How to Become a Pet Sitter (Duties, Salary and Steps)

Pet sitters are to pets what babysitters are to human children. Here's how you can become one!

woman pet sitter playing with a cat

Do you love animals? Do you want to cuddle and play with them for a living? Then you just might want to consider becoming a professional pet sitter.

If this sounds like something you’d be interested in, then you’ve come to the right place. Whether you’re about to graduate from school or you’re considering changing careers, this guide will tell you everything you need to know about pet sitters — from what they do to what they earn and how to become one.

What pet sitters do

Pet sitters are basically babysitters for animals in that they provide daily care for pets while their owners are away on vacation or business trips, or even while at work. They typically visit clients’ homes to do this (and sometimes stay overnight), though some also host pets in their own homes.

While most pet sitters look after all kinds of pets, many specialize in caring for a particular type of animal, such as:

  • cats
  • dogs
  • birds
  • snakes
  • lizards
  • spiders
  • insects
  • fish
  • hamsters
  • rabbits

Day-to-day activities vary depending on the type of animal in pet sitters’ care as well as individual client requirements, though typical duties and responsibilities include:

  • Providing pets with TLC
  • Providing socialization opportunities for pets through regular play and interaction with other animals and humans
  • Providing pets with food and fresh water, while paying attention to any special dietary requirements
  • Administering medications as needed
  • Cleaning out litter boxes, cages and aquariums
  • Exercising pets as needed, such as taking dogs for walks
  • Grooming pets as needed, which can include bathing them, brushing their coats, trimming their nails, cleaning their ears and brushing their teeth
  • Transporting pets to the vet for check-ups, vaccinations, and other appointments
  • Observing pets’ health and behavior to assess any concerns that may require veterinary attention, and communicating these concerns to their owners
  • Providing clients with regular updates, which might include communicating with them over the phone or sending them photos and videos of their pets via email or text message

Pet sitters who stay overnight in clients’ homes, meanwhile, may also have additional responsibilities, such as gathering mail, watering plants, and generally keeping clients’ homes clean and tidy. These tasks are typically agreed on between the pet sitter and the client beforehand.

Most pet sitters are independent contractors, but some are employed by local, regional or national pet sitting businesses.

Essential skills and qualities

Beyond having a love of animals, whether they’re furry, scaly or feathered, working as a pet sitter requires a unique and diverse skillset to succeed on the job. This includes:

  • Being knowledgeable of animal behavior and adept at caring for all kinds of pets
  • Being reliable and trustworthy
  • Having excellent interpersonal and communication skills (although you’ll mainly be working with animals, you’ll also need to deal with their loving and sometimes anxious owners)
  • Having great customer service skills (again, you’re not just working with animals)
  • Being physically fit
  • Having a great deal of patience and empathy (particularly when working with shy or misbehaving animals)
  • Having great time management skills
  • Being an effective problem-solver
  • Having an in-depth understanding of pet CPR and first aid
  • Having good business acumen (since you’ll generally be running your own business)

What the job is like

Before pursuing any career, it’s always a good idea to understand what exactly it entails so there are no unexpected surprises down the road. In this section, we’ll cover the typical work environment, work hours and overall job satisfaction of pet sitters.

Work environment

For the most part, pet sitters work indoors, but they sometimes also spend time outdoors (such as to clean kennels and exercise animals). Their job involves a lot of travel, either to visit clients’ homes, accompany pets to veterinary and grooming appointments, or even to transport pets to their own homes if they offer boarding services (a valid driver’s license is, therefore, a must).

Pet sitting can be a physically demanding job, as you’ll spend your day moving from house to house and walking dogs (sometimes more than one at a time) around neighborhoods. Also, as with most jobs that involve working with animals, it carries certain physical risks, such as bites, scratches and zoonotic diseases.

Work hours

Pet sitters don’t have a typical 9–5 workday and generally work around their clients’ schedules. This may include early mornings, late evenings, weekends and even public holidays. Of course, you can set your own hours, but the more flexible you are, the better your chances are at landing more gigs and attaining repeat customers.

Generally speaking, the work hours of pet sitters are unpredictable, and largely depend on when their services are required. They may only have a couple of gigs one day, for example, and a packed schedule the next which could include an overnight stay. That said, they generally work more during busy periods, like in the summer, when pet owners tend to go on vacation.

Although many work full time, some pet sitters work part time (and even hold a second job), particularly when they’re just starting out.

Job satisfaction

Pet sitting can be a highly fulfilling and rewarding job, with most workers reporting high levels of job satisfaction.

That said, though many pet sitters love the work itself, the job comes with certain challenges which can be deterring. This includes low wages for the amount of work they do, and a lack of job security between gigs. Many also report burnout and compassion fatigue.

Job market

The global market for pet sitters is roaring.

As pet owners increasingly consider their pets to be a part of the family, the demand for luxury pet services, like pet sitting, has rapidly grown. In fact, Americans spent an estimated $8.1 billion on pet sitting and other related services in 2020, according to the American Pet Products Association.

