Animal care and service workers provide care for animals. They feed, water, groom, bathe, and exercise pets and other nonfarm animals. Job tasks vary by position and place of work.


Animal care and service workers typically do the following:

  • Give food and water to animals
  • Clean equipment and the living spaces of animals
  • Monitor animals and record details of their diet, physical condition, and behavior
  • Examine animals for signs of illness or injury
  • Exercise animals
  • Bathe animals, trim nails, clip hair, and attend to other grooming needs
  • Train animals to obey or to behave in a specific manner

Animal care and service workers train, feed, groom, and exercise animals. They also clean, disinfect, and repair animal cages. They play with the animals, provide companionship, and observe behavioral changes that could indicate illness or injury.

Boarding kennels, pet stores, animal shelters, rescue leagues, veterinary hospitals and clinics, stables, aquariums and natural aquatic habitats, zoological parks, and many laboratories house animals and employ animal care and service workers.

The following are examples of types of animal care and service workers:

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 experienced caretakers may have more responsibilities, such as helping to vaccinate or euthanize animals under the direction of a veterinarian. Caretakers also may have administrative duties, such as keeping records, answering questions from the public, educating visitors about pet health, or screening people who want to adopt an animal.

Animal trainers 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. For example, some may train dogs to guide people with disabilities; others teach animals to cooperate with veterinarians or train animals for a competition or show.

Groomers specialize in maintaining a pet’s appearance. Groomers may operate their own business, work in a grooming salon, or run their own mobile grooming service that travels to clients’ homes. Demand for mobile grooming services is growing because these services are convenient for pet owners, allowing the pet to stay in its familiar environment.

Kennels, veterinary clinics, or pet supply stores employ groomers, where they groom mostly dogs, but some cats, too. In addition to cutting, trimming, and styling the pet’s fur, groomers clip nails, clean ears, and bathe pets. Groomers also schedule appointments, sell products to pet owners, and identify problems that may require veterinary attention.

Grooms care for horses. Grooms work at stables and are responsible for feeding, grooming, and exercising horses. They saddle and unsaddle horses, give them rubdowns, and cool them off after a ride. In addition, grooms clean stalls, polish saddles, and organize the tack room where they keep harnesses, saddles, and bridles. They also take care of food and supplies for the horses. Experienced grooms sometimes help train horses.

Keepers care for animals in zoos. They plan diets, feed, and monitor the eating patterns of animals. They also clean the animals’ enclosures, monitor their behavior, and watch for signs of illness or injury. Depending on the size of the zoo, they may work with one species or multiple species of animals. Keepers may help raise young animals, and they often spend time answering questions from the public.

Kennel attendants care for pets while their owners are working or traveling. Basic attendant duties include cleaning cages and dog runs, and feeding, exercising, and playing with animals. Experienced attendants also may provide basic health care, bathe animals, and attend to other basic grooming needs.

Pet sitters look after animals while their owner is away. They go to the pet owner’s home, allowing the pet to stay in its familiar surroundings and follow its routine. Most pet sitters feed, walk, and play with pets daily. More experienced pet sitters also may bathe, groom, or train pets. Pet sitters typically watch over dogs, but some also take care of cats.

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Work Environment

Animal care and service workers held about 232,100 jobs in 2012. About 82 percent of these workers were nonfarm animal caretakers, and 18 percent were animal trainers.

Animal care and service workers are employed in a variety of settings. Although many work at kennels, others work at 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 must travel to competitions.

Although most animal care and service workers consider the work enjoyable and rewarding, the work may be unpleasant and emotionally distressing at times. For example, those who work in shelters may see abused, injured, or sick animals. Some caretakers may have to help euthanize injured or unwanted animals. In addition, most of the work involves physical tasks, such as moving and cleaning cages, lifting bags of food, and exercising animals.

Injuries and Illnesses

Animal care and service workers have a higher rate of injuries and illnesses than the national average. When working with scared or aggressive animals, caretakers may be bitten, scratched, or kicked. Also, injuries may happen while the caretaker is holding, cleaning, or restraining an animal.

Work Schedules

Animals need care around the clock, so many facilities, such as kennels, zoos, animal shelters, and stables operate 24 hours a day. Therefore, caretakers often work irregular hours including evenings, weekends, and holidays. About one-third of animal caretakers worked part time in 2012.

About 25 percent of animal care and service workers were self-employed in 2012. Many of these workers can set their own schedule.

Education and Training

Most animal care and service workers 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 one of 50 state-licensed grooming schools. 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.

Dog trainers and horse trainers typically qualify by taking courses at community colleges or vocational and private training schools.


Most animal care and service workers learn through short-term on-the-job training. They begin by performing basic tasks and work up to positions that require more responsibility and experience.

