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How to run a kennel or cattery

At a glance

  • There are more than 160 million cats and dogs in the US 
  • A license, proper insurance and vet inspection are required
  • There are minimum standards for hygiene, diet and exercise
  • Working in a kennel or cattery requires long hours
  • Most kennels or catteries cost between $700,000 to $1.5m to buy
ThinkstockPhotos 451627799

A staggering 39% of American households are dog owners, with 28% of owners more than one dog. 

Higher-income families are far more likely to own both types of pet, although cats, being fairly low maintenance, tend to be more popular in urban areas and among single working people.

It is these groups who are also more likely to go on holiday than society at large. And all those millions of vacationing pet owners will need somewhere to put Rocky or Coco when they fly to Europe or Thailand.

There are other factors fuelling the buoyant cattery and boarding kennels for sale market. According to market research produced by Dillon Media, 'empty nesters', young professionals and couples without children are substituting a pet for a child and pets in general are being treated very much like family members.

In fact, 83% of pet owners refer to themselves as their pets' 'Mum' or 'Dad'. This has fuelled the luxury pet accessory market, but it also means that such people are more determined to ensure that their four-legged family member has a comfortable home while they are sunning themselves.

In recent years we've even see the emergence of a 'luxury' pet boarding market. 

If you're considering buying a kennel or cattery to run yourself, you're undoubtedly an animal lover. You'll understand that boarding animals can be just as stressful and complicated as running a hotel for humans - and sometimes even more so.

Humans don't need to be exercised, groomed and cleaned regularly, as dogs do

Humans don't need to be exercised, groomed and cleaned regularly, as dogs do. Most, but not all, hotel guests do not have relatives insisting on specific toys, foodstuffs, and surroundings before they allow them to stay.

And certainly, staff are not expected to spend time socialising with guests to make sure they are happy.

Licenses and inspections

There are real essentials, of course. You need to ensure you have a relevant license from the local authority for a start.

It requires an inspection from a vet and will stipulate the maximum number of animals allowed and the minimum size requirements for each unit. Each pet will need its own unit unless you receive written permission from the owner.

There are also strict temperature and hygiene requirements, particularly with regard to drinking water quality and food. Some animals will have very strict dietary requirements, while you might need to dispense medicines to others.

All pets need to have vaccination certificates and you'll need to keep a register that is always available for inspection. Furthermore, you'll need to be insured for third-party accidents, and be within reasonable reach of a vet.

Remember that cleanliness and space are vital, not just for the pets' wellbeing, but also to ensure you get customers.

Establishments often have dedicated 'runs' allowing cats and dogs to stretch their legs, but these can be bought pre-built from specialist manufacturers.

If you're not buying an existing kennel or cattery, overcoming neighbours' objections can be tricky. Many will be concerned about noise, and more importantly, smells and waste. Animal faeces must be collected by a properly licensed industrial waste contractor.

There's no getting around the fact that kennels and catteries require long hours, with individual employees often starting at around 7am for five or six days a week.

The kennel or cattery will need to be staffed permanently, so weekend and night work is normal. Staff salaries for a kennel technician are around $10.50 per hour or around $21,300 annually.

Of course, in larger kennels or catteries, managers do not have to get involved in manual work or long hours, and may choose not to if they have bought or set up the venture as an investment. However, in smaller operations it might be essential.

Businesses for both dogs and cats range from just under $700,000 for smaller operations or those in less affluent or accessible locations, through to around $1.5m for the largest businesses in the areas with the highest disposable income and levels of pet ownership.

While both offer good prospects for the entrepreneur, many potential owners will probably want to get involved to some degree, as the opportunity to work with animals is likely to be one reason they decided to choose this type of business.

Whichever is the real inspiration, the opportunities for a healthy profit are substantial. Read some tips on running a kennel here.

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