This article was excerpted from Pet Businesses, a startup guide available from SmallBizBooks.com.
If you are charmed by all things furred, feathered and finned, this is the profession for you. As a professional pet sitter, you will care for people's pets while they're away, either for the day or for longer periods of time like during vacations or business trips. Pet sitters play with their charges, feed them, brush them, and possibly give them medication or injections. They often offer other services to make life easier for their customers, like cleaning up accidents and changing cat litter boxes, bringing in newspapers and mail, watering plants and taking out trash.
Dog walkers take pooches out for their daily constitutional one or more times a day, either individually or in small groups. In some cities across the United States, like New York, dog walking alone can be a booming business. But it's actually more common for dog walkers to offer additional services, including playing with and feeding pets, bringing in newspapers and mail, and turning lights on and off.
Both pet sitting and dog walking are still in their infancy as recognized professions. According to an industry expert, only 3 percent of households nationally use a pet sitter or dog walker. Even so, that adds up to 50 million to 60 million visits annually, according to the same source--and that number is on the rise. In fact, the outlook for pet sitters and dog walkers has never been better. Some estimates put the number of bonded and insured pet-sitter businesses nationwide at 10,000 (regrettably, there are no stats on the number of dog walkers).
Just a few decades ago, these two professions didn't even exist. Instead, people relied on neighbors to watch and water their pets while they were away on vacation, or they dropped them off at kennels. But all that changed in the '70s with a decrease in stay-at-home moms available to let the dog out or to take the cat to the vet. Also, young couples began postponing their plans to have a family in favor of establishing their careers and often adopted pets to fill the void. Finally, an upsurge in business travel that started in the '80s and continues today also contributed to the need for the services of a pet-sitting or dog-walking professional.
The field is wide open, so now is a great time to jump in with both paws.uh, feet!
The Low-Down on Dough
So how much can you earn? It really depends on where you're doing business and how many visits you can make in one day. Here's an easy way to estimate what you might make. Using a figure of $16 per visit, which Jerry Wentz, the president of the board of directors of the National Association of Professional Pet Sitters, says is the national average for pet sitters, determine how many visits per day you think you can handle. Let's say you can handle eight 25-minute visits a day. Here's the math:
8 visits x $16/visit = $128/day
$128/day x 5 days/week = $640/week
$640 x 50 weeks (two weeks off for good behavior!) = $32,000/year
Bump that up to 10 visits per day at $18 a visit, and you'll earn $45,000 per year. Ad two more visits per day at the same rate, and you're up to $54,000. Incidentally, it's customary to charge an additional $1 to $3 for each extra animal in the same household, which of course would improve your bottom line.
For more information on starting your own pet-sitting/dog-walking business, plus four other pet businesses, check out our guide on SmallBizBooks.com.