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Why Veterinary Jobs Are Expected to Grow 19% by 2026

Why Veterinary Jobs Are Expected to Grow 19% by 2026
An increase in pet care spending is the primary source of employment growth of veterinary occupations, projected to nearly triple the average growth through 2026. Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com
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The Bureau of Labor Statistics says veterinary occupations are expected to add 51,700 new jobs and grow at a rate of 19% over the 2016–26 decade, almost 3 times faster than the 7% average projected for all occupations. These occupations include veterinarians, veterinary technologists and technicians, and veterinary assistants and laboratory animal caretakers.1

Several related factors are driving the rise in pet care spending and employment growth in the veterinary occupations and veterinary services industry in the 2016–26 BLS projections: a growing pet population, the aging of the pet population, and expanding pet treatment options.

Factors Driving Employment Growth

Several related factors are driving the rise in pet care spending and employment growth in the veterinary occupations and veterinary services industry in the 2016–26 BLS projections: a growing pet population, the aging of the pet population, and expanding pet treatment options.

Growing Pet Population

Pets are increasingly treated as companions or even as members of the family.2 The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) explains that “studies have shown that the bond between people and their pets can increase fitness, lower stress, and bring happiness to their owners.”3

Also, some researchers suggest that having dogs and cats can protect against developing allergies and asthma in childhood, while therapy dogs are used to help veterans and others cope with post-traumatic stress disorder.4

Pet ownership has increased over the last 30 years. One survey by the American Pet Products Association estimates the number of dogs kept as pets in the United States has increased 50 percent from 1988 to 2017.5

Furthermore, nearly two-thirds of households own a pet in 2018, compared with half of households in the United States in 1988.6 Cats and dogs account for the largest share of household pets: 2 out of 5 households have a dog, while 1 in 3 have a cat.7 These pets account for the greatest share of veterinary service visits.8

Aging of the Pet Population

The average life expectancy for both cats and dogs has increased over time. The average dog’s life expectancy increased 12.4 percent, from 10.5 years in 2002 to 11.8 years in 2016.

The average cat’s life expectancy increased 17.3 percent, from 11.0 years to 12.9 years over the same period.9 By comparison, according to the CDC, from 2002 to 2015 the average U.S. human life expectancy increased 2.3 percent.10

Owners’ focus on pet preventive care, advances in veterinary medicine and nutrition, and expanded treatment options are among the contributing factors to longer life expectancy for pets.11

Expanded Treatment Options in Diagnostics

Demand for veterinary medicine stems, in part, from advances in human healthcare and technology. Diagnostic tests and equipment used in human healthcare, such as X-rays, computed tomography (CT) scans, and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), are finding their applicability in veterinary care.12

These and many other advances indicate expanded testing and treatment options that veterinarians and technologists can perform on sick or injured animals.

The bottom line? All these factors are combining to create more opportunities in the veterinary profession.

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Source for this article: Stanislava Ilic-Godfrey, “Ahead of the pack: why are veterinary occupations growing much faster than average?” Beyond the Numbers: Employment & Unemployment, vol. 8, no. 4 (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, March 2019), https://www.bls.gov/opub/btn/volume-8/veterinary-occupations-growing.htm

This Beyond the Numbers article was prepared by Stanislava Ilic-Godfrey, economist in the Office of Employment and Unemployment Statistics, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.


1 The 2010 Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) system does not specifically define veterinary occupations as a unique veterinary group; instead, they fall under the broader Healthcare practitioners and technical, and Healthcare support occupational groups. Although other occupations, such as animal breeders, animal trainers, and nonfarm animal caretakers, work with animals or pets, they are not involved in the care of their health and are not examined in this article. See “Employment projections: table 1.2. Employment by detailed occupation, 2016 and projected 2026” (U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics, January 30, 2018), https://www.bls.gov/emp/ep_table_102.htm.

2 Mary Oaklander, “Science says your pet is good for your mental health,” Time, April 6, 2017, http://time.com/4728315/science-says-pet-good-for-mental-health/.

3 “About Pets and People” (Centers for Control and Disease and Prevention, September 28, 2018), https://www.cdc.gov/healthypets/health-benefits/index.html.

4 Marlene Cimons, “Your dog can make you feel better, and here’s why,” The Washington Post, September 19, 2016, https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/your-dog-can-make-you-feel-better-and-heres-why/2016/09/19/fde4aeec-6a2a-11e6-8225-fbb8a6fc65bc_story.html.

5 Andrew Rowan and Tamar Kartal, “Dog population & dog sheltering trends in the United States of America,” Animals 2018, from supplementary material accessed from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5981279/pdf/animals-08-00068.pdf. American Pet Products Association data show that the estimates of the dog pet population were 57.8 million in 1988 to 89.7 million in 2017. Similarly, a survey by the American Veterinary Medicine Association shows that the number of dogs kept as pets in 1986 was 52.4 million compared with 69.9 million in 2012. Note that these two surveys have different methodologies; however, both surveys show an increasing number of dogs kept as pets over time.

6 “Pet industry market size & ownership statistics,” American Pet Products Association National Pet Owners Survey 2017–18 (American Pet Products Association, 2018), http://americanpetproducts.org/press_industrytrends.asp.

7 Ibid.

8 According to the 2017 American Veterinary Medicine Association report, veterinarians in private practices had at least 90 percent of their time spent in contact with companion animals exclusive: Sum of (Canine, Feline, Avian (non-poultry) and Exotics). See the following link for more information: https://www.avma.org/KB/Resources/Statistics/Pages/Market-research-statistics-US-veterinarians.aspx.

9 Chris Taylor, “Pet health care costs rise as cats and dogs live longer than ever,” Time, September 13, 2016, http://time.com/money/4490014/pet-health-costs-rise/.

10 National Vital Statistics Report, vol. 66, no. 6, (Centers for Control and Disease and Prevention, November 27, 2017), https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr66/nvsr66_06.pdf.

11 Rick Docksai, “Extending pet longevity: our companions in sickness and health,” The Futurist, May–June 2014, http://aavmc.org/data/files/other%20documents/futurist_mj2014_docksai.pdf.

12 Melissa Giese, “Ultrasound has many uses in veterinary care,” Pet Health Columns (College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, March 11, 2015), http://vetmed.illinois.edu/pet_column/ultrasound-many-uses-veterinary-care/.