Veterinarian surgeon doctor making a checkup of a begle puppy dog

What is a Vet?

A veterinarian or a veterinary surgeon, often shortened to vet, is a physician for animals and a practitioner of veterinary medicine. Veterinarians maintain the health and welfare of animals and treat sick or injured animals on an individual or herd basis. Veterinarians are also indirectly responsible for the health of animal owners and consumers of products of animal origin, by controlling zoonoses (animal diseases that can also make people sick)

Scope of work of a vet

Most veterinarians look after dogs, cats, or other ‘domesticated’ animals. Many careers are open to those with veterinary degrees. Those working in clinical settings often practice medicine in a limited field such as “companion animal”, pet medicine (small animals such as dog, cat, and pocket pets), production medicine or livestock medicine. Production medicine includes specialties in dairy cattle, beef cattle, swine, sheep, and poultry, equine medicine (e.g., sport, race track), laboratory animal medicine, reptile medicine, or ratite medicine. Veterinarians may choose to specialize in medical disciplines such as pathology, radiology, surgery, dermatology, dentistry, ophthalmology, gynaecology or internal medicine, after post-graduate training and certification.

Other opportunities for a vet

Many other careers are however also open to those with veterinary degrees, such as becoming involved in the control of serious animal diseases at the national or international level. This includes the field of epidemiology, which is the study of the interactions between a host, its environment and a specific disease causing entity within a population. Other options are: the development of medicine and procedures to be used in veterinary medicine and surgery; playing a leading role in veterinary research and research ethics; providing guidelines for managing the health and welfare of animals including laboratory animals, intensively farmed animals, captive wild animals, and animals in quarantine facilities, animal shelters and primary processing establishments; becoming involved in upliftment programmes that promote animal health and welfare in developing areas and countries; certifying the health status of animals and products of animal origin for international trade purposes or specializing in zoonotic diseases and working towards ‘one health’ for humans and animals.

Skills needed by a vet

Veterinarians need to have excellent animal-handling skills and the ability to diagnose and solve animal health problems. Clinical and surgical skills are needed when veterinarians examine, test and medicate animals suffering from infections or illnesses, treat and dress wounds, set fractures, perform minor to complex surgery, euthanaze animals when necessary and provide preventive care by vaccinating animals against diseases to maintain the health of individuals and populations. Excellent communication skills are necessary to advise owners about animal feeding, behaviour, and breeding. In addition, the livestock veterinarian works as part of a team of experts advising animal owners and managers on animal production, feeding, and housing issues. Diagnostic tests and procedures performed by a veterinarian include X-rays, ultrasound, ECG, skin, blood, urine and faeces examinations and require technical and interpretation skills. The general practice veterinarian spends a third to half of his or her time in surgery. Animal neutering operations are done in most veterinarians’ practices. Many veterinarians also perform orthopaedic procedures, bone setting, dentistry and trauma surgery. Surgery requires good hand and eye coordination, and fine motor skills.

Qualities needed by a vet

Veterinarians should be understanding, patient, and concerned for animals and their owners. They must inspire confidence in their clients. They often need to be good team players with strong leadership qualities. They should preferably not have any allergies to animals.

How to become a vet (Veterinary science BVSc)

Veterinarians have to learn about animals from molecules, to organs and tissues, to the whole animal and populations. They also need to know a broad spectrum of animal species and animal diseases, which gives them a particular strength in comparative medicine. Vets learn this through the study of anatomy, physiology, biochemistry, microbiology, parasitology, medicine, surgery and pathology.

The BVSc study programme is only offered by the Faculty of Veterinary Science of the University of Pretoria at the Onderstepoort Campus on a full-time basis. The core-elective study programme of the six-year BVSc is an internationally recognised and recommended approach in which all candidates complete a core curriculum over four and a half years (nine semesters). The training concludes with 18 months of experiential training in the core and chosen elective components. The first year of the study programme is presented at the Hatfield Campus with the remaining years at the Onderstepoort Campus. The language of tuition in this Faculty is English. A well-developed student support system is in place, including mentoring, tutoring and didactic support. Students admitted to the BSc (Four-year Programme) in Biological and Agricultural Sciences spend the first 18 months in the BSc (Four-year Programme), after which they join their fellow students in the second semester of the first year of the BVSc study programme. The first year is spent on the Mamelodi Campus, the second year on Hatfield Campus and the remainder of their studies at Onderstepoort. Applications for the BVSc programme close on 31 May.

For more information on becoming a veterinarian visit the website:

Download the Faculty brochure to see the Admission requirements.

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