Some animal care and service workers may receive training before they enter their position. For example, caretakers in shelters can attend training programs through the Humane Society of the United States and the American Humane Association. Pet groomers often learn their trade by training under the guidance of an experienced groomer.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Although not required, certifications available in many of these occupations may help workers establish their credentials and enhance their skills. For example, several professional associations and hundreds of private vocational and state-approved trade schools offer certification for dog trainers. The National Dog Groomers Association of America offers certification for master status as a groomer. Both the National Association of Professional Pet Sitters and Pet Sitters International offer a home-study certification program for pet sitters. Marine mammal trainers should be certified in SCUBA.

Other Experience

For many caretaker positions, it helps to have experience working with animals. Nearly all animal trainer and zookeeper positions require candidates to have experience with animals. Volunteering and internships at zoos and aquariums are excellent ways to gain experience in working with animals.

Personality and Interests

Animal care and service workers typically have an interest in the Building and Organizing interest areas, according to the Holland Code framework. The Building interest area indicates a focus on working with tools and machines, and making or fixing practical things. The Organizing interest area indicates a focus on working with information and processes to keep things arranged in orderly systems.

If you are not sure whether you have a Building or Organizing interest which might fit with a career as a animal care and service worker, you can take a career test to measure your interests.

Animal care and service workers should also possess the following specific qualities:

Compassion. Workers must be compassionate when dealing with animals and their owners. They should like animals and must treat them with kindness.

Customer-service skills. Animal care and service workers should understand pet owners’ needs so they can provide services that leave the owners satisfied. Some animal care and service workers 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.

Detail oriented. Workers must be detail oriented because they are often responsible for keeping animals on a strict diet, maintaining records, and monitoring changes in animals’ behavior.

Patience. Animal caretakers and all animal trainers need to be patient when training or working with animals that do not respond to commands.

Physical stamina. Stamina is important for animal care and service workers because their work often involves kneeling, crawling, bending, and occasionally lifting heavy supplies, such as bags of food.

Problem-solving skills. Animal trainers must be able to assess whether the animals are responding to teaching methods and identify which methods are most successful.


The median annual wage for nonfarm animal caretakers was $19,690 in May 2012. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $16,490, and the top 10 percent earned more than $32,500.

The median annual wage for animal trainers was $25,270 in May 2012. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $17,580, and the top 10 percent earned more than $49,840.

Animals need care around the clock; many facilities, such as kennels, animal shelters, and stables, must be staffed 24 hours a day. Therefore, animal caretakers often work irregular hours including evenings, weekends, and holidays. About one-third of nonfarm animal caretakers worked part time in 2012.

About 25 percent of animal care and service workers were self-employed in 2012. Many of these workers can set their own schedule.

Job Outlook

Overall employment of animal care and service workers is projected to grow 15 percent from 2012 to 2022, faster than the average for all occupations. Employment growth coupled with high job turnover should result in very good job opportunities for candidates for most positions.

Animal care and service workers will continue to be needed as the variety and number of pet services increases. Employment in kennels, grooming shops, and pet stores is projected to increase to keep up with the growing demand for animal care.

Demand for zookeepers, marine mammal trainers, and horse trainers is projected to grow slow. Many trainers work at zoos and amusement and recreation establishments, none of which is expected to add as many positions as other traditional pet care facilities.

Furthermore, the cost of owning and riding horses is too high for many people, so employment of horse trainers is not expected to grow as fast as employment of those who train companion pets, such as dogs.

Job Prospects

Job opportunities should be very good for most positions. Employment growth and high job turnover are expected to result in many openings for dog trainers, groomers, pet sitters, kennel attendants, and caretakers in shelters and rescue leagues.

As the number of pet services increase, more workers will be needed. In addition, entry requirements are low for most animal care occupations, so positions should continue to be available for workers looking to enter the field.

However, candidates will face very strong competition for positions as marine mammal trainers, horse trainers, and zookeepers. The relatively few positions and the popularity of the occupations should result in far more applicants than available positions.

For More Information

For more information about pet groomers, visit

National Dog Groomers Association of America

For more information about pet sitters, including certification information, visit

National Association of Professional Pet Sitters

Pet Sitters International

For more information about animal trainers, visit

Association of Professional Dog Trainers

International Marine Animal Trainers’ Association

For more information about keepers, visit

Association of Zoos and Aquariums

American Association of Zoo Keepers


Where does this information come from?

The career information above is taken from the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook. This excellent resource for occupational data is published by the U.S. Department of Labor every two years. Truity periodically updates our site with information from the BLS database.

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There are many excellent tools available that will allow you to measure your interests, profile your personality, and match these traits with appropriate careers. We recommend the Career Personality Profiler assessment ($29), the Holland Code assessment ($19), or the Photo Career Quiz (free).

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