Maybe you were the child who always brought home stray pets. Everyone always said you'd make a great veterinarian someday. Now that you're considering careers, you may wonder if a vet salary is enough to live on comfortably and if it's worth all those years of education. By breaking down a typical veterinarian salary per month and subtracting typical living costs, you can determine if being a veterinarian is feasible for you.

Veterinarian Job Description

Veterinarians examine all kinds of animals for their overall wellness, vaccinate them against diseases and diagnose those that are ill or wounded. They typically treat them on the spot by cleaning and dressing wounds, stitching as needed, as well as prescribing medicine for illnesses and explaining to their humans how and when to give doses.

Vets monitor animals' weight and advise their humans if their animals should gain or lose weight to be their healthiest. Vets sometimes prescribe special diets for animals as well.

Typically, vets specialize in treating certain animals. So-called "exotic" animals, which include birds, amphibians, reptiles and mammals like rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters, hedgehogs and ferrets, need vets who have special training in treating these animals and are often called exotic veterinarians.

Other vets care for stable animals like horses or farm animals like cattle and sheep. Still, others monitor animals in the food supply for safety, sanitary conditions and disease.

Most veterinary offices, clinics and hospitals have the medical equipment they may need, including X-ray machines that help them diagnose everything from broken bones to tumors and arthritis. Vets are trained to perform most surgeries, including spaying and neutering. For more advanced surgeries, such as for cancer, and for cancer treatments like chemotherapy, vets may refer humans and their pets to veterinarians who specialize in cancer treatment.

Veterinary medicine has made huge strides in recent years so that, with treatment, animals can often live longer and fuller lives. However, when nothing more can be done medically or if animals are suffering, veterinarians are trained to euthanize animals humanely.

Education and Training Requirements

To become a veterinarian, you'll need four years of veterinary school after college. Admission is competitive for the country's 30 vet schools. Take lots of science classes, including anatomy, animal science, biology, chemistry, microbiology, physiology and zoology, plus social sciences and humanities.

Experience working or volunteering with veterinarians in clinics or hospital centers will also be a big plus. If you can't find that type of work, try an animal shelter, farm or horse stable.

Expect to spend the first three years of vet school in classrooms, labs and clinical environments studying animal anatomy and physiology in more depth. You'll also learn to diagnose, treat and prevent injuries and diseases. In your fourth year, you'll gain more concentrated, hands-on experience at a vet clinic or hospital.

Once you graduate with your Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) degree, you can look for employment at a clinic or hospital or do an internship in a specialized area, such as caring for exotics or zoo animals. After their internships, vets may then look for a job or go on to a residency where they hope to gain more skills and have more responsibility. Surveys have shown that vets who pursue both an internship and a residency earn higher salaries than vets who do an internship only or go right to work upon graduation.

All states require vets to pass the North American Veterinary Licensing Exam and usually an exam on their state's regulations. Be sure to check for requirements with the state where you plan to practice.

Veterinarians can also receive certifications that show expertise in specific areas of veterinary medicine approved by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), including anesthesia, dermatology, emergency medicine, surgery and more.

Veterinarian Salary Per Month

The median annual vet salary as of May 2017 was $90,420. A median salary is the midpoint in a list of salaries for an occupation, where half made more and half made less.

Divide that by 12 (months in a year) to arrive at $7,535 per month. Of course, that's gross salary before taxes. The actual amount a vet receives will be reduced by taxes. A vet salary of $90,420 puts the vet in the 24 percent tax bracket as an individual.

Multiplying $7,535 by .24 (24 percent) results in taxes of $1,808 per month. Subtracting that from $7,535 leaves $5,731 in take-home pay per month. Subtract from that the average American's living expenses per month:

  • Housing - $1,483 (rent or mortgage payment, utilities, taxes)
  • Transportation - $756 (car loan or public transportation, gas, insurance)
  • Food - $618
  • Cable - $99
  • Entertainment - $227
  • Cell phone - $100 
  • Health insurance - $100 (individual contribution to employer-paid plan)

Monthly expenses total $3,383. Subtracting expenses from take-home pay:

$5,731 minus $3,383 = $2,348 remaining per month.

Living on either coast or a major city could increase your living expenses, while living in less populous areas of the Midwest or South could decrease living expenses.

Looks like you have a nice sum remaining per month so you could indulge in luxury vacations, sports cars, a boat or other toys...Oh, wait! What about your student loans? If you're like most vets, you have student loans totaling an average of $141,000. You can have some of your debt forgiven by agreeing to work for three years in a rural or another area where vets are scarce, by serving in the Army on active duty or the Reserves, by teaching for two years at a health professions college or university and other programs that vary by state. The remaining amount will need to be repaid monthly.

Understanding the Veterinary Industry

Most veterinarians work in clinics or hospitals. Those who treat farm animals or horses often travel to their locations, even performing surgery on site as needed. Some work in labs as researchers or teach at universities. The majority work full time including extra hours. They sometimes work outdoors regardless of the weather or in cramped conditions like barns. It can be stressful working with frightened animals and anxious owners. Hazards of the job include being scratched, bitten or kicked (by the animals, not the owners).

Years of Experience

Just starting out, the average vet salary is $80,000 or less per year, or $5,200 per month after being reduced for taxes at 22 percent of gross salary. After years of experience, the average vet salary increases to $130,864, or $8,233 per month after taxes, with the top 10 percent earning as much as $159,320, which equates to $9,028 per month after taxes. While research sometimes appears to show that vet salaries are decreasing, they aren't. New vets are entering the workforce faster than older vets are retiring, so the new vet salaries are bringing down the averages.

Job Growth Trend for Veterinarians

You're smart to be concerned about whether being a vet is the right career choice for you, but also, will veterinarians be in demand in the future?

The demand for veterinarians is expected to grow 19 percent between 2016 and 2026, which is significantly faster than the average for all occupations. This is partly because veterinary science continues to improve treatments, techniques and surgeries, spurring the need for more vets to handle the extra work. The second reason for such large anticipated growth is that older vets will retire and new vets will be needed to take their place.