People love their pets. In the U.S., 67% of households have at least one pet, according to the American Pet Products Association. Those households spent over $100 billion on care for their pets, more than $8 billion of which went to services such as pet sitting.
If you’re an animal lover who wants to make money and have your own business, becoming a pet sitter might be the thing to do. You provide pet care to dogs, cats, and other companion animals on a full-time or part-time basis.
How to Become a Pet Sitter: The Basics of Pet Sitting
Being a professional pet sitter means more than having a deep love for animals.
Professional pet sitters are trained individuals who know how to recognize canine and feline behavior, can administer first aid to pets, and who can provide excellent care to companion animals.
Professional pet sitters also have some business savvy and need to know how to work with people and occasionally manage difficult situations and clients.
Would You Make a Good Pet Sitter?
Some people are more cut out for a career or side gig as a pet sitter than others. A few questions to ask yourself to see whether cat or dog sitting is right for you include:
- Do You Like Animals? To be a good pet sitter, you need to be a cat or dog lover, preferably both. It also helps to have a love of all types of animals, as some clients might hire you to provide care for birds, rabbits, or other creatures. If you’re scared of animals or even ambivalent about them, this isn’t the job for you.
- Do You Understand the Basics of Pet Care? It helps to know the basics of providing care to pets, such as how to scoop a litter box or clean up poop after a dog’s done its business. Some jobs might require you to give animals medicine, so it’s important to have a few tricks up your sleeve for administering medications.
- Do You Communicate Well With Others? Although dogs and cats tend to respond well to pets and cuddles, you’ll need to take a different approach when communicating with their human pet parents. Defining the scope of a project and your responsibilities when providing care to a pet is crucial. You also need to be able to communicate any concerns to the pet’s owners clearly and succinctly.
- Do You Work Well Independently? Pet sitters often set their own schedules and usually don’t have someone watching over them. If you work well on your own with little supervision or guidance, you’ll likely thrive in the role.
- How Do You Respond in Crisis Situations? Pets can get themselves into sticky situations. A cat might climb up a tree or a dog might run free from the backyard. Being calm in a crisis and knowing who to call and how to react is a key skill to have as a pet sitter.
Pet Sitting Services and Responsibilities
Because no two pets are alike, what you do at one pet sitting job might be drastically different from what you do at another.
Some pet owners might want you to drop in on their companion animals once or twice per day, while others might prefer to have you stay the night in their home with their pets when they’re away.
A few animal care services you can expect to provide include:
- Feeding Pets. Some pets get fed specific amounts of food at specific times of day while other free feed, meaning you pretty much just need to make sure there is food in their bowl. You should also provide pets with clean water when you top off their food.
- Playing and Cuddling with Pets. Most pets will need some play time with their cat or dog sitter. How active you need to be depends on the pet’s temperament and age. Older pets might just want to sit and chill with you, whereas puppies and kittens might need to run around and blow off steam.
- Cleaning Litter Boxes. If you’re going to care for cats, you’ll need to scoop the litter box. Some clients might be perfectly happy if you scoop the box once or twice per day while others might expect you to scoop it daily and give it a thorough cleaning at least once a week.
- Giving Medications. Not every pet needs medications, but older cats and dogs often do. It’s important to be well-versed in the various ways of administering medications to animals. You might need to apply a transdermal cream to a cat’s ear pinna or convince a skeptical pooch to swallow a pill pocket.
- Walking Dogs. Some pet sitters exclusively offer dog walking services whereas others walk dogs as well as provide a full range of pet sitting services. If you are going to be a dog walker, know the leash laws in your area and make it clear to owners that you’ll be following the rules. Also familiarize yourself with how to clean up after a dog does its business when out on a walk.
Pro tip: If you’re planning to start a pet sitting business, setting up a website is a great way to spread the word. Websites can be set up quickly through Bluehost for less than $4 per month.
Pet Sitter Training and Certification
Do you need to have your own pet to be a successful pet sitter? Not necessarily. Some pet sitters get into the business because they love animals but can’t have a dog or cat of their own.
If you can’t have a pet at home, one way to demonstrate experience and give pet owners peace of mind is to complete a pet sitter training course and to become a certified professional pet sitter.
Two organizations provide training and education to aspiring pet sitters: Pet Sitters International (PSI) and the National Association of Professional Pet Sitters (NAPPS).
There are a few differences between the two. NAPPS is a nonprofit organization that’s U.S.-based. PSI is a global organization and welcomes members from around the world.
Both organizations offer training programs that let you become a certified professional pet sitter. PSI offers the Certified Professional Pet Sitter® (CPPS) examination while NAPPS offers a six-month, self-paced certification program.
Earning certification from either organization gives you a leg up as a pet sitter. It says to pet owners that you’re responsible, knowledgeable, and take your work seriously.
How to Start a Pet Sitting Business
Once you’ve decided that being a pet sitter is right for you, the next step is to set up shop. You can become a pet sitter in two ways. You can find a local pet sitting company in your area, apply for a job, and get hired.
