How to Start a Pet Care Business
Do Business the Right Way
With enough time and energy on your hands, you can start a pet care business faster than a dog can eat a treat. Okay, maybe not quite that fast, but if you love helping animals (and their humans) live their best lives, then this career path was made for you.
Below, we’ve done the legwork for you to provide a free guide to starting a home-based pet care business today.
Not interested in starting a pet care business? Visit our generic Start A Business Guide.
What Does a Pet Care Business Do?
The most common services offered by pet care businesses are dog walking and pet sitting. You might decide to offer just one of these services, or you may offer both of them and more. But, like with many businesses, it’s a good idea to start small. Maybe you only offer dog walking to start, and as you build your clientele and experience, you gradually add in doggy daycare services. Or maybe you start with doggy daycare, and later offer daily walks as an add-on. Whatever you decide, it’s important that you have a clear focus and a plan.
As a dog walker, you can walk one dog at a time or as many as you can handle before the dogs start walking you. If you walk multiple dogs simultaneously, you’ll need to ensure that they all get along and/or that you can make them get along if needed. (It’s a good idea to pair dogs of similar ages and sizes.)
Offering doggy daycare and pet sitting requires a bit more upfront planning and preparation than dog walking does, since you may actually be hosting animals in your home. You might only offer daytime weekday services, or you may provide the option of boarding dogs and other animals when their owners go out of town. Regardless, ample outdoor space (with secure fencing!) is a must. You might also want to have several separate fenced areas so that dogs (and other animals, if you so choose) of all shapes, sizes, and temperaments can enjoy the space in peace. If you don’t have the right space to host animals at your home, you can still pet sit by doing house calls. This is especially relevant when it comes to cats, who tend to be more territorial and stranger-wary than dogs, and often stay at home when their owners go away. Cat sitting usually involves checking on the cat a couple times a day to feed, play, and clean the litter box as needed.
As a pet sitter, you might also give animals their medications. Before doing so, talk with the pet owner in detail about what’s needed. If an animal needs shots—insulin, for example—you should only offer this service if you’ve worked as a vet tech, have previously cared for diabetic animals, or are otherwise trained in administering pet medications via needle.
Beyond walking and sitting, some pet care services offer grooming and training. Depending on your experience and skill set, these can be great options to bring in extra cash. But, remember that clients will have very specific ideas about what constitutes an adequate hair cut or training session for their pet. Don’t offer anything that you’re not equipped to handle.
When determining your offerings, keep your location in mind. Starting a successful dog walking business might be easier in a city, as there is a greater potential for more clients within a smaller radius. On the other hand, it will be exponentially more challenging to start a robust pet boarding business if you live in an apartment and don’t have any land. (Doing so would probably displease your landlord and neighbors, too.) Before you get your heart set on one niche over another, make sure you live someplace that won’t stop these dreams from coming true.
Steps to Starting a Pet Care Business
Create a Business Plan for Your Pet Care Business
Before you get started, you’ll need an idea of what resources you’ll need—and how to monetize your business in a practical way. We’ve answered the biggest questions about clients, costs, and profits below.
Who is the target audience?
The target audience for your pet care business will primarily be pet owners with jobs or hobbies that take them away from the home for extended periods of time. To help narrow your focus further, you will need to define your niche. Do you specialize in doggy hikes and destination walks? Dog socialization at dog parks? Are you a cat whisperer? Maybe your specialty isn’t even dogs or cats, but different animals entirely?
Not only is your niche important when it comes to figuring out where and how to market, it’s essential when it comes to setting you apart from the pack. There are plenty of dog walkers and pet sitters out there. What makes you different? Even the seemingly smallest of focuses can be enough to perk an owner’s ears.
How do I get clients?
Your pet care business will get clients through social media and community networking. Start by building a website that details your experience, pricing, and services. Then, create professional social media accounts that you link to when you post about your new enterprise on your personal accounts. When it comes to pet care, people are much more likely to hire someone they know than someone they don’t. In this vein, referrals are especially important. Maybe your community already has their pet care needs met, but once they know about your services, they can refer you to all their friends.
