How to work with animals without a degree

Going to university or even college is not for everyone. Many would argue that they learn best not in a classroom setting, but through hands-on, practical, in-the-moment experience.

Fortunately, if you want to work with animals, not every career will require a high-level academic qualification such as a degree. Instead, you will be able to pursue your passion for working and caring for animals, without academic pressure, simply by possessing the right amount of practical experience.

What animal care careers don’t need a degree?

The fantastic thing about working with animals is that there are many career routes that you can pursue which don’t require you to be a whiz in the classroom. Zookeeper, dog groomer, canine trainer, conservation… your options are endless, making it an incredibly viable option if you’re looking to change careers and possess a natural love for animals.

But what are your options? Which careers can you go for which don’t ask for a degree before you apply? Let’s take a look at the following degree-free careers below:

  • Dog groomer – With 44% of UK households having a pet, choosing to become a dog groomer could prove incredibly profitable, especially if you choose to work for yourself. Now, there are many elements to being a good dog groomer because aside from providing them with regular maintenance i.e. grooming, washing, and cutting their hair and nails – which will prevent future health problems and irritations from occurring – you will also be expected to check them for injuries, parasites, infections and early signs of illness. In addition, dog owners will turn to you for advice on the best techniques for improving their physical health, appearance, and overall well-being. As such, you will need an array of training and experience in your arsenal so you can answer every question and be prepared for every eventuality they throw at you. Your options: Work as an apprentice to another dog groomer – this will give you hands-on, practical training and experience of the job, and can result in a permanent position if their salon/business is big enough.
  • – Dog grooming courses – This route is faster than completing an apprenticeship and will enable you to start working for yourself sooner. With this particular route, you can either attend a college or complete an online dog grooming course. Both of these will offer you practical days, as well as theoretical training on how to handle different scenarios. In turn, they will supply you with the knowledge you need to advise clients on the best skin and haircare treatments for their pets. To optimise your knowledge, we also recommend doing specialist dog grooming courses on particular breeds or types of hair, as this will give your portfolio greater diversity and appeal to employers.
  • Dog trainer – Pet owners can encounter numerous behavioural challenges when they get a dog, whether it is a rescue or a puppy. From pulling on the lead to being too aggressive, to chewing everything, to barking; dog trainers can show pet owners how to improve their dog’s behaviour, as well as recognise how their actions can affect the behaviour of their pets. With the correct guidance, dog trainers can show owners how to effectively communicate with their pets and reduce tensions and behaviours which may be making their dogs anxious or fearful. During a typical day, dog trainers will teach multiple classes, ranging from private lessons to group sessions. In turn, these lessons can vary from teaching dogs search and rescue, hunting, and police work techniques, to therapy, behavioural management, protection, and detection. To become a dog trainer you will need certain accredited qualifications so you can become a certified canine behaviourist. While you can achieve these qualifications by attending university, you can also complete a range of online dog training courses which you will be able to balance alongside your practical training.
  • Veterinary Support Assistant – If you’re passionate about caring for animals and assisting with the health and well-being of domestic pets as well as wildlife, livestock, and other animals; then working within a veterinary setting may be for you. Veterinary Support Assistants play a key role in ensuring the smooth running of the veterinary surgery, by aiding vets and veterinary nurses with preventative treatments and life-saving procedures. In addition, they help to feed and groom animals; prepare operating rooms; do admin and manage records, and monitor the conditions of inpatients. Now unlike vets, who are expected to train for years and get a degree, veterinary support assistants have fewer barriers to contend with to do the job. Instead, all you are expected to get is a Veterinary Nurse Assistant Diploma, which you can easily do online or at college.

In addition, having other animal care-related courses will prove beneficial in progressing your career.

