Pet Shop Assistant

The Job and What's Involved

Pet shop assistants work in retail outlets caring for live animals and selling them as household pets.

The most common pets on sale are fish (many shops specialise only in fish) followed by small animals such as birds, mice, rats, guinea pigs, rabbits, hamsters or gerbils. A few stores offer more exotic pets such as snakes, lizards, large spiders and insects. Although cats and dogs are the most common household pets, only a few High Street shops actually sell puppies or kittens.

Pet shops also sell pet housing, such as cages and aquaria, pharmaceutical treatments and accessories, such as sawdust, bedding, collars and toys, as well as pet food. Some shops sell live food, such as locusts.

Their work may include:

  • Feeding and providing water to pets.
  • Cleaning out fish tanks: scraping algae off the walls, removing dead fish or plants, resetting new plants, siphoning off dirty water and refilling the tanks, changing filter material and unblocking tubes.
  • Cleaning out cages: changing sawdust and bedding, disinfecting toilet areas, removing faeces and other soiled material.
  • Checking the water temperature and chemical balance in fish tanks, including salt water tanks containing marine fish.
  • Checking the animals and fish regularly for signs of disease and, if necessary, taking them to the vet.
  • Catching and handling birds and animals in the correct way (they move very quickly and may bite if frightened) and transferring them to carrying boxes.
  • Catching one particular fish from a group in a tank and transferring it by net to a plastic bag or other receptacle.
  • Exercising, grooming and breeding animals if necessary.
  • Serving customers and taking payment for goods.
  • Dealing with a range of customer enquiries about animal care and breeding.
  • Dealing with customers who want to sell or pass on home-bred animals.
  • Keeping the store clean and tidy, and helping with unloading deliveries, shelf-filling and pricing.
  • Weighing out and packing any goods that the store buys in bulk and sells on in smaller quantities.

Full-time pet shop assistants usually work around 39 hours a week, sometimes including weekends and evenings. Many work part time.

They work in shops and other retail outlets. The work is mostly indoors, although coldwater fish, for example, can be kept outdoors. When working in a fish tank the hands and arms are submerged for long periods. A protective apron or overall is often worn.

Pet shop assistants spend a lot of time on their feet. The work may involve some heavy lifting and climbing up on stepladders.

The job could be unsuitable for those allergic to fur or feathers. Some animals and birds bite.

The starting salary for a pet shop assistant may be about £10,500 a year.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

In the UK there are some 3,500 pet shops and approximately 600 specialist aquatic centres, employing over 15,000 people.

Pet shop assistants work in shops on the High Street or in shopping malls, in pet departments within garden centres and in pet superstores. Many retailers are based in towns and cities, or large out-of-town shopping centres. Jobs are available throughout the UK.

Pet ownership is growing and working with animals is a popular choice, so there can be competition for vacancies. However, there is a demand for trained assistants in the growth area of retailing aquatic plants and fish.

Vacancies may be advertised in local newspapers. The Pet Care Trust lists job vacancies on its website and also lets jobseekers advertise there. Large retailers may advertise jobs on their own websites.

Education and Training

No formal academic qualifications are required to work as a pet shop assistant. However, many employers expect applicants to have either paid or unpaid experience in caring for animals.

The following qualifications in pet care are useful.

For small animal retailing:

  • BTEC First Diploma in Animal Care at Level 2.
  • BTEC National Diploma in Animal Management at Level 3.
  • City & Guilds National/Advanced National Certificate in Animal Care at Levels 2 and 3

For aquatics and ornamental fish retailing, a number of Edexcel BTEC courses on fish management are available.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Pet shop assistants usually train on the job, working alongside an experienced colleague. The Pet Care Trust offers a Pet Foundation Course in Animal Husbandry for new entrants into the pet retail industry.

There is a range of part-time training courses available, such as NVQ's/SVQ's Levels 1 to 3 in Animal Care. At Levels 2 and 3 there is a specialist route in pet care and retail. There is a Level 3 ABC Award in Small Animal Care. The Animal Care College offers distance learning courses in small animal care.

The Ornamental Aquatic Trade Association offers a certificate course and an advanced diploma. These are both distance learning courses with modules in water quality, filtration, fish biology and fish health.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

A pet shop assistant should be:

  • Confident and gentle in handling all kinds of animals.
  • Prepared to learn about the behaviour and individual needs of the different pets.
  • Responsible towards animal welfare.
  • Not squeamish about tackling dirty tasks.
  • Knowledgeable enough to advise customers about pet care.
  • Able to communicate well.
  • Assertive towards troublemakers - for instance people annoying the animals.
  • Numerate enough to handle cash.

Your Long Term Prospects

Promotion to supervisory and then managerial roles may be possible. Opportunities for progression may be greater in larger organisations.

Courses relevant to getting into a managerial role include the City & Guilds Pet Store Management Certificate. This is available at some colleges, or from the Pet Care Trust which offers a distance learning course.

Some - particularly those who have studied to the level of HNC, HND or degree in areas such as animal care, animal welfare or animal behaviour - may move into specialised areas of working with animals.

Get Further Information

The Animal Care College,
Ascot House, High Street,
Ascot, Berkshire SL5 7HG
Tel: 01344 628269

Lantra, Lantra House,
Stoneleigh Park, Nr Coventry,
Warwickshire CV8 2LG
Tel: 024 7669 6996
Career information website:

Ornamental Aquatic Trade Association (OATA),
Wessex House, 40 Station Road,
Westbury, Wiltshire BA13 3JN
Tel: 01373 301353

Pet Care Trust,
Bedford Business Centre,
170 Mile Road, Bedford MK42 9TW
Tel: 01234 273933

Universities Federation for Animal Welfare,
The Old School, Brewhouse Hill,
Wheathampstead, Hertfordshire AL4 8AN
Tel: 01582 831818

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