How to Start an In-Home Pet Sitting Business

This is a guest post by Danielle Chonody. She has a website for pet sitting and other pet businesses so be sure to take a look a her site via the link included at the end.

The popularity of pet sitting is growing rapidly. Four years ago, when I started my pet sitting business in Dallas Fort Worth, many people I spoke to had no idea that pet sitting was an option to boarding their pets when they traveled. Today pet sitting is regularly in the news and the largest pet sitting franchise in the United States opens 4-5 new locations every month.

A pet sitter is someone who visits a client’s home once or several times a day to feed, water, walk and play with pets while clients are at work or out of town. Often pet sitters also perform home services such as mail collection, garbage disposal, and plant watering. Pet sitting is an alternative to boarding and offers the benefit of keeping pets in a familiar environment and maintaining their regular routine. This means that pets are less stressed and avoid coming in contact with other animals from which they can pick up disease. Pet sitting also offers more convenience to owners as they do not have to drop and pick up pets from a boarding facility.

Pricing for pet sitting varies from $14-25 per 30 minute visit depending on region. Some pet sitters charge extra for administering medications to pets, and charge extra for each additional pet. The price that you charge will have to cover your transportation costs to and from visits. You should do some research about the rates of other pet sitters in your area to see what you can expect to earn per visit.

Start your pet sitting business with the right tools and attitude

There are very few start-up costs to open a pet sitting business but it is essential that you start prepared. You must purchase insurance, bonding, and business forms to get started right and protect yourself from legal issues. Insurance will cover you against any damage caused to a client’s home, injury to their pets, and loss of client keys. Bonding will cover you against theft of articles from a client’s home by anyone working with your business. New customers will typically ask if you are insured and bonded and having these policies in place sets you up as a professional business and makes you more trustworthy to them.

By joining a pet sitting association you will be able to purchase pet sitting insurance and bonding at a discounted rate. I am a member of Pet Sitters International (PSI) and recommend them because they offer great member support, discounted services, and a highly searched online pet sitter locater. An association will also provide education and put you in touch with other pet sitters through networking groups and an annual conference.

Business forms are available from many online stores and also through PSI. You will need to have a pet sitting contract which outlines your legal terms and conditions and forms to collect client and pet information.

Although not essential, I would also recommend that new pet sitters take a pet first aid training course so they are prepared to care for an injured pet during an emergency. A first aid kit, kitty litter, paper towels, cleaners, and a couple of dog leashes make a great care kit to carry to pet sitting jobs to make sure you are prepared for any incident.

The Pros
I love pet sitting as I get to interact with many different pets and they always greet me with happy faces and wagging tails. I also get to meet owners and share stories about their pets. At a pet sitting visit you are paid to play and spend time cuddling with the pets, what could seem less like work?

Pet sitting is a business you can start small with low start up cost and low overheads. You can grow the business as you grow your business skills. I started small and have slowly built up a base of regular clients. You are also able to start the business part time while continuing to work a day job. I still run my business part-time and use contractors to help me with pet sitting visits. It is a great business to start if you have not previously owned your own business as you can learn along the way.

The Cons
You should know the drawbacks of pet sitting and weigh them against the benefits to make sure that no on the job sitting situations will be a surprise. Here are some characteristics of pet sitting to consider:

1) Pet sitters take on a lot of responsibility while caring for pets because pet owners are relying on the sitter to manage their pet’s health and well-being in their absence. Dogs will need walking come rain or shine and you will often have to make visits when you are tired or even sick. Pet sitting is something you have to make a total commitment to pursuing as you will have to be there whenever the pets need you.

2) Pet owners trust you with the keys and security of their home. As a pet sitter you need to be organized and keep track of scheduled visits, keys and contracts. You should have a system to label and store keys (preferably label with numbers rather than names or addresses in case they are lost). I purchased a key lock box from an office store that came with numbered keys and a record book that lets me keep keys secure in my home between scheduled visits. The worst thing a pet sitter can do is to miss a scheduled visit or lose the keys!

3) As a pet sitter you must be comfortable entering client’s homes to visit pets. Sometimes visits will have to be made to customer’s homes at night when the home is dark. You must be comfortable entering customer’s homes and walking around neighborhoods with dogs to walk them at night or in the twilight of early morning.

4) Pet sitting is messy. You need to be prepared to clean litter boxes at each cat visit and clean up accidents in the home whenever they occur. In my business this has often meant cleaning vomit, poop and pee from carpets, hard floors, and pets. Dog feet are often muddy in wet weather and they will need to be wiped before re-entering the house. This can be a challenge!

5) Pet sitters come into contact with many different breeds of dogs. Some dogs may act very differently when you enter the home than they do when their owner is home. A pet sitter should make sure to carefully interview each new dog client and be able to identify the warnings signs of aggression. Sitters should also know how to ask owners the right questions to be sure that their dogs have not had prior history of aggressiveness towards strangers or other dogs. I have been lucky that most owners will be honest about these issues with you but I have been told stories by other pet sitters that owners have been deceptive in their answers when they desperately need someone to care for their pets. Even with honest owners you may still encounter dogs who growl, bark, and display threatening behavior when you arrive. You should know how to correctly approach a dog displaying this behavior and be prepared with treats, toys, or a leash to distract them or convince them you are a friend.

6) Most cats will be shy or friendly but occasionally you will also run into an aggressive cat. Cats pose less of a threat to a pet sitter’s safety but it is important to be able to handle them so that they do not injure themselves and so you are able to enter the home and care for their daily needs.

7) Any pet sitter is going to spend about 20-25% of their day that is dedicated to pet sitting driving from one visit to another. Even if you are careful to keep your geographical area small the time you spend in the car will be significant. If you don’t like driving this may not be the career for you! If there are certain highways or areas in which traffic is bad you may consider not accepting clients in those locations.

8) The busiest times of the year for a pet sitting business are during major holidays such as Christmas and Thanksgiving, long weekends, and during school holidays. You have to be prepared to work on these holidays and on weekends while your family and friends are enjoying time off.

Perhaps the best tip I can give you before you start a pet sitting business it that it is always your choice which clients and assignments that you choose to take. Match your skills with the types and needs of the pets and learn and grow new skills slowly. In the beginning it is hard to turn business down but you will wish that you had been more selective when problems arise. Being selective with your clients will help you enjoy pet sitting more and grow the business that is right for you.

I wish you the best of luck with your new pet business!

To read more articles by Danielle Chonody visit her site dedicated to starting and growing pet businesses at www.workingwithpets.com.

About Ark Lady

+ArkLady is a cyber-jungle trailblazer, author & speaker. Join thecyber-jungle explorer email list or connect via ARKlady website.