Animal Caretaker/Kennel Operator

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Related roles: Animal Care Giver (ACG), Aquarist, Dog Bather, Dog Groomer, Groomer, Kennel Attendant, Kennel Technician (Kennel Tech), Pet Groomer, Pet Stylist, Zookeeper


Similar Titles

Animal Care Giver (ACG), Aquarist, Dog Bather, Dog Groomer, Groomer, Kennel Attendant, Kennel Technician (Kennel Tech), Pet Groomer, Pet Stylist, Zookeeper

Job Description

Every day, we’re surrounded by animals sharing the planet with us…even if we don’t see or notice them. Most of these animals live in the wild, but millions live under the direct care of humans—either as pets, livestock, or for other reasons. Some of these animals stay in temporary environments such as kennels and shelters, while others are kept in zoo enclosures designed to mimic their natural habitats. 

Animal Caretakers and Kennel Operators take care of animals in many different circumstances. They ensure the animals under their care are well-fed, receive attention and sufficient exercise each day, and are bathed and groomed when it is safe to do so. They monitor animals for signs of illness, injury, or pests and arrange medical treatment, when necessary. In addition, they make sure that living quarters are kept clean and free from debris or hazards. 

Some caretakers play an active role in determining diets or providing training services to curb unwanted behaviors. They may also arrange adoption screenings, help with vaccinations, answer phones, and manage administrative tasks such as recordkeeping. Taking care of animals is a big responsibility, but the jobs can be very rewarding!

Rewarding Aspects of Career
  • Taking good care of domesticated animals in need, or wild animals under human supervision
  • Helping at-risk animals get adopted into good homes
  • Keeping communities safe from potentially dangerous animals
  • Mitigating the spread of animal-borne disease
  • Enabling pet owners to temporarily be away from their pets (for example, while they are at work or traveling) 
2021 Employment
2031 Projected Employment
The Inside Scoop
Job Responsibilities

Working Schedule

  • Animal Caretakers and Kennel Operators may work full- or part-time jobs, depending on the employer’s needs. Some may be assigned to shifts, requiring night or weekend work hours. 

Typical Duties

  • Coordinate the intake of new animals. Assess needs and issues. Discuss any requirements with the previous caretaker or owner, if applicable 
  • Provide a safe, sanitary living space with suitable lighting, temperature control, and room to move around
  • Establish a schedule for feeding, watering, bathing, grooming, and exercise, as applicable 
  • Recognize when animals are anxious about bathing, grooming, getting nails clipped, etc. Take actions to put them at ease so they don’t bite, scratch, or flee. Exercise caution and wear protective gear as needed
  • Clean and sanitize food and water containers; temporarily move animals in order to clean and disinfect their living spaces regularly 
  • Wash any laundry items; clean equipment or gear that comes into contact with animals (such as horse saddles)
  • Monitor animals in person and via video monitoring. Watch for signs of illness, injury, or unusual behavior
  • Keep records of diets, health, weight, medical treatments, and notable issues
  • Arrange medical treatment and checkups with veterinarians 
  • Administer supplements or prescribed medications, per instructions
  • Arrange regular exercise and stress-relieving activities such as playing with toys 
  • Closely monitor visitor engagements to ensure safety 
  • Match animals with adoptive families, as applicable 

Additional Responsibilities

  • Train animals via reinforcement actions such as giving treats 
  • Provide customer service in person or via phone and email; answer questions, provide tips, and offer recommendations 
  • Arrange for safe transportation and safe, sturdy exhibit enclosures
  • Order and receive supply shipments. Carry out retail operation tasks, such as ringing up sales
Skills Needed on the Job

Soft Skills

  • Adaptable
  • Attention to detail
  • Commitment 
  • Compassion
  • Coordination
  • Customer service
  • Detail-oriented
  • Independent
  • Integrity
  • Monitoring
  • Objectivity 
  • Organized
  • Patience
  • Physical stamina
  • Reliability
  • Sound judgment 
  • Stamina
  • Teamwork
  • Trustworthiness 