You’ll also want to check in with local veterinary clinics, animal hospitals, and pet stores to see if they’d be willing to keep your business fliers at their front desks, or let you post fliers on their bulletin boards. Signing up with a platform like Nextdoor may also prove fruitful—here, members of your community offer recommendations, support local businesses, and share information about services.
Apps such as Rover and Wag! can be really useful when you’re new to dog walking and are trying to build your skills, but they’re less helpful when you’re trying to build your own business. You want to get your name out there, not Rover’s. Plus, these companies keep up to 25% of your earnings. When you find clients yourself, your earnings are all for you.
How does a pet care business make money?
A pet care business makes money by offering dog walking and pet boarding services to clients. If your business is going well, most of your clients will hire you for ongoing services. Perhaps they hire you to walk their dog at the same time every weekday, and pay you extra each Friday to take the dog to the dog park. Providing some variation of service offerings will help you capitalize on your business and make the most of your time. If you do expand your business to include pet sitting and/or doggy daycare, you can charge extra for walks and park time.
No matter what you offer, you’ll want to have your clients sign a contract prior to providing services. This will ensure that both you and the client are on the same page regarding their animal’s care, and will limit liability if something goes awry (such as an animal getting injured on your watch).
How much money will it take to get started?
If your pet care business focuses solely on dog walking at the start, you’ll be able to keep costs quite low. You’ll want to buy leashes—if the maximum number of dogs you’ll walk at a time is five, then five leashes is a good place to start ($10 per leash minimum). Plastic poop bags are essential and cost around $20 in bulk, and you’ll want to have some treats on hand, as well.
If and when you expand your services to include pet boarding and sitting, you may need to invest in some fencing so that you can partition your yard to service a variety of animal personalities and sizes. Chain link fencing costs around $150 for a 5’x150’ roll.
Another service you may need to plan for is animal transportation. This will be especially important if you have a pet sitting business, as you might offer to pick up and drop off animals from their homes. It could also be a service you offer with dog walking, depending on your location and the location of your clients. Plan on spending at least $10,000 (though this amount is quite flexible in both directions) for a used van.
Before starting your business, it’s also a good idea to have some basic knowledge of pet first aid. The American Red Cross offers a dog and cat first aid course for $25.
You will also want to get animal bailee insurance coverage for your pet care business. This protects you in the event that an animal is injured, lost, or dies while under your care. Plans can cost $16 a year to $4,000, depending on the extent of your coverage. If you’ll be transporting animals in your vehicle, you’ll also want to look into commercial auto insurance. For your pet care business, you will likely pay less than $1,500 a year for coverage, according to Insureon.
How much do pet care businesses make each year?
Dog walkers make an average salary of $27,920, according to Glassdoor. However, this number includes dog walking employees, not just business owners. Pet sitters are reported to make over $48,000 a year in take-home income, according to Pet Caretakers.
In both cases, salaries are highly variable and depend on location, competition, experience, and offerings.
How much should I charge?
Dog walkers tend to charge $15-$20 for 20-minute walks, and up to $30 for 30-minute walks. If you’re walking more than one dog at a time for the same owner, usually $5-$10 is added per additional dog.
Pet sitters generally charge about $30 a day (you can also offer half-day prices). For overnight stays, $90 is at the high-end of typical.
Can I put restrictions on the dogs and animals I care for?
When determining what types of animals you’re willing to care for, there are several things to consider. The first has to do with whether the dogs you watch are spayed or neutered, and up-to-date on all their shots and immunizations. While you may be willing to care for dogs that aren’t, you’ll want to make sure to walk those dogs alone. You’ll also want to consider dog personalities. Does the dog play well with others? How does it react to strangers? To help answer these questions, you may want to set up some time to meet with dogs and owners prior to providing service. Something else to consider is dog size. Are you comfortable walking dogs of all sizes, or do you need to have a weight limit on the dogs you’re willing to walk?
