Professions with animals: what does an animal keeper do??

Working as an animal keeper sounds like a lot of stroking and cuddling. After that, spending intensive time with the animals. However, the reality is a little different. Not every pet guardian can actually cuddle or even touch their charges. Some of the species to be cared for don't allow for close contact at all, for example rhinos at the zoo. There are also many tasks associated with this profession that are physically demanding. And even emotionally, animal caretakers sometimes reach their limits. But of course there are also many beautiful sides.

How exactly the job description of an animal keeper looks like, how you can learn this profession and in which areas you can work afterwards, this and more you will find out in this article.

What exactly does an animal keeper?

The term already expresses it very clearly: a keeper cares for animals. But what does this care look like in detail and which animals are involved? If you have a pet yourself, you know that there are some chores that come with it. In the case of a dog, for example, it is walking the dog, grooming the dog, feeding the dog or keeping the dog occupied in a manner appropriate to its species.

Happy Appenzeller mountain dog in a meadow

If you take care of animals professionally, it looks the same. Cages, stalls or enclosures need to be cleaned, the charges fed, given medical care and kept busy. Depending on the area in which the carer works, he or she may not have any close contact with the animal. If he is working at the zoo with the lions, he is unlikely to be cuddling them. So as an animal caregiver, you're not only dealing with domestic species like dogs, cats or horses, but also exotic ones like elephants, snakes, spiders or monkeys.

The areas of work are also completely different and range from animal shelters to nature parks to experimental laboratories. The thought of experimental laboratories is probably as horrible for you as it is for me. But as long as these exist, there is a need for people to take care of the animals there as well.

The fields of activity of an animal keeper

I have already listed a few possible fields of activity, but these are by no means all.

As an animal caretaker, you can work in these areas, among others:

A wild boar sniffs the ground photographed from the side


  • Animal shelter
  • Animal boarding
  • Zoo
  • Breeding farm
  • Wildlife enclosure
  • Research facility
  • Veterinary clinic
  • Grace farm

The different fields of activity are also associated with very different requirements. In an animal shelter or a boarding kennel, you not only have to deal with the care of dogs and cats, but also with interested parties. If, on the other hand, you work in a zoo, you will need specific knowledge about the species-appropriate employment of the respective animal species, but of course also about the correct care and supply.

Because the areas of application differ so greatly, the training programs are divided into different branches. You can read more about this further down in this article.

The tasks of an animal keeper

The tasks you have to perform as an animal keeper depend to a large extent on your chosen field of activity. In a research center there are different things to do than in an animal shelter or a zoo.

You can see how varied the profession is by the following tasks:

  • Composing the right feed and preparing suitable rations.
    Some animal species get live food, for others you have to mix the right food yourself or measure the correct amount of ready-made food.
  • The medical care of sick or injured animals.
    You must be very accurate, responsible and reliable.
  • Cleaning and maintaining stables, enclosures, cages, etc.
    This task can be quite strenuous and involves a lot of dirt and stench. You should therefore be able to work hard and be physically fit.
  • The species-appropriate employment of the respective animal species as well as possible training.
    This point goes far beyond taking care of dogs and cats. It may also involve you training with an animal. In a zoo, it is also part of the job to present the animals with their food as close to nature as possible, so that they can eat it z. B. have to hunt.
  • Taking care of visitors or customers.
    There are various fields of activity in which, in addition to working with the animals, you will also have to deal with people. This can be both visitors in the zoo and the customers in an animal pension.
  • Public relations and administrative activities.
    Not only in an animal shelter there are tasks that have to do with administration and organization. Such things also have to be done and are part of the daily work.
  • Preparing examinations.
  • Help with breeding and rearing.

You see that the tasks are broad and varied. Since you will be working in a team in many areas, you should also enjoy working with people.

A young woman feeds two dogs in an animal shelter

How to become an animal keeper?

To become an animal keeper, you'll need to complete the proper training. This lasts a total of three years and is divided into three different training courses:

For the training you need a training contract with a company that is allowed to train. This can be a zoo or animal garden, an animal shelter, a university hospital or a research center. The choice of the training center therefore depends on the focus you decide on.

The training is carried out on the dual way. This means that you gain theoretical knowledge in vocational school and practical knowledge in your chosen company.

Contents are for example:

  • Basic knowledge of anatomy
  • The care, feeding and keeping of animals
  • Environmental protection and legal regulations
  • Company organization and occupational health and safety
  • The appropriate handling of visitors
  • Behavioral science
  • the care of pregnant and newborn animals

In the third year of training, you will specialize in your chosen field. The final step is a written and a practical exam.

There are no costs associated with the training itself. What you do have to pay for are the costs of your professional clothing, travel to the training center, possible overnight expenses and learning materials.

Schematic diagram of a dog skeleton

If you are a trained animal keeper, you can continue your education later and become a master animal keeper. This will allow you to start your own business or take on a management position.

The jobs as an animal keeper are very popular, especially in zoos. There are far more applicants than places in some fields of activity. This is true for the training as well as later for a permanent job.

Professional requirements

Although no specific school requirements are legally stipulated, many companies prefer to hire people with an intermediate school-leaving certificate or high school diploma. It is good if you are interested in subjects such as biology and mathematics. The more confident you are in basic arithmetic, the easier it will be for you to calculate feed rations, for example.

Personal requirements

Working as an animal keeper has many nice sides, but also many exhausting or stressful ones. Therefore, it is not enough for this profession to like animals.


  • You must be able to work hard and be physically fit.
    Cleaning animal shelters is hard work in some cases. You may also need to be able to lend a hand during medical examinations.

A red tabby cat in a cage in an animal shelter

  • You must be very attentive as well as responsible and able to work independently.
    The animals depend on the responsible care of the caretakers. They can't tell you in words if they are doing well or if they feel unwell. Therefore, you must observe them closely, recognize physical as well as behavioral changes, and take appropriate action.
  • You should like to work outside.
    It can rain or snow, be very hot or very cold. So you must not be squeamish, but you must be able to adjust to these different conditions.
  • You should not mind dirt and stench.
    Not only when cleaning the accommodations, but also during medical treatments, things can sometimes get unpleasant.
  • You must be emotionally resilient.
    Animal keepers also experience a lot of suffering. You are dealing with injured or distressed animals, with abandoned or mistreated. It can also be that you have to part with a protégé because it has been placed or is moving to another zoo. You are not the owner of the animal, but its keeper. You must always be aware of this.
  • You have to be flexible.
    In many areas, you work shifts and/or weekends. In addition, there may be emergencies or a particularly high workload, so that you have to stay longer.

A tortoise sits in its terrarium and looks out of the window


What does an animal keeper earn??

Already during the training you receive a salary. This is regulated by a collective agreement that applies throughout Germany.

Currently, you are earning in public service:

  • in the first year of training 987 €
  • in the second year of training 1041 €
  • 1091 in the third year of training

What you earn after your training depends on the respective field of activity. As an entry-level employee, you will naturally earn less than someone who already has a lot of work experience.

If you are employed in the public service, for example in a zoo, you can earn between 2400 € and 2900 € gross in the long term. You can read more about this here. As an animal keeper in an animal shelter it is between 1500 € and 2200 € gross.

The best paying positions are often in research and experimental laboratories, but few animal caretakers want to work in this field.


Working as an animal keeper is less romantic than it might sound. It is a profession that requires physical resilience and can also be emotionally demanding. Depending on the chosen field of activity you have no or little direct contact with the animals. However, with your work you actively contribute to the well-being and well-being of your protégés. That's what makes this profession so important, and there are often many wonderful moments associated with it.