Technical Skills

  • Animal grooming and care
  • Basic knowledge of calendaring, scheduling, and databases
  • First aid and personal protective equipment
  • Sanitation and disinfecting procedures
Different Types of Organizations
  • Animal rehabilitation centers, shelters, and hospitals
  • Aquariums
  • Equestrian centers and stables
  • Farms and ranches
  • Pet boarding facilities/kennels/animal daycares
  • Pet stores and grooming salons
  • Research centers and universities
  • Self-employed workers    
  • Veterinary clinics
  • Wildlife reserves
  • Zoos
Expectations and Sacrifices

Animal Caretakers and Kennel Operators bear a lot of responsibility for the animals under their care and must be diligent in timely feeding and cleaning tasks. In addition, they require compassion and must tend to every animal’s health and wellness needs. 

It can be exhausting or even frustrating work sometimes since animals tend to do what they want, versus what we might want! If an animal is hurt, sick, or nervous, their behavior can change quickly, making it harder to take care of them. In fact, taking care of animals can be a dangerous job at times, so workers have to be cautious not to get bitten or scratched. 

At times, the work can be emotionally challenging, especially when animals are unhealthy and the caretaker needs to assist a veterinarian with a euthanasia procedure. 

Current Trends

There’s growing interest in holistic and natural methods of animal caretaking. For example, many pet owners want their animals to eat only natural/organic foods or take herbal supplements. They might even want aromatherapy or other therapies for their pets. 

Environmental-conscious pet owners may also want more eco-friendly products, such as toys made from renewable materials. Pet owners can be finicky, so Animal Caretakers and Kennel Operators need to understand all of a potential customer’s demands before agreeing to accept an animal into their care. 

Meanwhile, smart technology in collars and other wearable devices is booming. This allows owners to monitor pet health and activity and set up automated feeding systems or remote cameras so they can feed and keep an eye on their pets while at work or traveling. Animal Caretakers can also put these technologies to use. 

What kinds of things did people in this career enjoy doing when they were younger….

Animal Caretakers and Kennel Operators often grew up around animals. They may have lived on a farm or rural area with lots of animals…or they could have simply had a ton of pets as a child! In school, they may have participated in 4-H, Future Farmers of America, National High School Rodeo Association, or other animal-related activities. 

No matter how they started engaging with animals, they enjoyed the experiences enough to eventually seek a career working with animals on a regular basis. Most are very passionate about caring for animals and have a lot of empathy and compassion. They’re practical, hard-working, and feel comfortable around all sorts of animals—which usually helps animals feel comfortable and relaxed around them, too! 

Education and Training Needed
  • Animal Caretakers/Kennel Operators can usually start working with a high school diploma or equivalent
  • Some employers may prefer candidates with some relevant college courses under their belt, but experience is often the main qualifier 
  • You can pick up experience and skills by volunteering, doing an internship, or taking a part-time job at a small site before applying for a bigger job
  • Employers will usually offer On-the-Job training, as well
  • Those who want to perform grooming or training services may need to take community college classes or complete a specific training program to learn the needed skills
  • Optional certifications from the below organizations can also boost one’s credentials:
  1. Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers

                • Dog Trainer Certification
                • Behavior Consultant Certification

  1. Certified Horsemanship Association - Equine Facility Manager    
  2. National Animal Care and Control Association - NACA ACO I    
  3. National Association of Professional Pet Sitters - Pet Care Certificate Courses
  4. National Dog Groomers Association of America - National Certified Master Groomer
  5. Pet Sitters International - Certified Professional Pet Sitter
  6. Public Responsibility in Medicine and Research - Certified Professional IACUC Administrator    
  • Self-employed workers who launch their own business may need a state-issued license
Things to look for in an University
  • Animal Caretakers and Kennel Operators don’t need a college degree. But, those who do grooming, training, or other specialized work may need to take classes or finish a training program
  • Seek community college or vocational training programs
  • Look for internship opportunities to get practical experience 
  • Compare tuition and fees costs, noting in-state vs. out-of-state costs
  • Review scholarship and financial aid options
  • Check out graduation and job placement statistics for alumni 
Things to do in High School and College
  • In high school, study animal-related topics, as well as English, math, biology, and business
  • Enroll in any ag-related school programs or activities, such as 4-H
  • Participate in agriculture-related clubs and activities like the Supervised Agriculture Experience and National FFA Organization
  • Consider being part of the National High School Rodeo Association, if you plan to work with horses
  • Apply for part-time jobs where you can gain real-world experience working directly with animals. Remember, job site options include: 
  1. Animal rehabilitation centers, shelters, and hospitals
  2. Aquariums
  3. Equestrian centers and stables
  4. Farms and ranches
  5. Pet boarding facilities/kennels/animal daycares
  6. Pet stores and grooming salons
  7. Research centers and universities
  8. Self-employment    
  9. Veterinary clinics
  10. Wildlife reserves
  11. Zoos
  • If you have animals at home, practice good care techniques with them
  • Reach out to working Animal Caretakers or Kennel Operators to request an informational interview. See if you can shadow them on the job for a day!
  • Decide exactly what you want to specialize in, such as a particular animal type, grooming, training, etc.
  • If needed, get a certificate or associate’s degree before applying for jobs (for example, you could complete the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers’ Dog Trainer Certification or Pet Sitters International’s Certified Professional Pet Sitter
  • Read articles and watch how-to videos related to the specific job type you want to get
  • Review online forums and ask questions from seasoned professionals
Typical Roadmap
Animal Caretaker/Kennel Operator Roadmap
How to Land your 1st job

As noted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the “overall employment of animal care and service workers is projected to grow 29 percent from 2021 to 2031.” That’s 24% more than the average for all occupations. In other words, this career field seems ready to explode with new jobs! 

But Animal Caretakers and Kennel Operators can work in many different areas. Do you want to work exclusively with dogs or cats? Are horses your area of expertise? Would you love to care for a wide range of animals, such as at a zoo? Try to decide what you specifically want to do before applying for jobs, so you can tailor your experiences to better serve your long-term career goals!

  • Scan job portals like, Glassdoor, ZipRecruiter, and Craigslist  
  • Review job posts for keywords and phrases, and work those into your application materials (if applicable)
  • Let your network know you’re looking for work. Many animal care-related jobs are found through personal connections
  • If you already have a lot of experience, it’s not uncommon to launch your own business instead of applying to work for someone else. It may be as basic as a dog walking service or a pet boarding business 
  • Reach out to former coworkers, supervisors, teachers, or customers. Ask if they’ll serve as personal references. Don’t give out their contact information without permission
  • Review sample Animal Caretaker and Kennel Operator resumes
  • Research potential interview questions that employers or potential clients might ask you. Keep in mind, questions will vary depending on the exact type of job you are looking for
  • Get familiar with the vocabulary of the field. For example, check out “dog word” or “dog grooming” glossaries! 
How to Climb the Ladder
  • Build a solid reputation by taking excellent care of all animals you’re entrusted with
  • Go above and beyond, every day, to ensure animals have all their needs attended to
  • Keep organized and on schedule. Complete daily tasks and help other workers, as needed
  • Ask for additional responsibilities, such as training new employees or volunteers
  • Find ways to improve efficiency and productivity, while staying compliant with employer policies and any state or federal regulations
  • Knock out continuing education and training. Consider getting specialized in a hard-to-fill niche area
  • Build strong working relationships with coworkers, managers, customers, and local agencies or other service providers
  • Participate in professional organizations to learn, make friends, and discover opportunities (see our list of Recommended Resources)
  • If your current employer doesn’t have opportunities for advancement, consider applying for a job at a larger organization—or starting your own business! 
Recommended Tools/Resources



Plan B

Animal Caretakers and Kennel Operators have key roles in the safeguarding of many types of animals, in a wide range of settings. These are very hands-on jobs and, though rewarding, they do come with a few associated frustrations and hazards. If you’re interested in working with animals, but within a different occupation, check out the suggestions below! 

  • Animal Behaviorist
  • Animal Breeder
  • Animal Control Worker
  • Animal Nutritionist
  • Animal Photographer
  • Animal Trainer
  • Equine Trainer
  • Marine Biologist
  • Veterinarian    
  • Veterinary Assistant
  • Zoologist and Wildlife Biologist


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