If you’re pet sitting, you’ll first need to decide if you’re willing to watch non-dog pets, or if dogs are the end all be all. Plus, all of the above questions still apply. If you’re willing to watch more ferocious dogs at your home, for example, you’ll need a way to separate them from the little guys.
Prior to accepting work, it’s a good idea to have your clients fill out questionnaires. This will allow them to answer questions about their pet’s diet, temperament, injuries, and quirks. It will also be an opportunity to discuss what they hope to get out of your pet care service, and to talk through potential roadblocks before they arise.
Select a Name for Your Pet Care Business
Have a great name idea? Before you start marketing and branding your business, you’ll need to ensure your name is available. Most states prohibit or restrict businesses from adopting names that are already in use. Even if it’s legally allowed, a copycat name puts your business at risk of a lawsuit.
See if your business name is available in your state with our Free Business Name Search.
Trademarks and Domain Names
Plan to trademark your business name? You can see if the trademark is available on a website like Trademarkia. It’s also a good idea to see if the domain name is available, which you can do on websites like Network Solutions and GoDaddy. Even if you don’t plan on putting together a website right away, you can buy the domain name to make sure no one takes it in the meantime.
Choose a Business Structure
Should you form an LLC? A sole proprietorship? Your choice of business structure will affect many aspects of your business, from liability to taxes.
Sole Proprietorships & General Partnerships
If you don’t file any paperwork to legally form a different kind of business—you have a sole proprietorship or general partnership. Essentially, these are “default” business structures. A sole proprietorship has one owner, and a partnership has multiple owners.
These structures have a few initial benefits. They’re easy, fast and cheap to start and maintain. However, the limitations and risks of these business structures quickly become more apparent as your business grows. In both of these business types, you are your business, legally speaking. Your company’s legal business name is YOUR name—so you’ll need a DBA to operate under any other name. Any business debt is YOUR personal debt. If anyone sues your business, they are suing YOU personally.
LLCs & Corporations
Limited liability companies (LLCs) and corporations are business entities formed at the state level. The entity is legally separate from its owners, meaning the owners are not personally liable for the debts and obligations of the business. As a separate entity, the business also has multiple tax election options. For example, both LLCs and corporations can choose to be taxed as S-corps if they meet the requirements.
LLCs and corporations are not quite as simple and inexpensive as default structures. LLCs and corporations come with formal requirements like state reports. They also have more fees than default structures, such as formation and annual report fees. However, the benefits of an LLC or corporation—especially liability protection and tax flexibility—are significant.
Legally Form Your Pet Care Business
If you opt for a sole proprietorship or general partnership, there’s no formal paperwork to file to legally create your entity—you just start selling your product or service. However, you will not have any liability protections or tax flexibility.
LLCs and corporations are formed by filing paperwork with a state agency, typically the Secretary of State. To start an LLC, you file articles of organization. To start a corporation, you file articles of incorporation. In most states, you can file these forms online or download a paper form from the state’s website.
Whether you’re forming an LLC or corporation, your articles will require certain basic information about your business, such as your company’s:
- business address
- registered agent and office
- business purpose
- members/managers or directors/officers’ names and addresses
- number and type of authorized shares (for stock corporations)
You’ll also need the signature of someone authorized to sign on behalf of the business, along with the state’s filing fee. Fees vary by state but are typically between $100 and $200. If you hire Northwest to form your LLC or corporation, we complete and submit your formation paperwork on your behalf for just $100 plus state fees.
Create Internal Policies and Procedures
It’s important to put your company’s internal policies and procedures in a written document, especially if you’re starting your business with others. Partnerships have partnership agreements. LLCs have operating agreements. Corporations have bylaws.
These documents look a bit different for each kind of business, but they serve the same general purpose. They ensure there’s a clear path forward for any major issue that may arise, from changes in ownership to closing the business. LLCs and corporations also typically need an operating agreement or bylaws in order to open a bank account.
