Animal caretakers care for the needs of animals. They feed, water, groom, bathe, and exercise pets and other nonfarm animals. Job tasks vary by position and place of work. They work in a variety of settings, including kennels, zoos, stables, animal shelters, pet stores, veterinary clinics, and aquariums. Some of the work may be physically or emotionally demanding, and the number of work-related injuries and illnesses is higher than the national average.
Animal caretakers train, feed, groom, and exercise animals. They also clean, disinfect, and repair the animals' cages. They play with the animals, provide companionship, and observe behavioural changes that could indicate illness or injury. Boarding kennels, pet stores, animal shelters, rescue leagues, veterinary hospitals and clinics, stables, laboratories, aquariums and natural aquatic habitats, and zoological parks all house animals and employ animal caretakers. Animal caretakers typically do the following:
Nonfarm animal caretakers typically work with cats and dogs in animal shelters or rescue leagues. All caretakers attend to the basic needs of animals, but more experienced ones may have more responsibilities, such as helping to vaccinate or euthanize animals under the direction of a veterinarian. Workers also may have administrative duties, such as keeping records on the animals, answering questions from the public, educating visitors about pet health, or screening people who want to adopt an animal. Some animal caretakers work as animal trainers who train animals for riding, security, performance, obedience, or assisting people with disabilities. They familiarize animals with human voices and contact, and they teach animals to respond to commands. Most animal trainers work with dogs and horses, but some work with marine mammals, such as dolphins. Trainers teach a variety of skills. Some may train dogs to guide people with disabilities; others teach animals to cooperate with veterinarians or train animals for a competition or show.
Other animal caretakers are groomers and care for the appearance and cleanliness of the animal. Some groomers are employed by kennels, veterinary clinics, or pet supply stores, where they groom mostly dogs, but some cats, too. In addition to cutting, trimming, and styling the pets' fur, groomers clip nails, clean ears, and bathe pets. Some groomers also schedule appointments, sell products to pet owners, and identify problems that may require veterinary attention.
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Most animal caretakers learn on the job. Still, many employers prefer to hire people who have experience with animals. Zookeeper and marine mammal trainer positions require formal education. Most animal care and service worker positions do not require formal education, but many animal care facilities require at least a high school diploma or the equivalent. Although pet groomers typically learn by working under the guidance of an experienced groomer, they can also attend a licensed grooming school. The length of each program varies with the school and the number of advanced skills taught.
Most zoos require keepers to have a bachelor’s degree in biology, animal science, or a related field. Animal trainers usually need a high school diploma or the equivalent, although some positions may require a bachelor’s degree. For example, marine mammal trainers usually need a bachelor’s degree in marine biology, animal science, biology, or a related field.
Most animal caretakers learn through short-term on-the-job training. They begin by doing basic tasks and work up to positions that require more responsibility and experience. Some animal caretakers may receive training before they enter their position. Pet groomers often learn their trade by completing an informal apprenticeship, usually lasting 12 to 20 weeks, under the guidance of an experienced groomer.
All workers must be compassionate when dealing with animals and their owners. They should like animals and must treat them with kindness. They should understand pet owners’ needs so they can provide services that leave the owners satisfied. Some animal caretakers may need to deal with distraught pet owners; for example, caretakers working in animal shelters may need to reassure owners looking for a lost pet. Many animal caretakers and all animal trainers need to be patient when teaching or dealing with animals that do not respond to commands. Animal trainers must have problem-solving skills when teaching an animal obedience and other behaviors. They must assess whether the animals are responding to the trainer’s teaching methods and identify which methods are most successful. Stamina is important for animal trainers because their work often involves kneeling, crawling, bending, and occasionally lifting heavy supplies, such as bags of food.
Animal caretakers work in a variety of settings. Although many work in kennels, others work in zoos, stables, animal shelters, pet stores, veterinary clinics, and aquariums. Mobile groomers and pet sitters typically travel to customers’ homes. Caretakers of show and sports animals travel to competitions. The work of animal caretakers may be unpleasant and emotionally distressing. For example, those who work in shelters may see abused, injured, or sick animals. Some caretakers may have to help euthanize seriously injured or unwanted animals. Depending on their work setting, they may work outdoors in all kinds of weather. Some facilities can be noisy.