Another option is to become a freelancer, operating your own business. If you go the self-employed route, you’ll have more freedom when it comes to setting your hours and deciding what services to offer.
Freelancers also have more responsibilities, including marketing their companies, setting pricing, and finding clients.
1. Decide What Services You’ll Offer
The first thing to do is decide what you’ll do as a pet sitter. Will you be a generalist, providing care to cats, dogs, and all types of companion animals? Or will specializing better suit you?
If you know you’re a cat person, it might make sense to offer services exclusively for cats. If you like birds, you can fill a niche by opening up a bird-centric pet sitting service.
Along with deciding on the services you’ll offer, choose how extensive your services will be. Are you comfortable with sleeping over at a client’s home or do you want to limit your time spent with pets to drop-in visits only?
If your time is limited and you’re looking to work as a pet sitter on a part-time basis, you might consider only offering dog walking services rather than the full works.
On the flip side, you might want to offer a wider range of housesitting services to your clients. For example, you can offer to collect the mail or water the plants for clients who book you to care for their pets while they’re away from home.
2. Get Insured
As a small business owner, you need insurance. Liability insurance protects you if something goes wrong on the job.
If a pet gets sick or dies while under your care, your insurance policy can step in and cover the costs of damages and legal fees.
If a pet runs away while you’re dog or cat sitting, insurance will also protect you financially.
3. Set Your Rates
One great thing about working for yourself is that you can set your own rates.
According to Zippia, the average annual pet sitter salary is just over $10,000. You can earn considerably more than that as a self-employed pet sitter because you aren’t dependent on an hourly wage from your employer.
How much you charge depends on several factors.
If you offer drop-in visits, you might charge based on the length of the visit. To spend 20 minutes in a client’s home with their pet, you might charge $20. For a 30-minute visit, you might decide to charge $25. If a client asks you to visit twice per day for 20 minutes each time, you might set your rates at $30 per day.
You can typically charge more for overnight stays, such as $50 per night. One way to get a sense of how to set your rates as a pet sitter is to visit a site like Rover to see what other sitters in your area charge. You can then set your rates to be competitive with theirs.
4. Find Clients as a Pet Sitter
You might be the best pet sitter around, but your skills are only valuable if there’s a demand for them. Finding clients can be the most challenging — and the most critical — part of starting a pet sitting business.
You have a few options for getting the word out about your services.
- Word of Mouth. If you have friends and family who have pets and who have turned to you in the past to walk their dogs or feed their cats when they went on vacation, ask them to share the love and recommend you to other pet owners.
- Networking. Get your business cards ready and head out to local networking events for small businesses in your area. Another way to network is to reach out to local companies in your area that might work directly with pet owners. Real estate agents might be happy to recommend you to their home-buying clients while a local veterinarian might be willing to pass your information on the parents of patients.
- Social Media. Pets are popular subjects on social media, particularly Instagram. A social media profile for your pet sitting business will help you gain followers and, ideally, clients. Just be sure to get the permission of a pet’s owner before you post any images of their pets.
- Rover. Rover.com lets you set up a profile so pet parents find you. You can offer a mix of services on the site, including pet boarding, housesitting, drop-in visits, and doggy daycare. To start booking clients, you’ll need to pass a background check, which gives pet owners peace of mind.
Tips for Working With Pet Parents
Just like pets, no two pet parents are exactly the same. You’re likely to get some clients you love working with and some that are more challenging.
While you can’t always avoid a headache as a pet sitter, you can set expectations from the start so your clients know what to expect and what’s expected of them.
When clients hire you, be clear about what they are hiring you to do. A 20-minute visit will be 20 minutes, not 30. You might want to put everything in writing to minimize any potential disagreements in the future.
Some clients will be more likely to ask for favors than others. How you respond depends on your schedule, flexibility, and how much you like the client.
It’s important to have boundaries as a pet sitter. If you can’t make an emergency visit to their dog at 1am, state what hours you are available.
A client might love daily check-ins from their pet sitter when they’re on vacation. Others might be fine only hearing from you if there’s a problem.
Ask clients their communication preferences, then make sure you abide by those preferences. You don’t want a client anxiously texting you at midnight, worried that you forgot to feed their cat.
A picture is worth a thousand words, particularly to pet parents. When you text or email clients to give them updates, include a photo or two of their pets being happy and healthy.
Set Up a Payment System
You’re working as a pet sitter to make money, so you need to make sure clients pay you on time.
When they hire you, let clients know how you invoice, whether it’s once per month or every other week. Also be clear about any fees or interest charged for late payments.
If you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life. That might be the case if you love animals and start a career as a pet sitter.
Whether you start a pet sitting side hustle to supplement income from a full-time job or have plans on making a career change, working with animals can help you feel less stressed and more connected. It could be the start of a fulfilling new chapter in your life.