How To Become an Animal Caretaker

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published May 11, 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

For those who love being around animals, working as an animal caretaker may be the ideal job. A job as an animal caretaker could also be a good introduction to a career working with animals, such as becoming a veterinarian or a zoologist. The work can be challenging with long hours, but if you enjoy spending time with animals, it can also be extremely rewarding. In this article, we examine what an animal caretaker is, what animal caretakers do and how you might become an animal caretaker.

Related: 17 Jobs Where You Can Work with Pets and Animals

What is an animal caretaker?

Animal caretakers, or nonfarm animal caretakers, provide basic care to animals in settings other than farms. The kind of care an animal caretaker provides includes grooming, feeding, exercising and bathing. An animal caretaker can work in a variety of environments such as a veterinary clinic, a kennel, a zoo, a circus, a pet supply store or an aquarium. As well as looking after animals, an animal caretaker may also be responsible for keeping each animal's living environment clean and well maintained.

What does an animal caretaker do?

As an animal caretaker, your daily responsibilities might vary depending on where you work. However, there are some basic tasks that are common to animal caretakers that you may need to fulfill. These include:

  • Cleaning and maintaining animal living spaces

  • Bathing and grooming animals, including cutting claws and trimming fur

  • Feeding animals, which may involve bottle feeding and monitoring food consumption

  • Giving basic obedience training to animals when necessary

  • Keeping records of animal diet, exercise, temperament and physical health

  • Performing regular examinations of the animals to look for indications of injury or sickness

Related: How To Become a Successful Aquarist

Types of animal caretakers

If you are interested in a job as an animal caretaker, there are various types of work available to you. These include:

Animal trainer

An animal trainer is someone who trains animals usually for a service, for example, a seeing-eye dog, or for security or entertainment. Animal trainers also teach pets good behavior and obedience. The types of animals trained in this way tend to be dogs, horses and marine animals such as dolphins. Your duties may include a certain amount of feeding and grooming but your main responsibilities are to do with training the animals, monitoring behavior and evaluating their response to the training. You may also need to observe the physical well-being of the animals in case they become sick or injured.

Related: 13 Jobs Working with Dogs

Groom

A groom, also known as a horse groom or horse groomer, cares for horses normally at a stable. The groom's job duties include cleaning out stalls, bathing and grooming horses, feeding and watering the horses and treating simple injuries. Grooms who work with show horses or racehorses may also be asked to travel to events and care for those horses on-site.

Kennel attendant

A kennel attendant helps care for animals whose owners have boarded them at the kennel. The kennel attendant's responsibilities may include cleaning habitation areas, grooming and feeding the animals, exercising the animals, administering prescribed medications and monitoring the animals' health. Kennel attendants usually work under the supervision of a kennel manager or veterinarian depending on the work environment.

Pet groomer

Pet groomers cut and style pet fur as well as bathe pets and trim their claws. Their job responsibilities include performing grooming services on the pet, keeping their scissors, brushes and other grooming tools clean, maintaining a sanitary work environment and inspecting the pets for fleas, ticks and other parasites. The animals with which a pet groomer works are typically dogs or cats. These might be family pets, or they may be show animals being prepared for competition.

Veterinary assistant

A veterinary assistant helps care for animals brought to the veterinarian for treatment. Veterinary assistants usually work under the direction of a veterinarian or a veterinary technician. Their duties include sterilizing equipment used by the veterinarian, holding and calming animals while they are being treated, feeding, grooming and exercising animals that have to stay at the clinic and maintaining a clean environment.

Zookeeper

A zookeeper, or a zoo caretaker, cares for the animals at a zoological park. The zookeeper is typically responsible for feeding and watering the animals, cleaning their living environments and monitoring the animals for signs of sickness or injury. Zookeepers may also be asked to give presentations to zoo visitors, educating them about the animals and performing feeding demonstrations.

Related: 15 Highest Paying Jobs for Animal Lovers

How to become an animal caretaker

Here are some steps you can follow to become an animal caretaker:

1. Earn a high school diploma

Many animal caretaker positions give you on-the-job training and require no other qualifications. However, graduating high school can give you basic skills that may be useful. These include mathematics, reading comprehension, writing and elementary biology. If you want to become a zookeeper or train for a more skilled job such as a veterinarian, a high school diploma is the first step to gaining the necessary education for such jobs.

2. Gain experience working with animals

Previous experience working with animals is a prerequisite to many animal caretaker positions. Having that experience demonstrates to the employer that you enjoy working with animals and understand both the challenges and rewards that come with caring for animals. Previous experience could include being a dog walker, volunteering at an animal shelter or pet sitting for friends or neighbors.

3. Maintain good physical health

Caring for animals can be physically demanding. You may spend most of your day on your feet walking dogs, cleaning kennels or sweeping floors. Taking care of animals often involves lifting and carrying, perhaps as much as 100 pounds in weight. This could be an animal you have to hold for a veterinarian or buckets of food you are transporting. You should also have good hearing and eyesight so you can listen for animals in distress, be aware of where they are and be able to perform basic physical examinations.

4. Continue your education

Some animal caretaker positions may require professional certification or a bachelor's degree. Even where additional training is not required, these jobs can be extremely competitive. If you have a degree or some form of special training, you may increase your chances of securing a job as an animal caretaker.

Related: Animal Science Careers: What You Can Do With Your Degree

Animal caretaker salary and job outlook

The average salary for an animal caretaker is $12.51 per hour. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment for animal caretakers is expected to grow 22 percent by 2029. This is significantly above average compared to all other occupations. Reasons for this fast rate of growth include the fact that more households are adopting animals as pets creating a greater demand for professional animal care including kennels, veterinarians and grooming shops.

Skills for an animal caretaker

A quality animal caretaker has a number of soft skills. These include:

  • A love for animals: Not only should you have an affection for animals, but you should also be concerned for their health and well-being. You should also enjoy spending long hours in the company of animals.

  • Good customer service skills: Animal caretakers often need to talk to pet owners and customers. In a veterinary clinic, you may need to record a pet's medical history requiring you to listen carefully to the owner and display good interpersonal skills.

  • Patience: You may have to manage animals in distress as well as concerned pet owners. These situations require patience and the ability to remain calm when under stress.

  • Able to learn quickly: Many animal caretakers get their training on the job. Because of this, it's important that you can understand and follow directions and learn quickly.

  • Flexibility: Working with animals can sometimes be unpredictable. Your ability to adapt to changing situations and to think quickly can be a positive asset in a kennel or clinic environment.

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