This, coupled with the steady increase of pet ownership, proves that pet sitting is a viable career choice.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics, meanwhile, projects that employment of animal caretakers (which include pet sitters) in the US will grow by 34.4% between 2020 and 2030 — much faster than the national average 8% growth rate for all occupations. This equates to about 93,600 new jobs by the end of the decade.

Salary

Though you can certainly make a six-figure salary as a pet sitter, this will be a result of building a good reputation and a steady client base, which will come with time and experience. Generally speaking, however, pet sitters are one of the least paid professions in the animal care industry.

Here is an overview of the typical earnings of pet sitters in the US, including by level of experience and by state, based on data compiled by the BLS:

Mean wage

In comparison to the national mean wage across all occupations in the US (which is $56,310), pet sitters earn almost half of that, as shown in the table below:

Mean annual wage

Mean hourly wage

$28,380

$13.65

Mean wage by experience

Though pet sitters generally set their own rates, earnings vary by level of experience (ranging from $19,310 to $40,210), as described in the table below:

Experience

Mean annual wage

Entry level

$19,310

Junior level

$22,030

Mid level

$26,080

Senior level

$31,480

Top level

$40,210

Mean wage by state

Want to know in which states pet sitters command the highest salary? Take a look for yourself: 

State

Mean annual wage

Alaska

$33,980

Washington

$34,120

California

$34,730

Hawaii

$35,070

District of Columbia

$38,610

Steps to become a pet sitter

You don’t need any formal education to become a pet sitter (most workers in the field have only a high school diploma), but if you’re seriously considering professional pet sitting as a career option, then you’ll need a proper plan. Here are some practical pointers.

Step 1: Determine if it’s the right job for you

First things first, before you jump into any career path, you need to make sure it’s the right choice. Pet sitting might sound great on paper but you need to figure out if it’s something you can really see yourself doing.

This begins by asking yourself a few simple questions:

  • Do you have the right skills and qualities to work as a pet sitter? If you lack a certain skill, are you willing to invest time and possibly money in learning and developing it?
  • Are you willing to travel, sometimes to neighboring cities, for gigs? Are you comfortable with occasionally spending long periods of time away from home?
  • Are you willing to complete professional training and certification?
  • Do your values and interests align with the work of a pet sitter?
  • What are your long-term career goals?

Meanwhile, taking an online career test can be immensely helpful in identifying the careers that best match your interests, personality, motivations and strengths. Our own scientifically validated test, CareerHunter, for example, will accurately match you to hundreds of potential careers based on your answers across six individual assessments.

Step 2: Gain relevant work experience

Though being a pet owner yourself would qualify you, in a way, to look after other people’s pets, gaining some relevant work experience is highly recommended. Not only will it look great on your résumé, but it will also give clients that extra peace of mind that you know what you’re doing and that you’re perfectly capable of caring for their fur-babies.

There are many ways you can do this, including working at a pet shop, veterinary clinic or pet grooming business, or even volunteering at a local animal shelter. You can also build your experience by caring for your friends or relatives’ pets when they’re out of town (even if you’re not paid for it).

Step 3: Get certified

Although you don’t need to be certified to work as a pet sitter, it can greatly help your reputation and credibility, as it sets you apart from the competition and, ultimately, increases your employability.

Online certification programs are available through industry-leading associations like Pet Sitters International and the National Association of Professional Pet Sitters, and typically include training in animal CPR and first aid, marketing, and business operations. You can also complete specialist courses in subjects like animal behavior and caring for senior animals.

Step 4: Take out insurance

A lot can go (and has gone) wrong while on the job. A cat could swallow a toy and require emergency surgery, a dog could run away while you’re taking it for a walk, you could lose the client’s house keys, or you could accidentally break a client’s glass table while visiting their home. Then there’s the truly unthinkable: a pet dying while in your care.

This is why it’s incredibly important to take out liability insurance, especially as a small business owner. If something does indeed go wrong, your insurance policy can cover the costs of damages and legal fees.

Do your research and select a plan that offers the most comprehensive and reliable coverage at premiums that won’t break the bank.

Step 5: Join a pet sitting organization

Becoming a member of a pet sitting organization (like PSI and the NAPPS) isn’t necessary, but it does boost your credibility as a pet sitter. It also offers you many benefits, such as networking opportunities with industry experts and fellow pet sitters, magazine subscriptions, access to online courses and webinars, a business listing on online directories, and much more.

Final thoughts

Whether you’re thinking about pet sitting as a part-time or summer job, or as a full-time profession, it provides endless benefits — not least the opportunity to get paid to play and cuddle with animals.

As some parting advice, however, it’s a good idea to seek out the input of more experienced pet sitters (whether they’re your friends or someone you’ve reached out to online). They’ll be able to answer your questions, provide you with insider knowledge, and guide you through the ins and outs of the job so you can make a better-informed career decision.

Join the conversation! Are you thinking about becoming a pet sitter and have a question? Let us know in the comments section below!

 

This article is an updated version of an earlier article originally published on 1 September 2017.