What Does a Veterinary Pathologist Do?

Learn About the Salary, Required Skills, & More

What is a veterinary pathologist: Determine cause of disease through observation and laboratory analysis, Advise veterinarians about diseases detected in sample tissues or fluids, Perform biopsies or necropsies

The Balance / Melissa Ling

Veterinary pathologists diagnose diseases and other conditions through the examination of animal tissue and bodily fluids. They play an important role in veterinary medicine because veterinarians are better informed about an animal's condition through the findings made by a veterinary pathologist. With these findings, the veterinarian can make the best determination for the animal's care.

Veterinary pathologists usually specialize by working in either anatomical veterinary pathology or clinical veterinary pathology. Anatomical veterinary pathologists diagnose diseases based on the examination of organs, tissues, and bodies. Clinical veterinary pathologists diagnose diseases based on the laboratory analysis of bodily fluids, including urine and blood.

Veterinary Pathologist Duties & Responsibilities

Veterinary pathologists are veterinarians. The job requires the ability to do the following work:

  • Perform biopsies or necropsies.
  • Determine the cause of a disease through observation and laboratory analysis.
  • Advise veterinarians in the field about diseases they detect in sample tissues or fluids.

Veterinary pathologists may also contribute to the development of drugs and other animal health products. They may conduct scientific research studies and advise government agencies about the spread and progression of various animal diseases that affect herd health. These pathologists diagnosed some well-known diseases that affect large animal populations, including swine flu (the H1N1 virus) and the bird (or avian) flu.

Veterinary Pathologist Salary

The Bureau of Labor Statistics includes veterinary pathologists in its data for veterinarians in general. Veterinary pathologists working in industrial fields, especially in pharmaceutical drug development, tend to earn top dollar. The incomes for veterinarians in 2018 were:

  • Median Annual Salary: $93,830 ($45.10/hour)
  • Top 10% Annual Salary: More than $162,450 ($78.10/hour)
  • Bottom 10% Annual Salary: Less than $56,540 ($27.18/hour)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2018

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, not many states accept veterinary licenses from other states, so there may be additional fees for relicensing if you relocate. Some states, including Virginia, have continuing education requirements and these courses can result in additional education costs over the course of a career. Insurance costs generally cover professional liability rather than the personal health of the veterinary pathologist.

Education, Training & Certification

Those looking for a career as a veterinary pathologist will need extensive schooling and certification.

  • Education: Veterinary pathologists must complete a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) degree before pursuing a multi-year residency which provides additional specialty training.
  • Additional Training: The path to board certification requires three years of additional training after achieving a DVM degree. Those pursuing a Ph.D. degree in the field must complete even more training. Coursework can include immunology, molecular biology, necropsy and biopsy, and hematology.
  • Certification: The final step in the process requires passing a rigorous board certification exam. The American College of Veterinary Pathologists (ACVP) administers the certifying exam in the United States. The ACVP has more than 2,000 members in 17 countries. The organization also provides scholarship opportunities and maintains a list of externships to help aspiring veterinary pathologists gain the necessary experience to enter the field.
  • Externship: United States-based externships are available at many top facilities, including Johns Hopkins, MIT, Purdue University, Texas A&M, Emory University, Wake Forest, the National Institute of Health, the National Fish and Wildlife Forensics Lab, SeaWorld, and the Smithsonian National Zoo.
  • Continuing Education: Continuing education credits must also be completed annually to maintain certification status.

Veterinary Pathologist Skills & Competencies

You should have several essential qualities to succeed at becoming a veterinary pathologist:

  • Verbal and writing skills: You must accurately and clearly convey your findings to veterinarians and others on the treatment team.
  • Manual dexterity: You'll use a variety of medical instruments, sometimes on minuscule samples and delicate tissue.
  • Analytical skills: You must accurately interpret what you find and the results of various tests.
  • A thick skin: This occupation requires a strong personality because you won't always deal with live animals. You'll also handle deceased animals, tissues, or fluids.

Job Outlook

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) doesn't separate the specialty of veterinary pathology from the data for all veterinary careers, but it does project a positive outlook for those pursuing a career in any veterinary-related occupation.

According to the BLS, the veterinary industry should experience growth of about 19% between 2016 and 2026. This is due to an increase in consumer spending on animal healthcare and wellbeing. The agency also cited quick advancements in veterinary medicine and technology.

Work Environment

Veterinary hospitals, colleges and universities, government agencies, research laboratories, pharmaceutical companies, and diagnostic laboratories hire veterinary pathologists. According to the ACVP, 44% of veterinary pathology diplomats work in private industry, 33% work in academia, and 33% work with government agencies or other private employers. Of those working in private industry, nearly 60% are employed by pharmaceutical companies.

Work Schedule

Most veterinarians work full time, including those in various specialties. Working nights and weekends is not uncommon, although this is generally reserved for emergency situations with living pets.

How to Get the Job


Study.com offers an interactive school search tool for veterinary programs to help you zero in on factors that are important to you.


Further specialization is possible for those who pursue doctorate degrees in molecular biology, toxicology, and other pathology-related fields. It's very common for pathologists to choose to focus on one particular type of animal. For example, the American Association of Avian Pathologists addresses only issues related to birds.


The VET Recruiter offers some excellent resume tips for those hoping to enter veterinary professions.

Comparing Similar Jobs

Some similar jobs and their median annual pay include: 

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2018