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What Does an Animal Psychologist Do?

By Rhonda Rivera
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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An animal psychologist is well versed in the mental life and behavior of animals. He or she can help diagnose animal disorders or point out odd behavior. In many cases, animal psychologists aid in solving or at least relieving the symptoms of certain animal disorders or health problems. Animal psychologists are often employed by zoos and homeowners to solve frustrating animal problems or assess animals' living situations in determining potential problems and stresses. The educational requirements vary greatly depending on job, but some higher education is usually necessary.

Government agencies and companies sometimes employ animal psychologists to examine the effects an external factor has on the natural behaviors of an animal. For example, an organization researching a drug and interested in the effects that drug has on an animal might hire an animal psychologist. In this case, the animal psychologist is tasked with determining how the external factor effects the normal equation. The external factors of concern are not limited to drugs and diseases, however. Organizations are often interested in keeping an eye on certain animal populations to ensure that their behaviors are not outside the norm.

An animal psychologist can work as an animal behavior specialist to solve ordinary house-pet problems. Shy or potentially aggressive dogs, cats with obsessive chewing problems, and similar animal problems are assessed and solved by an animal psychologist. In general, this is one of the less profitable jobs animal psychologists can pursue, unless their efforts land them a television show or work on a movie set. The educational background needed to obtain a job like this varies.

Sometimes an animal psychologist works with a zoo or other institution that houses animals to make sure the animals have healthy environments. For example, pet psychologists are typically versed in what environments are safe and stress-free for certain types of animals. Furthermore, animal psychologists are often tasked with making animal environments more stimulating and healthy for the animals that live in them. This sometimes involves using knowledge of an animal’s natural feeding habits to make feeding the animal more natural within the artificial environment.

The educational requirements to become an animal psychologist often vary based on the specific job a person wishes to perform. An undergraduate degree is sometimes enough to land an animal psychologist job. For the most part, however, jobs in animal psychology require master's or doctorate degrees. Many areas of animal psychology are studied in the field, including several sciences. Comparative psychology, sociology, and zoology are a few of the core areas that future animal psychologists focus on in school.

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Discussion Comments

By indigomoth — On Jan 12, 2014

@Fa5t3r - I hope there are people out there who generalize in their studies of animal behavior though. I think being able to know a little bit about every aspect of an ecology is important when you are perusing conservation goals.

If you are diagnosing the health of a particular forest, for example, you would need to know the typical behaviors of insects, birds, mammals and so forth in order to even know which experts to bring in. I think it takes all kinds to know how to help animals, including both generalists and specialists.

By Fa5t3r — On Jan 11, 2014

@browncoat - Actually, in my experience I think that they will usually just hire staff for each animal type who can look after the whole animal, mind and all, rather than trying to find someone who can be a counselor for every species. I'd say the majority of people who go into an animal psychologist career path will end up treating domestic animals like dogs and cats and parrots rather than big animals.

If they are interested in working with big animals, my advice is to specialize in a particular type, like elephants. Because every animal is so different, they all need different solutions to boredom and stress. It makes more sense for each worker to be an expert on their animals, rather than trying to find a jack of all trades.

By browncoat — On Jan 11, 2014

It always breaks my heart when I visit a zoo or someplace like that and see that the animals there aren't being taken care of properly. Even if they are given enough food and exercise, often their mental well-being is neglected and that's just not good enough.

It might sound like a bunch of hippy nonsense, but you only have to see a polar bear or a big cat pacing the same five feet of territory a few times to see that something isn't right. And if they get too stressed it can lead to them hurting themselves, or others if you need a financial reason to do it.

I'm glad this is seen as something important more and more often and that zoos will sometimes have an animal behaviorist on staff to deal with this kind of issue.

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