If you’ve never heard of a veterinary microbiologist, these research veterinarians specialize in the study of a variety of microorganisms which can cause disease in animals. These organisms include parasites, viruses, and bacteria.
This is similar to the work that other microbiologists perform when studying disease-causing microorganisms in human beings. Especially when the microbiology involves primates, as they genetically very similar to humans. So a breakthrough in this area could lead to new treatments for human-borne diseases as well.
Because veterinary microbiology is research work primarily performed in laboratories, these veterinarians rarely administer to pets or other animals brought into clinics or veterinary hospitals. So if you prefer a hands-on job working directly with dogs, cats, horses or other animals, you might want to pursue a different career field.
About the work of an animal microbiologist
As mentioned earlier, most veterinary microbiologists work in a laboratory setting, and they generally keep regular office hours (unlike many other veterinarians, who are on emergency call and end up working nights, weekends and holidays). So this could be an important consideration if you prefer to work a regular schedule.
A veterinary microbiologist can be called on to perform a wide variety of assignments depending on the position, the facility and the employer. There are a number of businesses and organizations that have need for this type of animal research work, including diagnostic labs, universities and colleges, veterinary hospitals and clinics, and even the manufacturers of pet and animal health medications and products.
Positions in animal microbiology are varied, and can include specialities such as virology, immunology, bacteriology, parasitology and more. There can also be a focus on a specific group of diseases, or one or more animal species.
The work can include basic scientific research, teaching, animal product development (including new vaccines and drugs), professional consultation, and working closely with clinics and general veterinary practitioners. Working conditions and environments can also vary, as the biologist can perform his or her work as part of a team, or alone and unsupervised in a research laboratory.
While in the laboratory, a vet microbiologist typically performs a range of duties depending on the speciality, area of interest, and employer. This work can include the examination of animal fluids and tissue samples using spectrometers, microscopes, Bunsen burners, centrifuges, pipettors, and other specialized lab equipment.
As you might imagine, this can be exacting, painstaking work, will little room for error in most cases. Most microbiologists have cool, analytical minds, and are able to focus their attention on their work for hours at a time. Depending on the situation, there are often opportunities for the biologist to conduct independent scientific research, and even publish those findings in professional and peer-reviewed journals.
Training and certification
As you might imagine, a good education from a certified college or university is required to find an entry-level position as a veterinary microbiologist. A degree in veterinary medicine is a good starting point, then typically a Ph.D. in veterinary microbiology is the next step.
There are other, less rigorous routes into this field, including the candidate having completed at least Master’s degree, then gaining considerable hands-on experience working in the field, usually in a veterinary research facility, or at a university or college.
There are other, less rigorous routes into this field, including the candidate having completed at least Master’s degree, then gaining considerable hands-on experience working in the field, usually in a veterinary research facility, or at a university or college. This in-the-field experience could include scientific research, teaching or tutoring other students, consulting with practicing veterinarians, or working in a research or diagnostic lab.
Once course work is complete, the aspiring veterinary microbiologist is required to pass a certifying exam that’s administered by the American College of Veterinary Microbiologists. The certification exam is split up into two parts, the first being a general microbiology test, and the second half consists of questions pulled from one of the four major sub-specialties in this field.
There are a relatively small number of animal microbiologists working in the US today - less than 250 in 2011. These researchers were spread out almost evenly among the sub-specialties of immunology, virology, bacteriology, and general microbiology.
Although few in number, these specialists are in demand, and an experienced microbiologists can expect to earn a very good salary. While there are government positions available in this field, the highest-paying jobs tend to be with private companies such as manufacturers of animal-related medicines and other health products.
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