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Are you interested in working as a pet sitter? And what qualifications and qualities do you need to start a pet sitting business?
Many pet owners are reluctant to leave their cats and dogs in kennels while they go on holiday, preferring to use the services of pet sitters, so their pets can enjoy a more relaxed and homely environment while they go away.
The familiarity of home or the cosy family environment of home boarding can reduce the stress for pets when their owners are away.
Whilst you do not need official qualifications to set up as a pet sitter, qualifications in such areas as first aid/animal behaviour etc may enhance your professional standing. Obviously you need to have a genuine love of dogs and cats and be confident in caring for them.
You may find that pet sitting and home boarding is a natural progression if you have started a dog walking business and your clients and their dogs know and trust you.
Please note that this article refers to pet sitting at a client’s home or boarding their pet in your own home, not running a commercial cattery or kennels, for this please see our article Setting Up A Cattery or Boarding Kennel
You will need insurance from the outset and the cover will depend on whether you stay a people’s homes with their pets or whether you have the animals in your home for home boarding. If you will be making structural changes to your home for your business you must contact your local authority. Not only are there building planning issues but there is also the matter of business rates, operating licences and any other obligations that may affect you. It is always best to check up first. See the useful page on the government information page at gov.uk about running a business from home including official information on business rates, planning and usage permissions, taxes, specialised insurance and Health and Safety requirements.
You may want to invest in a website and pay for your own DBS check. It would be a good idea to be up to date with first aid skills and you may want to look at dog-training courses, these are also areas that you will cost you money.
If you decide to travel in a vehicle to collect and deliver your home boarding clients you will need a suitable vehicle with the cages and harnesses and you will require vehicle insurance that covers your special usage. Your vehicle may well be a business expense so you should buy/lease and insure it accordingly.
Take advice from an accountant who specialises in hand-holding small businesses, about all business matters before setting up.
Dog sitting offers a varied life and the possibility to work from home, the downside is also the lack of predictability (unless you have regular sitting clients) and you will have to tailor your life around your work. Either you will be away from home or you will be housebound when you are working. You may also need to learn to be on your own quite a lot.
You should have specialist pet business insurance in place, which covers public liability as a legal requirement and also includes liability to pets in your care, custody and control and property damaged (in your own home). Some house insurance policies can combine your home based business within them. Loss of keys cover is another good idea. Policies do vary, so be sure to have adequate cover for your needs.
This is not a legal requirement for sitters or home boarding (though if you work through an agency they will require it). Having DBS clearance may certainly boost your reputation and is recommended as clearly if you are sitting your will be in people’s homes while they are absent. Even with boarding in your own home it is probable that for some clients you will be in charge of house keys as you pick up and drop off dogs when their owners are out.
If you are boarding or sitting dogs, you will need to have good local knowledge of suitable dog walks in safe areas away from roads and livestock either at your home or near the home where you will be sitting. You must have permission of the dog’s owner before you let any dog off the lead. Your insurance will not cover you if you don’t.
The health and safety of dogs in your care is paramount. Make sure all dogs you walk are up to date with vaccinations for all infectious feline and canine illnesses (as relevant) including Kennel Cough. Kennel cough is very contagious and can seriously affect your business.
Ensure clients worm and flea treat their pets regularly.
You will need to make clear to your client your duty of care. This will include feeding, grooming and exercising your animals, but also can include (depending, for example, on how long you are on the placement) maintaining their home and garden and any other special instructions you have agreed with your sitter. You can agree in addition that you are allowed say three hours away from the property each day during daylight hours to explore the local countryside, do a spot of shopping or whatever they wish, but that you will be in residence during the hours of darkness.
An important change in the law regarding dogs early in 2014 means that now, not only in public places, but also on your client’s private property, you would be liable for the animal’s behaviour as you are acting in locum of the owners. Therefore if your client’s cleaner or the postman for example were attacked by your client’s dog while you were in charge of it in their house, you could be subject to a criminal charge including the possibility of a custodial sentence. It is very important that you turn away any clients, now matter how lucrative, where you feel that the dog could cause you problems of this nature owing to its lack of disciplined behaviour, general wildness, aggression, size and strength etc.
You need to check your local rates as they will vary depending where you are in the country but as an example for day care (where you have the animal for the day but not overnight) can be charged out at around £20 per day.
Boarding overnight £25 per night for say 4 nights then you can perhaps drop your rate to say £20
What about going to someone’s house to sit for their pet (in this you would also be responsible for ‘sitting’ their home)
One agency we have found charges £46.50 per day for a single pet, of which £27 is given to the sitter. The agency charge the sitter’s travel cost to the client on top of that. You can therefore work a figure somewhere between the two if you are a freelance sitter, as long as you have the insurances, DBS clearance etc in place. Do not expect to be able to take any pets that you own with you, and if you wish to take another person, obviously clear this with the owner and ensure that the other person is also DBS checked.
When running your business you should issue invoices, claim expenses and generally keep proper books as you will need to present your accounts at the end of each working year and if you claim tax credits you will need to prove the hours that you work per week in order to qualify.
Make it clear in your advertising what type of pets you will be happy to work with – so you don’t waste people’s time. Place adverts in pet shops, vets, newsagents, village shops and your car/van. Offer business cards where appropriate (give to people out with their dogs, for example) and maybe do a mail shot in prosperous areas local to you. Advertise in Yellow Pages and Thomson Local Directory. Introduce yourself to your local vet and veterinary nurses. Having a good relationship with vets can be very rewarding, and they are often the first port of call to potential clients looking for sitters and home boarding.
List your business on pet websites. NARPS, for example lists pet sitters, dog walkers and pet boarding providers.
Get in touch with local agility and training classes, vets, pet shops, garden centres etc to let them know about your service.
Invest in a basic website. It doesn’t need to be expensive. Try and establish links with other local pet related web sites. You may want to pay for some sort of signage or livery for your van, as this can be good advertising. You may prefer to buy magnetic vehicle signage initially which will stick on your vehicle when required.
With the current gloomy economic climate situation, pet sitting and home boarding have become competitive businesses. It’s a good idea to offer your clients a little extra to really make your business stand out. How about a pet school report or a quarterly newsletter? Owners will love reading stories and seeing pictures of their pet’s activities. Enhance your service by offering dog walking, if this can fit in with your lifestyle. If you have few enough commitments you can offer your services when clients travel overseas (a sort of pet nanny). Always ensure that you are fully and correctly insured before commencing with any type of trading. Explain thoroughly to your broker what you intend to offer.