Veterinary surgeons diagnose and treat sickness and injury in animals. Surgery on amimals and the inoculation of animals against infectious diseases are also part of their work. The type of work performed by vets depends on the area in which they are specialized.
Veterinary surgeons, who are in private practice, mainly treat sick domestic animals. Some veterinary surgeons test dairy herds for tuberculosis and brucellosis, and inoculate animals against diseases. They perform autopsies to determine causes of death, inspect animals intended for human consumption, both before and after slaughtering. They also give advice on the care and breeding of animals. Large animal practitioners are primarily concerned with the diagnosis and prevention of diseases in large and small stock, with the main aim being the improvement in production of meat, milk and wool.
Although specialisation in an aspect of practice (for example, horses) is becoming more common, many veterinary surgeons in rural areas work with both farm animals and pets. Other areas of specialisation include poultry, dairy cattle, pigs, wildlife and exotic birds.
Veterinarians in general practice may treat various animal species or may specialise in pets in general or in a single species. Those employed by pharmaceutical companies are usually involved in the research and development of many products used in animal health care and with the registration of these products. With the increase in the number of game farms, the veterinary profession plays an important role in the capture and care of wild animals.
Research and development, consultation, teaching, technical writing, the prevention and control of animal diseases, agricultural education, community development, the sale or production of commercial products, or the rendering of technical services for commercial firms, are all fields in which the veterinary surgeon may be involved.
In South Africa, research into diseases affecting livestock is carried out by veterinary surgeons at various institutes, including the Veterinary Research Institute at Onderstepoort. Veterinary surgeons are employed by universities to lecture, but are also expected to conduct research in their chosen fields.
State veterinarians are employed to prevent and control animal diseases that threaten the livestock herds of the country, for example, foot and mouth disease. They are also involved in agricultural education and community development.