There are many items in our homes and environment that can affect our pets, outdoor birds, insects and other wildlife. Understanding how pollution and radiation affects animals, how our pets react to household chemicals, and what problems are transmitted to our pets or outdoor animals because of human behaviors, is part of the job of the veterinary toxicologist.
What is a Veterinary Toxicologist?
The field of veterinary toxicology is very broad. According to the American Board of Veterinary Toxicology, a veterinarian toxicologist studies both naturally produced toxins that come from plants, animals, bacteria, fungi, and phytoplankton, and the toxins that are a result of pharmaceuticals, feed additives, radiation and environmental agents. One of the main things that a veterinary toxicologist does, is help people understand the toxicological hazards that may affect pets, livestock, and wildlife.
There are many elements to the work that a veterinary toxicologist may do. There may be field work involved, where the individual travels to a specific site in order to gather samples and information, and assess a need. There is likely to be laboratory work involved, where information is analyzed and processed, and there are opportunities to work with veterinary clinics to assist in the diagnostics and investigations performed.
In addition to helping animals, a veterinary toxicologist may be involved in keeping our food supply safe, by analyzing and evaluating information from both the veterinary and animal health industries that are involved in raising and processing animals for food.
With new technology and information developing around both human and animal health, the field of toxicology is on the frontline of observation and research. For example, the University of Illinois, at Urbana-Champaign College of Veterinary Medicine, offers a comparative biosciences focus that includes comparative pharmacology and toxicology.
The following are among their current research studies:
The field of veterinary toxicology can be tailored to the specific interests and career goals of the aspiring veterinarian who seeks to work within any of these areas.
Educational Requirements for Becoming a Toxicology Veterinarian
The minimum educational requirement for a toxicology veterinarian is a doctoral degree in veterinary medicine, with specific training in toxicology.
Step-by-Step Educational Path to Becoming a Toxicology Veterinarian
As with all advanced education, the journey starts with a bachelor’s degree. This time of undergraduate study is the foundation for all future study and education that will be required in order to reach a student’s career goals. The best chance for getting the most value out of the undergraduate program, is to understand how these years influence the future. These can be broken down into four categories:
Starting with experience. The four years most people spend at the undergraduate level should include veterinary experience that shows a strong commitment and focus for working directly with animals, or on their behalf. A research assistant position would be ideal for an aspiring veterinary toxicologist, as it will provide a foundation of scientific knowledge and skill, which can be built upon in future years. Other opportunities include direct animal care by volunteering at a veterinary clinic, humane society, refuge or zoo that allows students to get experience with animals and see how they and their environments play a role in an animal’s overall health.
During undergraduate school, it is also important to pay special attention to prerequisite course requirements for prospective students that are published on most veterinary college websites. These courses must be completed successfully, in order to apply to veterinary school, and are also the basis for entrance exams that are required for consideration.
Most veterinary schools require taking either the MCAT or the GRE in order to be considered for admission. Both of these tests can be taken in the junior year of undergraduate training. Every veterinary school will publish their minimum test score requirements. A little bit of research will also show what test scores are expected of their average incoming students. This information should inform the student on how high they need to score to be a competitive candidate for admission, which directly affects the time and effort they put into their studies and preparation for the test.
Finally, the student must be focused on their classes and school work, with special attention to both their cumulative GPA and their science-based GPA. All courses required for veterinary school should be taken by an aspiring veterinarian, regardless of their major. The correct number of credit hours in both classroom and lab should also be completed.
Veterinary school has a very competitive and thorough application process. Most schools require, or advise a student be able to submit the following:
In order to make their application more competitive, students can take advantage of research assistant opportunities in undergraduate school, use days off for internships or other experience, and take special time to prepare for the major tests and interviews that will be required, prior to admission.
Once admitted into veterinary school, the student will continue their science-based coursework, and have the opportunity to do clinical rotations for hands-on experience helping animals. Those focused on toxicology should look for internships, and opportunities for field-work or research assisting. Toxicologists usually work in a variety of private practices, commercial agricultural businesses, agencies, and universities. Gaining experience as early as possible will help the student find a position upon graduation.
Internship and Residencies
In some cases, post-doctoral training is beneficial, as it can add to the over all experiences and knowledge of the veterinarian. Internships can also help give the veterinarian the important hands-on skills needed to develop strategies, testing, recording, and reporting that is required of veterinary toxicologists. Internships can be found at any university with a veterinary toxicology department. The American Board of Veterinary Toxicology also has opportunities for recognition.
Some universities offer a Toxicology Residency Program that trains students to perform clinical and diagnostic tests, and prepares students for a career as a toxicologist. These programs usually last one year to three years.
The American Board of Veterinary Toxicology has a board certification exam, and committee. Their mission statement is: “To establish and maintain the highest possible standards of training and experience for qualifications as specialists in veterinary toxicology.” To obtain a veterinarian license, a student is tested on a variety or subjects, including:
More information can be found at the American Board of Veterinary Toxicology Website.
Understanding the Career Path
A veterinary toxicologist can choose form a variety of work environments. In part, the experience a vet gets leading up to, and through veterinary school, as well as the choice of continuing education post-veterinary school, will help determine which area the veterinarian is most suited.
Some veterinary toxicologists work in a laboratory setting, where they analyze the specimens, information and data that comes to them from veterinary clinics, university studies, and in the field. Working alongside poison control personnel, this work helps diagnose sick animals by determining what toxins or chemicals may be in the environment.
Other veterinary toxicologists may spend more of their time in the field, gathering samples, responding to breakouts of illness and disease, and working with farmers or agricultural centers to determine what measures need to be taken to keep livestock healthy. Working in the field as a toxicologist can LAO include analyzing water samples, developing strategies for hazard and risk assessments, and working to understand how environmental contaminants, drugs and pesticides, affect wildlife.
The salary range for a veterinary toxicologist varies dramatically depending on geographical location, workplace, and level of experience. A person working at a university can expect a salary that ranges between $60,000 and $150,000. Research organizations pay a higher salary of between $150,000 to $200,000, per year.
One advantage to being a veterinary toxicologist is that the hours are generally normal; working day hours versus the need to be available for emergencies or after hours calls, which can be commonplace for other veterinarians.
Tips for Success in the Field of Toxicology Veterinary from our Expert
It is important to learn as much chemistry, in as much detail as possible in order to work with the challenging cases that can emerge as a toxicologist. In some cases, no much information is known about a case and this knowledge base will help the veterinarian figure out what happened and come up with a plan to ensure other animals are not put at the same risk.