On the Job
Animal caretakers give care to animals at shelters, zoos, kennels, pet shops, stables, aquariums, and research labs.
The Bronx Zoo features over 4,000 animals. Chicago's Lincoln Park Zoo has over 1,200. The Baltimore Zoo has 2,700 animals. The San Diego Zoo is so large that it cannot be covered on foot in one day. That's a lot of wildlife to view! What's more, all those animals must be taken care of. Their exhibits must be kept clean. The animals must be fed and monitored to make sure they are healthy and thriving. Who rises to this challenge?Animal caretakers feed, water, bathe, groom, and exercise animals. They play with animals and provide companionship to them. They watch animals, record their condition, and report any problems. They clean and repair pens, cages, and equipment. Animal groomers bathe cats and dogs. They trim their hair or nails, care for their skin, and clean their ears. They treat animals for fleas and other pests. Some animal caretakers work in animal hospitals as helpers to veterinary technicians. They follow directions of the veterinarian and veterinary technicians to give basic care to animals. They may also clean surgical equipment.
In pet stores, animal caretakers sell animals and pet food to customers. They advise customers on care of pets and teach obedience classes. They also prepare animals for shipping and delivery.
In animal shelters, caretakers take applications from people who want to adopt animals. They give shots to newly admitted animals. They may have to put to death seriously ill, severely injured, or unwanted animals. In wildlife shelters, they may clean birds whose lives are at risk from oil spills. They may help nurse other injured wildlife back to health, feeding and comforting them. In stables, they saddle and unsaddle horses, give them rubdowns, and walk them to cool down after rides. They feed and groom horses and clean their stalls. They polish saddles, clean and organize tack rooms, and store supplies and feed.
In zoos, caretakers are called keepers or zookeepers. They prepare diets, clean enclosures, and monitor animals' behavior. They may help in research studies and answer questions from visitors. Keepers may work with a broad group of animals, such as mammals or birds. In research labs, jobs range from feeding and cleaning up after animals, to giving medicine and performing surgery. Lab workers take care of mice, rats, birds, monkeys, and cats. Some animal caretakers work in livestock yards, where they move farm animals, groom them, and show them for auction.
Aquarists take care of fish and other water life in aquariums. They prepare food, feed fish and other animals, and clean tanks. They monitor water for temperature and cleanliness. They watch the fish for disease or injury. They report problems and may treat fish.
Farriers take care of horses' feet. They take shoes off and examine hooves for bruises and cracks. They trim and shape hooves. They select aluminum or steel shoes. They fit, shape, and nail shoes to hooves. They also treat hooves that are badly shaped or injured. They may put on corrective shoes.
Many animal caretakers answer questions about animal behavior, habitat, breeding habits, or activities. They may answer questions for animal owners or the public. They may also answer telephones and schedule appointments to treat or see animals.
The following list of occupational tasks is specific to this career.
- Feed and water animals according to schedules and instructions.
- Mix food, formulas, and supplements, following instructions and using knowledge of animal diets.
- Order, unload, and store food and supplies.
- Wash, brush, clip, trim, and groom animals.
- Exercise animals, play with them, and train them.
- Observe animals for signs of injury or illness.
- Record information such as weight, size, physical condition, diet, and food intake.
- Clean and disinfect pens, stables, cages, yards, and equipment.
- Move animals between pens for breeding, birthing, shipping, or showing.
- Monitor and adjust controls to regulate temperature and humidity in animal quarters, nurseries, or exhibit areas.
- Repair fences, cages, or pens.
- Install equipment such as infrared lights and feeding devices.
- Answer questions about animal behavior, habitat, breeding habits, or activities at a facility.
- Watch and protect children who are petting and feeding animals at exhibits.
- Give anesthesia, shots, or other treatment as directed by supervisor or veterinarian.
- Saddle and shoe animals.
- May answer phones and schedule appointments.
- Find homes for stray or unwanted animals.
People in this career perform the following list of tasks, but the tasks are common to many occupations.
- Handle and move objects.
- Get information needed to do the job.
- Make decisions and solve problems.
- Perform activities that use the whole body.
- Communicate with supervisors, peers, or subordinates.
- Assist and care for others.
- Organize, plan, and prioritize work.
- Inspect equipment, structures, or materials.
- Identify objects, actions, and events.
- Establish and maintain relationships.
- Judge the value of objects, services, or people.
- Update and use job-related knowledge.
- Schedule work and activities.
- Monitor events, materials, and surroundings.
- Work with the public.
- Communicate with people from outside the organization.
In a typical work setting, people in this career:
- Have a medium to high level of social interaction with owners and other workers.
- Communicate daily with others by telephone and in person.
- Often work as part of a team.
- Are somewhat responsible for the health and safety of other workers and animals.
- Are somewhat responsible for the work done by other workers.
- Occasionally are placed in conflict situations in which customers or animals are difficult to deal with.
- Sometimes work outdoors when exercising, training, or showing animals. Animal groomers may work outside to wash animals.
- Occasionally work indoors when feeding animals and cleaning their pens, stalls, cages, or other shelter. Animal groomers may work inside when drying, fluffing, or combing animals.
- Are sometimes exposed to toxic chemicals in cleansers and medications. Are often exposed to animal waste.
- Are occasionally exposed to hazards such as animal bites, cuts, or needle punctures.
- Are exposed on a weekly basis to uncomfortable sounds and noises, such as barking, howling, or crying animals.
- Work near other animals and workers.
- Must take care to finish all details and tasks of their job. Leaving steps out may harm animals or people.
- Must be exact and accurate with animal diets, controlled temperatures and humidity, and other features of animal care. Errors can be harmful.
- Make decisions that affect others on a weekly basis. They rarely consult a supervisor before deciding on care for an animal.
- Set most of their daily tasks and goals without talking to a supervisor first.
- Repeat the same physical and mental tasks throughout the day.
- May work full time or part time.
- May work nights or weekends in zoos and animal shelters. They may work all-night shifts in some shelters and animal hospitals.
- May travel to competitions when working with show or sport animals.
Physical Work Conditions
In a typical work setting, people in this career:
- Stand for long periods of time.
- Use their hands to handle, control, or feel objects, tools, or controls.
- Repeat the same movements.
- Walk or run for long periods of time.
- Bend or twist their body.
- Hold the arm and hand in one position or hold the hand steady while moving the arm.
- Use muscles to lift, push, pull, or carry heavy objects.
- See details of objects that are less than a few feet away.
- Understand the speech of another person.
- Speak clearly so listeners can understand.
- See details of objects that are more than a few feet away.
- Use fingers or hands to grasp, move, or assemble objects.
- Bend, stretch, twist, or reach out.
- Be physically active for long periods without getting tired or out of breath.
- Use stomach and lower back muscles to support the body for long periods without getting tired.
- Focus on one source of sound and ignore others.
- See differences between colors, shades, and brightness.
- Move two or more limbs together (for example, two arms, two legs, or one leg and one arm) while remaining in place.
- Make quick, precise adjustments to machine controls.
- Use muscles for extended periods without getting tired.
- Coordinate movement of several parts of the body, such as arms and legs, while the body is moving.
People in this career frequently:
It is important for people in this career to be able to:
It is not as important, but still necessary, for people in this career to be able to:
Source: Minnesota Department of Education.