According to the American Pet Products Association, there are nearly 90 million pet dogs and a little over 94 million pet cats in the U.S. With so many Americans owning dogs and cats, many people think of their local small animal hospital, with a tiled room and an exam table, when they think of their veterinarian. But not all veterinarians spend their days in an animal hospital's exam room. Some travel daily, through all types of weather and at all hours of the day (or night), to make sure that large animals are healthy too. Someone has to make sure that the animals that can’t sleep inside the house are healthy; that’s where large animal veterinarians come in.
The day-to-day work of large animal veterinarians can vary a great deal. There are equine veterinarians who only treat horses, and may spend their days at a ranch, stable, or racetrack. There are large animal veterinarians who spend their time on farms caring for cows, sheep, goats, pigs, llamas, and alpacas. Some large animal veterinarians care for a mixture of all of these types of animals.
What happens when a horse cuts its leg on a fence? What about when a cow is having trouble giving birth? Not just anyone can suture up a laceration on a horse’s leg or deliver a calf in the middle of the night on a farm. Large animal veterinarians serve an important purpose and fill multiple roles.
Large Animal Veterinarians in the Federal Government
Large animal veterinarians bring invaluable experience to the federal government too. They serve in various government agencies, from NASA to the Army, but a large number of them work for the U.S. Department of Agriculture and some work right here in FDA.
In the federal government, some large animal veterinarians actively take care of animals as a regular part of their jobs. But often, they perform a wide range of duties that draw on their knowledge of and experience with food animals and other large creatures. For example, they may inspect meat and poultry to make sure everyone’s food is safe; they may review a new animal drug for horses to make sure the drug is safe and effective; or they may do research to develop better screening tests to stop harmful bacteria from getting into our food and animal feed. You can read more about what types of work veterinarians do in the federal government in Federal Veterinarians at Work.
Large Animal Veterinarians on Farms
Large animal veterinarians play an important role in protecting human and animal health by keeping food animals healthy, and therefore helping to maintain the safety of our food supply. The veterinarians who spend a lot of their time on a farm may treat various species such as cows, pigs, sheep, and goats. On the farm, veterinarians vaccinate food animals against disease, treat food animals when they are sick, and consult with farmers on production practices, nutrition, and housing practices. Veterinarians who work with food animals are not only responsible for the health of the individual animal or the herd or flock; they also have to make sure that the food that comes from those animals is safe for people to eat. When a food animal gets sick, large animal veterinarians provide treatment and ensure that the milk and meat from those animals are safe for people to consume.
Large animal veterinarians perform important and difficult work. They often brave inclement weather, travel long distances on country roads, and risk being kicked by animals that weigh far more than they do, to ensure the health of our horses, cows, and other large animals. Do you have what it takes to perform surgery on a half-ton animal or deliver a foal at 2 a.m.?