What Is A Veterinary Surgeon And What Do They Do?

Written by Harry Marshall Reading time: 6 mins

What Is A Veterinary Surgeon?

Veterinary Surgeons (often known as vets) protect the welfare and health of animals. They use practical skills and knowledge of animal physiology, nutrition and medicine to diagnose and control animal diseases and treat sick and injured animals with medication and/or surgery.

What Does A Veterinary Surgeon Do?

Being a veterinary surgeon is a very varied role. Their main role is to diagnose and treat sick animals, however this takes on many forms. Some of what veterinary surgeons may expect to do regularly are:

·       Diagnosing animal health issues

·       Immunise animals against different types of disease

·       Prescribing and administering medication

·       Treating and dressing wounds

·       Setting broken bones

·       Performing surgery. The complexity of the surgery depends on the level or training the veterinary surgeon has received.

·       Advising owners about how best to care for their pet. This may include advice on medication, food, exercise, common health problems and behaviour.

·       Euthanizing animals where necessary

·       Insert identification microchips

·       Carry out tests such as x-rays, blood samples and ultrasound scans


Different Types Of Veterinary Surgeon

Most veterinary surgeons will work in a first opinion, companion animal practice. This is treating companion animals, such as dogs and cats. A veterinary surgeon may also decide to specialise and can do so in over 20 recognised fields of study. This may be dentistry, dermatology, cardiology and many more. These vets are called veterinary specialists.

Some vets are exotic animal veterinary surgeons. These have received special training in caring for exotic animals, such as reptiles, birds and rabbits. Much like a companion animal veterinary surgeon, they will diagnose, medicate and perform surgery. They can also specialise and become an exotic veterinary specialist. Similarly to an exotic vet, there is also the option to become a zoo vet, who care for animals in captivity.

Equine specialist vets deal solely with horses. They work for equine practices, or sometimes mixed practices, but will have received specialist training on equine health and wellbeing. Farm vets will typically be based in the field, visiting livestock farms to help maintain the health of livestock herds and to educate the farmer on how to ensure the animals stay healthy.

Not all veterinary surgeons work in clinical roles. Some work for pharmaceutical companies in all sorts of roles. Others may work for companies that produce livestock feed or pet food. There are a wide variety of non-clinical roles a veterinary surgeon can perform.

Salary Of A Veterinary Surgeon

Vet surgeon salaries in practice depend on a number of factors, the main one being experience level. A Starting salary for a vet surgeon in a companion animal practice would be between £30,000 and £35,000.

After gaining further experience, a vet surgeon can expect to earn between £40,000 and £65,000. Very experienced vet surgeons and specialists can earn up to £100,000 depending on location and practice type.

Hours Of A Veterinary Surgeon

Typically, a veterinary surgeon will be expected to work 4 weekdays from 8am-6pm, with some weekend work, normally on a rota basis. Expect Saturdays and Sundays to be shorter hours. 1 in 4 weekends is a standard arrangement. Some practices, especially independent ones, may expect you to work an out of hours shift as well. This consists of an overnight shift, covering for any emergencies that may come into the practice.

Practices are often open to part-time hours and flexible working arrangements to make best use of your free time. Becoming a locum vet is another way to have more control over your hours. Read more on that in our ‘what is a locum vet’ piece.

Qualifications Of A Veterinary Surgeon

The governing body for the veterinary profession is The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS). All courses to become a veterinary surgeon must be accredited by the RCVS.

To practice, you must have a degree in veterinary science and register as a member of the RCVS.

There are currently 11 institutions that offer this qualification:


·       Royal Veterinary College, University of London

·       University of Cambridge

·       University of Liverpool

·       The Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies, University of Edinburgh

·       University of Glasgow

·       University of Bristol

·       University of Nottingham

·       University of Surrey

·       Harper and Keele Veterinary School

·       The Aberystwyth School of Veterinary Science (in collaboration with the Royal Veterinary College)

·       University of Central Lancashire

Courses are generally 5 years, but take 6 years in some schools. Entry requirements differ between universities so it is best to check each university individually for specific entrance criteria.

All universities look for signs that applicants have a passion for veterinary science. This can be demonstrated with work experience in a veterinary practice working with, and handling, domestic animals and livestock.

Skills Of A Veterinary Surgeon

The main quality you need as a veterinary surgeon is a love for animals. You will also need to be hard-working, passionate about animals and dedicated to your work.

Some skills which you will need to become a veterinary surgeon:

·       You will need to be compassionate towards your patients and their owners.

·       Deal well with stressful situations. Any role dealing with health and wellbeing, especially in a medical sense will lead to stressful situations. You will need to be calm under pressure.

·       Be resilient. You will often have to help owners deal with incredibly hard decisions about their pet’s health and wellbeing, which can be upsetting for you. There are also occasions when a patient does not recover, or surgery does not go to plan.

·       Have clear communication skills as you will need to inform owners how to best care for their pet.

·       Veterinary surgeons need to have a level of flexibility in their life. This is especially true for veterinary surgeons who may be on call, or do emergency out of hours work.

·       Have strong problem solving skills. You may not be able to identify the problem very easily in some patients and since animals can’t explain what their problem is, you will need to deduce this from the information at hand. 


Continued Professional Development For Vet Surgeons

CPD is an essential part of being a veterinary surgeon. The RCVS requires you to complete 35 hours per calendar year to continue with your registration with them.

Our sister company, The Webinar Vet, leads the way in online veterinary education and is a great resource for veterinary nurses looking to complete their CPD.

Whilst training, you will complete a minimum of 38 weeks hands-on-work experience in a programme called Extra-Mural Studies (EMS). This is an essential part of become a vet surgeon and will provide you with a variety of first hand training, before you can qualify as a veterinary surgeon.

As a new graduate, you will need to complete the RCVS professional development phase (PDP), a phase designed to make the transition from student to professional veterinary surgeon much easier.  

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