Careers Involving Animals,
Farming and the Natural World
Wanting to “work with animals” is a stage that many children go through. For those for whom this proves to be a lasting desire, there is a huge variety of careers and roles to consider. These range from casual dog walking or pet-sitting right up to highly qualified work such as being a veterinary surgeon (vet), marine biologist or zookeeper.
There are also many other careers that involve working outdoors or in the natural world, including farming, ecology, horticultural work (gardening) and landscape design. This page describes some of the careers available in the field of ‘animals, farming and the natural world’, and the skills required in these.
An Alternative ‘Sector’
There is very definitely a sense in which ‘careers with animals’ or ‘careers involving the natural world’ is not exactly a ‘sector’—and certainly not in the same sense that, say, healthcare, or politics and government, are sectors of the economy.
However, in career terms, it makes sense to talk about these careers together. People who are attracted to one—or have the basic skills needed—are likely to be similarly attracted to and qualified to enter others on this page.
What ties these careers together is the natural world: a desire to work with elements of that world or in that world, often outdoors. The first and most important qualification is therefore that desire. It is also important to have a tolerance of working outside the normal ‘9–5’, because these jobs seldom have obvious boundaries or cut-offs.
Careers Working with Animals
There are many different degrees of ‘working with animals’.
At the most basic level, and almost certainly the least qualified, there are plenty of people who make a living from offering dog-walking or pet-sitting services. No qualifications are required for these careers, and the people doing them are often self-employed, or doing these jobs as a ‘side hustle’.
These jobs may lead to other work. For example, you might set up a business as a dog walker, and discover that you have a talent for training dogs. This might lead you to expand your business into dog training (and there is more about the skills you might need to do this in our post on 13 Skills You Need to Become a Dog Trainer).
Pet-sitting and dog-walking are specific forms of animal care work. More generally, animal care workers provide basic care (food, shelter, exercise, cleaning out and grooming) for animals in a wide range of settings, including animal rescue centres, kennels, and pet shops. They may also be employed by vets to care for any animals that have to stay at the surgery overnight.
Unexpected places to find animal care workers
Vets’ surgeries, kennels and animal rescue centres are obvious places to find animal care workers. However, you can also find them elsewhere.
One of the most interesting is in customs organisations around the world. This is because customs officials are responsible for ensuring that exotic animals are not imported illegally. If they come across undeclared animals, they have to confiscate them—and then someone needs to look after them.
The skills required to be an animal care worker are:
The basic qualification is an interest in animal welfare. However, it may be helpful or even necessary to undertake some vocational training in animal care.
Animal care workers need to have good observational skills. Animals cannot, of course, talk to tell you what they need, so you need to be able to assess that from their behaviour and attitude. It may be helpful if you are generally empathetic and good at understanding non-verbal communication.
Animal care workers need good levels of physical fitness. Animal care is often hard, physical work, and may be outdoors, so you need to be an active person who exercises regularly.
Good team-working skills because animal care is seldom a one-person job.
Other sectors employ people to work with dogs in particular. For example, the police and army both employ dog handlers. Dog handlers train first as police officers or army personnel before specialising.
There is more about what it takes to become a police officer in our page on Careers in Law and Law Enforcement.
If you have a yearning to provide animal care for more exotic animals, you might consider becoming a zookeeper.
Zookeepers work in zoos and wildlife parks around the world to ensure that the animals in those parks receive the appropriate care. They may be primarily animal care workers, or they may be involved in providing education to visitors, or even carrying out research and conservation work. On top of the skills needed by other animal care workers, they may therefore need strong communication skills, and expertise in carrying out research.
One of the best-known jobs working with animals is as a veterinary surgeon (veterinarian or vet).
Vets are animal doctors. They provide treatment for ill or injured animals. These are usually pets or domesticated animals such as farm animals and horses. However, some vets also work with wild animals and in zoos.
Vets are highly qualified—in fact, the study to become a vet is longer than the study to become a medical doctor. There are also fewer places that offer degrees in veterinary science than human medicine, so you are likely to need extremely good school-leaving qualifications to even get a place to study veterinary medicine. You therefore need to be very academic, and prepared for ongoing professional development and study throughout your career.
Beyond their qualifications, and an interest in working with animals, vets also need:
Financial management skills to run their own business;
For more see our page: 5 Key Skills You Need for a Career as a Veterinarian.
Jobs in Farming and Horticulture (Gardening)
Another key type of job involving the natural world are those in farming and horticulture (gardening and landscape design).
Farming has an image of being an outdoorsy, physical profession—and that is true. Farmers are often up very early, and outside much of the day. They certainly need to be physically fit and in good health.
However, farming is now also highly technical. Farmers are often expert users of analytics to tell them exactly what to plant or sow and when, and precisely how much fertiliser or irrigation to apply. They need expert IT skills, including coding and programming skills. They also need to be able to manage machinery, which may include diagnosing and fixing problems.
Farmers are also running their own businesses, so they need entrepreneurial skills to survive and if necessary, diversify into new sectors. They also need very good organisational skills, because farming is essential a case of running many different projects at once.
You may be interested to read our post on the soft skills needed by agriculturalists.
If you are thinking that you would like a job working outside, using your hands, then horticulture may be a better bet for you than farming.
Horticulture is defined as growing, harvesting and selling plants, shrubs or trees. Jobs in horticulture therefore range from self-employed gardening work, through work in nurseries or garden centres, to landscaping work for cities. Landscape and garden design is a linked but slightly different field, which involves designing outdoor areas. Horticultural workers may then plant up these areas.
Horticultural workers need:
To be physically fit and have reasonably good stamina. Gardening is hard outdoor work, and you are likely to be on your feet all day, and lifting heavy loads. You also need a tolerance for bad weather—including hot, cold and wet;
Some technical skills and ability, including some knowledge of plants and planting that can be gained on the job or from additional study;
The ability to think creatively about how to make outdoor spaces look appealing using plants and flowers, and also the ability to imagine how something will look when the plants have grown; and
Good organisational skills to manage multiple jobs and projects, and keep track of what is going on.
Landscape and garden designers, by contrast, work both indoors and out. The design work is often indoors on computers, but they are also often involved in realising the design on the ground. They therefore in practice need very similar skills to horticultural workers, coupled with a flair for design, and possibly some additional training in design or planting.
Jobs in Conservation and with Wildlife Charities
Finally, it is worth considering one final area of work: in conservation. In practice, this often means with wildlife or conservation charities, or working direct for universities like other researchers in the field of life sciences.
These charities employ a wide range of people, including fundraisers and managers. However, this page focuses on careers in the natural world, which in the context of conservation charities usually means scientists. These roles include:
Ecologists, who are scientists who study ecosystems, or the way that animals and plants live together and interact within a given area; and
Marine biologists, who study life within the sea and oceans, and may work in both the field and the lab to examine the environment and the effect of human activity.
These scientific roles are highly technical, and need specialist qualifications: at least a first degree, and often a second. There are also specialisms within each field, depending on your interests and the organisation in which you work. The skills required will therefore differ between roles, but research skills and team-working are likely to be core, along with good communication skills.
An Extensive Range of Options
This page shows very clearly that working outdoors or in a career linked to the natural world is open to almost anyone who is interested.
Regardless of your level of qualification, or your desire (and ability) to obtain other qualifications, you should be able to find something that suits you and is open to you.