Get an EIN and Register for Taxes
Nearly all LLCs and corporations will need to request a federal employer identification number (EIN) from the IRS. If you file corporate income taxes, have employees, or file certain franchise taxes, you must have an EIN. An EIN is also a common requirement for opening a business bank account. Most businesses can request an EIN by filling out the IRS’s online form.
Your EIN is for federal taxes—but you’ll likely have state and local tax obligations as well. You will most likely need to set up an account with the state’s Department of Revenue, and you may need to apply for a state tax ID or a sales tax license as well.
Learn more about how to Get an EIN for your business.
Open a Bank Account
A business bank account keeps your personal finances separate from your business finances. For LLCs and corporations, keeping separate finances is essential for maintaining liability protection. To open an account, LLCs and corporations typically need to bring to the bank a copy of their articles, their operating agreement or bylaws, and their EIN.
Obtain Required Licenses and Permits
Many businesses will need a business license to operate. Licensing information—as well as any zoning requirements or other permits—can usually be found on the city or county website.
If your home is part of a homeowner’s association, you’ll also be subject to any of their restrictions for home-based businesses. Some areas may also require home-based businesses to obtain a Certificate of Occupancy (a document certifying the property owner has given the business permission to operate).
If a city requires specific pet care licensing, they are likely to lump it all together. So, if there’s a license requirement for dog walking, it’s probably the exact same license as what’s required for pet sitting. Such licenses are most often required in cities as opposed to rural areas. For example, in San Francisco, a commercial dog walker needs a Dog Walker Permit if they plan to walk four or more dogs at a time—the initial fee costs $285 and $114 each year thereafter. Before you can even qualify, you must prove you’ve been professionally walking dogs for a minimum of three years. To figure out if your business needs pet-care specific licensing, check your state and municipality websites.
Next Steps for Your Pet Care Business
After your business is up and running, there are a few additional steps you may want to take as you grow:
- Get online: With your domain name, you can create a business website. You can hire a professional or use a website-builder like Wix or WordPress. You may also want to invest in online ads through a program like Google Ads.
- Hire employees: Hiring employees requires quite a few steps. You’ll need to collect W-4s and I-9s from employees, report the new hires to the state, set up withholding, pay for unemployment insurance, distribute any required documents and notices to employees, and display wage and safety info in the workplace. Employer.gov is a good place to start, followed by your state’s tax or labor office.
- Get business insurance: While LLCs and corporations protect you from personal liability, you don’t want your business to go bankrupt in the face of an accident, injury or other disaster. At minimum, it’s a good idea to look into general liability insurance. Home-based businesses can sometimes add insurance onto their homeowner’s policy. Animal bailee insurance is essential as well, covering you in case a pet goes missing, gets injured or—worst-case scenario—dies.
How Do I Know if a Pet Care Business is Right for Me?
What’s it really like to work in a pet care business?
Working in a pet care business requires near-constant movement and a surplus of energy. You’ll spend much of your time outside, in all kinds of weather. Depending on your client list, you might also be doing a fair amount of commuting between walks. When you’re dog walking, you need to be able to keep up with dogs of all sizes and temperaments. And when you’re pet sitting, the same rules apply just in a more contained space.
But it’s also important to remember that working with pets doesn’t mean you’ll just be working with animals. You’ll be working with the pet’s humans, too. And usually, these humans will have specific ideas about what’s necessary for their fur baby’s happiness and well-being. Working well with both pets and owners will be key.
What does it take to succeed in the world of pet care?
Succeeding as a dog walker or pet sitter means being a top-notch organizer who’s just as good with animals as with people. You need to be intuitive, prompt, responsible, and communicative. And, you need endless energy and problem-solving skills. If all those words describe you—and you’re happiest when you’re among your non-human friends—then starting a successful pet care business is not only doable, but will leave you as content as a dog with a bone.
Ready to Form an LLC or Corporation?
Northwest Registered Agent is here to help with all your small business ideas and needs. Answer a few simple questions about your business, and we’ll prepare and submit your formation paperwork to the state. We also provide your new business registered agent service, free business forms and guides, and much more.