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Animals — they’re everywhere. Grumpy cats, silly puppies, bunnies, horses and kittens. They appear on TV, the Internet, and in homes.

They’re dang cute, but who will take care of your cat when she can’t spit up a hairball? Who do you call when your elephant gets a peanut stuck in his trunk.

Animal doctors, veterinarians, that’s who.Veterinarians are the medical professionals pet owners call when their precious pets are sick or injured, which makes this an excellent career for animal lovers.According to MarketWatch, more than six in 10 (62.4%) of U.S. households have at least one pet (36.5% have a dog and 30.4% have a cat,) according to the American Veterinary Medical Association. And caring for these fuzzy companions is far from cheap. Spending on vet bills for routine visits and medications is expected to hit $14.2 billion this year, up 4% from last year, according to the American Pet Products Association — and that’s not including surgical procedures. Total veterinary spending, including surgeries, for all households with pets was about $28 billion, the association estimates. The average dog owner spends $227 per dog per year at the vet, while cat owners spend $90. But those who have a pet with a serious medical condition like cancer or renal failure, can spend thousands (sometimes $10,000 or more) on treatments.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics states that the median annual wage for veterinarians was $84,460 in May 2012 and some vets earn more than $140,000. That’s a lot of Puppy Chow.

Michelle Finch of Mira Mesa attended USD as a pre-veterinary student, and then moved on to UC Davis and earned her degree in veterinary medicine. Today she treats animals — including horses — on an island in British Columbia, Canada.

“I have some major school loans to pay off, but it was totally worth it,” she said. “I love my job, because I love animals. I don’t make millions, and I work my ass off, but I can’t see myself doing anything else.”

Veterinarians must have a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree from an accredited veterinary college and a state license which take years of education, and plenty of school loans. Buyer beware: the cost of becoming a vet has risen to a median of $63,000 a year for out-of-state tuition, fees and living expenses, according to the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges, up 35% in the last decade. Today, the ratio of debt to income for the average new vet is roughly double that of M.D.’s, according to Malcolm Getz, an economist at Vanderbilt University.

So…there’s that.

If you don’t have rich parents, here are some pet-friendly careers to chew on: veterinary technologists and assistants, animal caretakers and behaviorists, pharmacologists, business managers, clerical workers, acupuncturists, and research biologists

You can also become a volunteer at shelters such as the Helen Woodward Animal Shelter (animalshelter.org) to see if healing and caring for animals really is your lot in life.

But if becoming a veterinarian is absolutely, positively, your dream, check out a day in the life of Dr. Finch. She spends hours vaccinating her patients, sewing up cuts and bites and sets fractures on all four legged friends- and some with feathers. On certain days she performs surgery to remove tumors, spay cats, and sometimes even euthanizes much-loved pets.

Because she lives in a rural area, Dr. Finch tours farms and meets with some of her larger patients — cows and horses — and performs some of the same duties as with her smaller patients.

“I rode horses in Poway as a kid and fell in love with them, like a lot of girls,” she said. “Now I’m in heaven when I get to heal a horse or help bring one into the world. I can’t imagine the places this job has taken me.”

To find the top veterinarian schools and jobs in the U.S, search aavmc.org.

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