Certificate in Animal Health

Train for a career in animal health or welfare with this home study certificate in animal health. Study online, by distance education.

Course CodeVAG015
Fee CodeCT
Duration (approx)600 hours

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Study for a Career in Animal Health or Animal Welfare

This is a comprehensive and practical course for anyone who wants to better understand the health and well-being of animals.

The course is designed to provide a foundation for employment in any type of animal care job including:

  • pet care
  • farm livestock
  • wildlife (captive or free)

ACS Student comment:
I am reading and learning so many different things I did not previously know or understand about animals.  The assignment comments by the tutor are very encouraging and helpful. Lisbeth Fletcher, Netherlands, Certificate in Animal Health Care.

By studying this course you will learn about:
  • animal anatomy and physiology
  • diagnosing animal diseases
  • natural animal health care
  • animal health and care
  • animal psychology and/or animal feed and nutrition

Studying this course will give you a thorough understanding of the process involved in maintaining animal health.

For detailed information on each of the subjects in this course follow the links in the section below:

Note: Animal Health Reference books are available for sale in the A.C.S Bookshop



Core ModulesThese modules provide foundation knowledge for the Certificate in Animal Health.
 Animal Anatomy And Physiology (Animal Husbandry I) BAG101
 Animal Health Care VAG100
 Animal Feed & Nutrition (Animal Husbandry III) BAG202
Elective ModulesIn addition to the core modules, students study any 3 of the following 5 modules.
 Animal Behaviour BAG203
 Animal Diseases BAG219
 Animal Health (Animal Husbandry II) BAG201
 Animal Welfare BAG224
 Natural Health Care for Animals BAG218

Note that each module in the Certificate in Animal Health is a short course in its own right, and may be studied separately.


Recognising the differences between what is normal and what is abnormal about an animal or group of animals forms the basic foundation for good animal husbandry and veterinary medicine. Using your powers of observation can be very important for the early recognition of subtle abnormalities. Observation of behavioural changes, changes in energy levels, elimination changes (urine and faeces) and physical changes are important, but don't just evaluate the animal, evaluate its environment, too. Ask questions such as:
  • How is the animal housed?
  • What are the climatic conditions?
  • What plants do they have access to?
  • Are they hand fed or do they graze?

This type of information is very important in the process of determining what disease processes are occurring. In addition to evaluating the animal’s environment, recording and compiling animal information such as type and condition of animals, age, sex, number of affected animals, and progression of disease are the first steps in the disease recognition process.

When dealing with diseased animals it is important to remember that some diseases are zoonoses (they are transmissible to humans). When undertaking a physical examination or post mortem examination, wear protective clothing, gloves and overalls.

Physical examination

A physical examination is the next step in identifying diseases or conditions in animals. The veterinarian will examine the whole animal and not just the obviously affected area.

It is helpful to start by examining the non-painful areas and then moving on to those areas that show discomfort. If an animal is in a lot of pain, the veterinarian may suggest lightly anesthetizing the animal so a more complete exam can be safely conducted.

The exam will generally include:

  • Weighing the animal
  • taking the temperature
  • Listening to the heart and lungs
  • Checking eyes, ears, nose, etc.
  • Examining the skin for any trauma or puncture wounds
  • Examining all the limbs
  • Watching the animal move about the exam room or outside on the grass
  • Performing special manipulations of various body parts e.g., neck, limbs


Post Mortem or Necropsy

Autopsy refers to an examination of a deceased human. When the examination is done on a deceased non-human animal, the procedure is called a "necropsy." Necropsies are generally conducted by veterinarians or suitably trained government inspectors.

There will be times when neither is available to you, and you may need to undertake specimen collection yourself. In this case it is important to understand what to samples to collect and how to collect, preserve, and send specimens for laboratory analysis.

Always seek the advice of a veterinarian, relevant government inspector, or the testing laboratory, to ensure you are taking the correct samples and using the appropriate transport media.  

Various methods may be used to perform necropsies and, as long as all organ systems are examined thoroughly, each technique has its merits. Ideally, necropsies should be conducted in a post mortem room, but if this is not possible, they may be carried out in the field. It should be remembered that on-farm examinations may be limited and may only involve sample collection.

The value of undertaking a post mortem allows for a concise interim pathology report to be produced. This report should describe lesions, outline preliminary conclusions and, if possible, include a morphological diagnosis.

Microbiology, parasitology, biochemistry, histopathology etc. may then be needed to assist in establishing a diagnosis.

We discussed earlier how a physical examination of a live animal may be undertaken but if an animal is presented to you is already dead, it is still important to make a thorough external examination of the animal. Questions to ask include:

  • How long has it been dead?
  • Has rigor mortis set in?
  • What is the body condition of the animal?
  • Is sternal or lateral recumbency exhibited?
  • Are there any wounds or injuries?
  • Are they old or relatively recent?

Note any discharges from body orifices. Be aware that these may be a result of post-mortem changes rather than part of a disease condition. When an animal dies the body sphincters and muscle tone relaxes, allowing the stomach contents to regurgitate and urine/faeces to discharge from the body.

When performing the post mortem or necropsy it is very important to be methodical. Take care not to cross-contaminate the organs with dirty equipment and to avoid contaminating the organs with intestinal contents.


This is a course that takes you well beyond the scope of learning in a veterinary nursing or vet assistants course; but significantly less than what would be covered by a veterinary degree.

  • Some students take this so they can care for their own animals. They may live in an isolated location or a place where veterinary care is severely limited. Undertaking this course could be be next best thing to having a veterinarian on call.
  • Others may use this to expand their knowledge and understanding of animal health care to an advanced level, in order to give them a career advantage in the workplace or agricultural business world.

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Dr. Gareth Pearce

Veterinary scientist and surgeon with expertise in agriculture and environmental science, with over 25 years of experience in teaching and research in agriculture, veterinary medicine, wildlife ecology and conservation in the UK, Australia and New Zealand
Cheryl Wilson

Cheryl has spent two decades working in agriculture, equine and education industries, across England, Scotland, Australia and New Zealand. She graduated with a B.Sc.(Hons), HND Horse Mgt, C&G Teaching Cert. For several years, Cheryl managed the distance
Alison Pearce

Alison brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to ACS students. She has worked as a University Lecturer, has also run a veterinary operating theatre; responsible for animal anaesthesia, instrument preparation, and assistance with surgical techniqu
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