate Your Earnings Potential

Becoming a qualified veterinarian requires a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree. To help aspiring vets plan for the future, the AVMA developed a compensation calculator. It is simple to use and can forecast income after graduation.

For example, if a student plans to graduate in 2020 at 23 years of age, work in a private practice that services companion animals in Ohio, and carry $50,000 in college debt, then the calculator forecasts that graduate’s salary to be between $75,000 and $84,000 a year.