  • Zookeeper – If you fancy caring for more than domestic animals, then a career as a zookeeper would suit you. Within this role you’ll get to look after a variety of different animals, working to ensure that they are healthy and happy. From monitoring their health and well-being, to maintaining their living areas; zookeepers strive to keep the lives of the animals in their care enriched while endeavouring to monitor their conditions and give them a nutritious diet. On top of this, most zoos are heavily involved in conservation initiatives, where they strive to safeguard animals and help to increase the numbers of those classed as endangered. In addition, your job will be to educate zoo visitors about growing conservation challenges and how zoos and themselves can help to make a difference. Admittedly, working as a zookeeper is an incredibly competitive field, so while you don’t need a degree to do this job; you must have the right skill set and training so you can successfully compete with others applying for the post. Gaining a Level 3 Diploma in Zookeeping is a good stepping stone to getting started and fortunately can be completed online. With this online course in your arsenal, you will have the theoretical and practical training to make a positive difference.
  • Conservation – This field of work can be incredibly rewarding as you will be working directly to protect and prolong the lives of wild animals. Depending on your role, you could be involved in raising awareness of species extinction, rehabilitating animals, or collecting data on animal population sizes. Likewise, you may be involved in collecting biological samples, making behavioral observations and creating future conservation initiatives. In truth, there are numerous roles you can pursue within conversation which could make a real difference to wild animals. Starting with online conversation courses and college classes; if you are committed to working in this niche you could also get a degree and masters in this subject.

How to improve your employability

You can never go wrong with having the right skills and qualifications in your repertoire; however, acquiring practical experience can hold you in good stead for all of the careers listed above.

So what can you do? Where can you gain the best practical experience?

  • Volunteering – Whether you choose to volunteer at a rescue centre/shelter, a vet, a zoo, or directly with a dog groomer; the act of volunteering can give you the inside scoop on what the job entails and what will be expected of you should you choose to do this job permanently. In addition, this hands-on experience will look incredibly impressive on your CV, especially should you choose to volunteer at multiple places (as you will prove you have got the experience and the skill set to handle animals of all shapes, sizes, and personalities). NOTE: it is not uncommon for those who volunteer to gain permanent employment if they demonstrate the right skills and personality traits.
  • Student placements – Similar to volunteering in an animal shelter, work placements will help you to gain a deeper appreciation of what the job entails – including the good, the bad, and the dirty! The difference with this route though, is that an element of the study will be involved alongside this practical work placement. Yet, by combining the two you will have a strong foundation of theoretical knowledge as well as hands-on experience working directly with animals. NOTE: should you choose this route, you will need at least a Level 3 accredited qualification in animal care. Likewise, these placements can range from a week to a month and can be done in the UK. Example One: Dog grooming. Many online Level 3 dog grooming courses include up to 15 days of practical training where you will be able to demonstrate what you have learned on actual dogs. In addition, you will get to work alongside and observe professional dog groomers as they perform certain cuts, styles, and techniques. Example Two: Animal Hydrotherapy – this course aims to equip students with the tools to work as an animal Hydrotherapist and includes 6 days of practical training alongside the theory work. In this job, you would get to work with dogs, cats, rabbits, and other small creatures and will learn about the benefits of hydrotherapy in treating certain conditions.

Other careers to consider

Working to preserve and protect animal welfare can be highly rewarding. For instance, you can work as any of the following and help to make a positive difference to ill-treated animals:

  • Animal Care Assistant
  • Animal Care/Welfare Manager
  • RSCPA Inspector
  • Re-homing/Adoption Officer
  • Campaigns Officer
  • Companion Animal Behaviourist
  • Fundraising/Media Team
  • Volunteer Coordinator

Again, many of these careers don’t require a degree but a qualification in animal care and some practical experience.


As you can see, you don’t have to have a degree if you are serious about changing the lives of animals. Whether you want to work in a rescue or veterinary setting or want to protect wild animals in zoos or by aiding conservation initiatives; each one of these careers is attainable and within your reach.


To learn more about animal care and the numerous online courses you can undertake, visit our website today.

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