Pet Care Professions and Services in the US
In the 2019 to 2020 National pet owners survey by the American Pet Products Association, there are 136.4 million households with pets in the US. If a household has an average of two people (statista.com has plotted this at 2.52 for 2019), then it would be logical to think that there are at least 272 million pet lovers because it’s very unlikely for a household to have a pet when there is at least one person who doesn’t like pets. This doesn’t even account for the people who can’t actually have pets because they either have a family member who is allergic to pets or who does want pets, so can you imagine just how many pet lovers there are in the U.S. today?
If you yourself are a pet lover, you must have, at some point in your life, thought about getting a job that’s related to taking care of animals, right? And how amazing would that be to actually get paid to do what you love and spend your days just taking care of pets or just be around pets, whether it is yours or somebody else’s… A pet lover is a pet lover. And if not yourself, I’m guessing you know at least one person who doesn’t have to leave their house to have fun, as long as they’re with their pet.
Now let’s talk about the types of pet care professions that are actually out there, what it takes to be a pet care professional, and what you can get out of being in a pet care profession.
By definition, pet care is the care and medical treatment of pets which means any job that has to do with taking care of pets would be considered a pet care profession. Now let’s take a closer look at them one by one.
9 Types of Pet Care Professions and Services
If someone were to be asked to name a pet care profession, top of mind would probably be who we more commonly call the ‘vet’. After all, our local veterinarian would be the first person to come to mind whenever we see your pets not feeling well or needing medical attention.
Also called a veterinary physician or a veterinary surgeon, veterinarians not only care for our pet’s health. They also contribute to society by working to improve public health. To do this, they research diseases and medical conditions of a wide variety of animals. And of course, they diagnose and treat pets and livestock among others.
One might think that a veterinarian is better off than a doctor who treats humans, but really, their tasks might actually be a bit more complicated. An animal doesn’t get to a vet’s clinic all by itself. There has to be a human that helps the animal seek medical attention. This means that the veterinarian will have to deal with at least two individuals ALL THE TIME. He/she will have to treat the pet and explain everything to its owner/s.
What does it take to be a veterinarian?
- A bachelor’s degree. They have to graduate with a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree from an accredited college of veterinary medicine.
- Communication skills. This is essential whether at work or in our personal lives, but this is critical when it comes to physicians. Lives literally depend on it. A vet does not only have to explain everything that’s going on to the pet owner, but they also need to make sure that their instructions to their staff are clear and understood correctly. In order to be able to give the best care possible to our pets, they have to be able to explain options and recommendations very clearly to the pet owners.
- Compassion and empathy. Especially when dealing with pets that are sick or dying, compassion makes a lot of difference in terms of relating to the animals and their owners. Kindness and respect are both very important when dealing with the animals, and it is equally very important to be sensitive when they deal with the owners.
- Manual dexterity. Because a veterinarian will find himself having to do surgical procedures on his patients, he has to be able to use his hands very skillfully. In line with this, they can’t have conditions like carpal tunnel syndrome which can cause numbness or loss of control in the hands.
- Problem-solving and decision-making skills. These two go hand-in-hand and are most critical when it comes to diagnosing and treating their patients. The most tricky part is that our pets can’t tell them exactly what they’re feeling and the vets can’t ask them probing questions.
It takes a lot to become a doctor and it takes a lot to continue to be one. But the rewards are definitely worth all the hard work.
Veterinary assistants are the pets’ second best friend whenever they’re at their doctor’s clinic. Vet assistants help with duties at the clinic; but more importantly, they help with exercising the pets and they also help with kennel work. This kind of job will also require someone to be compassionate, patient, keen on details, organized. And one very important quality is that a vet’s assistant will have to be able to emotionally handle situations where pets are very ill or in more unfortunate cases when pets have to be euthanized.
Exercise is as important to dogs as it is to humans. So, for very busy people, hiring someone to walk their dogs is just like making sure there are milk and diapers for the baby. To be a dog walker, one can either join an existing company, be a private dog walker, or join a dog walking app for starters and get a feel of how things go and how much you can potentially earn from it. The CEO of one dog walking app estimates the average hourly rate of a dog walker to be $17.50 per hour.
The job seems pretty simple, but there still are prerequisites to this profession. At the very least, a dog walker should be familiar with state laws, should know how to handle all kinds of dogs, and have the proper training for emergency situations.
Pet sitting pretty much works the same way as babysitting does, except that you’ll be taking care of a pet. This can also include dog walking, depending on the agreement between the pet owner and the pet sitter.
One of the benefits of pet sitting is that there is a very good chance that your list of clients will grow over time; and if you’re lucky, this could happen sooner than you expect. Because the pet owner is going to let the pet sitter into their home, the level of trust that is gained on your first or second assignment would most likely dictate if you are going to have a long-term business relationship with the pet owner. Trust is always important when pet care services are involved, but more so with pet sitting because the pet owner is letting a complete stranger into their personal space. And it is not just the safety and security of the pet at stake, but every member of the household.
Moreover, especially with pets who don’t warm up to people quickly, having someone with who the pet is already comfortable makes everything easier, not just for the pet, but for the pet owner and the pet sitter as well.
The great thing about pet sitters is they can even stay overnight sometimes when the pet owners have to go out of town for a vacation or a business trip and bringing their pet is just not an option. Of course, this setup would probably include more things to do like cleaning the house, watering the plants, etc. A pet sitter can either have a different rate for overnight stays or simply discuss additional fees depending on how much work needs to be done.
Pet Boarding or Kennel Attendants
Pet boarding attendants perform tasks that are a combination of a pet sitter and a veterinary assistant’s feeding, exercising, administering medication, and maintaining the cleanliness of the kennels. The main difference is that pet boarding attendants don’t get to choose the pets they look after as pets are taken to a pet boarding business, whereas pet sitting would involve the pet sitter going to the pet owner’s place. Pet boarding attendants are also sometimes required to be able to lift 40 to 50 lbs and should be able to stand or walk for extended periods of time. Also, pet boarding assistants may be required to work on holidays, especially if the business is open 7 days a week.
If you are someone who just loves seeing those poodles and chow chows with their hair trimmed, and the Maltese that looks like it has its hair brushed more times in a day than you brush your hair in a week, then the dog grooming profession wouldn’t be alien to your ears. When you’re the creative type, or maybe even a frustrated hairstylist, perhaps dog grooming would be twice the fun for someone who loves pets.
Let’s not forget our pets’ teachers. They can be dog trainers, cat trainers, or any other type of animal (whether domesticated or not) that requires a lot of expertise in animal behavior. Pet trainers teach our pets to listen, be obedient, and ‘have manners’. Being able to teach pets well is just as good as taking care of them and making sure they’re fed. Well-trained pets are not only able to help their owners by being less of a headache when it comes to having to clean up after them; some pets can even be trained to become service pets wherein they are able to help and be companions to their owners who have disabilities.
Veterinarians who practice acupuncture as part of a pet’s treatment are called veterinary or animal acupuncturists. Their median salary, on average, is $48,400.
Dog or Cat Breeder / Assistant
Someone who is a big fan of puppies and kittens would perhaps find dog/cat breeding very appealing. The wonderful thing about being a breeder or an assistant to the breeder is that you get to spend a lot of time caring for the little ones while running the business of maintaining high genetic standards at the same time.
Basic Qualities Required of Someone in the Pet Care Profession
As with any job opportunity, there are certain skills that someone who chooses to care for pets should have. These include:
- Being reliable, responsible, and trustworthy. Pets are almost always considered ‘family’ by their owners. So, leaving a pet in someone’s care is like leaving a child to a nanny or babysitter.
- Empathetic. Being able to put oneself in the shoes of another to understand how they feel is important not just to be able to respond appropriately, but also to be able to do it with sincerity.
- Being physically fit. Most pet care jobs will either require one to be able to handle/lift big dogs or be able to stand/walk for long periods of time. Endurance is equally important, especially for those who work long hours.
- Being patient / having great customer service skills. Pet care professionals deal with different types of owners and different types of pets on a daily basis–and they all have their own personalities. One must be able to adjust quickly and have the patience to deal with the more difficult customers.
- Having excellent communication skills and strong interpersonal skills. Whenever a job requires an exchange of instructions and information, it is always important that those involved can both understand and communicate clearly. Along with this is the inherent ability to be able to get along with all kinds of people from all walks of life.
- Being attentive and keen on details. This quality can never be understated. Having high attention to detail is especially very important when we deal with their lives. There is no room for error (or forgetfulness) when it comes to administering medicine, taking note of allergies, and even anxiety triggers.
If you are interested in getting yourself into a pet care profession, it’s important to take note of the qualities that will help you become successful in your chosen field. Do also take note of the level of education required and ask yourself if you are willing to put in the time and effort. There are jobs that do not require a college degree or formal training.
A kennel attendant, for example, is a good entry-level position that an undergraduate or high school graduate would be qualified for. The same goes for being a pet sitter, especially if you are just doing this part-time and taking care of your neighbors’ pets.
However, if you plan on being a professional pet sitter, having training on how to handle emergency situations and relevant certifications can be an important asset that might increase your value as a pet sitter. These would also help convince a prospective client to get your services instead of going with a competitor who has no training at all. Annual income may range from $18,000 up to more than $48,000, depending on the type of job and whether you do it part-time or full-time.
Lastly, consider the hazards that go with pet care, i.e., dog bites, pets getting lost, you or a pet getting in an accident, and make sure you get the right protection. There are pet care insurance policies that are meant to cover the needs of professional dog walkers, pet sitters, and the like. But if you plan on starting your own business and hiring an employee or more, then you’d have to look into the relevant insurances designed to provide protection to the business and its employees in the event that any untoward incident happens. It is always better to be prepared than sorry.
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