Small Animal Services

One way for pet retailers to bring new income into the store is to offer grooming and boarding services for small pets.


The first add-on service that comes to mind when it comes to pet retailing is grooming. While many retailers offer grooming for dogs, few offer this same service for smaller pets. Adding this service will attract more customers to the store and is likely to bring in more cash.

Grooming services that can be offered for small pets include nail trimming, cleaning of ears and eyes, brushing and combing, and even dental cleaning for ferrets. Baths can be offered for ferrets, guinea pigs and rats, although rats usually self-groom. Rabbits rarely need bathing, and chinchillas should never be bathed with water, only given the opportunity to take their own dust baths.

Another option is to offer seminars on small animal grooming. Many owners of small pets don’t know the best way to keep their pets well groomed. During the seminar, store staff can demonstrate the proper way to hold pets for nail trimming, and the proper combs and brushes to use for different lengths and textures of fur. After the seminar, students are likely to buy new grooming tools to use at home.

If a store is already equipped with a dog grooming parlor, it is simple to add on full-service grooming for small pets. However, it may be best to schedule small animals and dogs at different times of the day. Rodents, rabbits and ferrets can be frightened of dogs, especially if they bark, so it is best to keep them separated.

But even if a store doesn’t have grooming facilities, simple grooming tasks for small animals can be performed in a very small space. Many small animals only require periodic nail trimming and ear cleanings. Small pets can also be brushed or combed, and wiped with deodorizing wipes. These services can be performed on just a small table in the back. The table should have a rubber mat to prevent the animal from slipping, which should be disinfected between animals. A bright light will also be needed to properly see the toenails.

Require that owners bring their pets in carriers. If the grooming cannot be done while the owner waits and the pet will need to remain at the store for some time, place the carrier in an area of the store that is quiet and temperature controlled. The carrier should provide a source of water. After the grooming session, be sure the carrier includes enough absorbent bedding to soak up or cover wastes, so the animal doesn’t foul itself after being groomed.

Boarding Basics

Another service retailers can consider offering is small pet boarding. The main requirement for offering this service is the necessary space. The boarding area must be quiet, temperature controlled, and away from where sick store animals are kept. The room must also be dark at night, as exposure to light 24 hours a day is injurious to the health of rodents (it can stimulate the growth of tumors and ovarian cysts).

Installing several deep shelves along one wall in a back room or office can provide enough space to board quite a few small pets. There should be opaque dividers between the cages, so animals can’t see their neighbors as this can cause aggression and stress. This will also help prevent the transmission of disease.

When boarding small pets, it is usual for the owner to bring their pets’ own cage, food and bedding, so the only cost will be the employees’ time needed to care for the boarders. An Internet search showed a range of boarding fees from $3 to $10 a day.

The boarding record should include the owner’s contact information, the pet’s description, any special requirements, the pick-up date and the names of any other persons authorized to pick up the animal. 

Ferret owners should be required to show proof of vaccination. Although other pocket pets don’t need vaccinations, owners should be asked to sign a statement that the pet has shown no sign of illness for three weeks prior to the check-in date, and that the pet has not been exposed to any new pets or pets belonging to someone else that might be incubating a disease.

It is also recommended that the owner sign a boarding agreement that gives the boarding facility the authority to take the pet to a vet, at the owner’s expense, if it becomes ill. Also include a release that will hold the facility blameless if the animal gets sick and dies, and a clause that gives the facility the authorization to sell the pet if the owner fails to pick it up within ten days of the pick-up date.

Some owners might want their pets to get attention and petting from the staff every day.  Perhaps an additional fee can be charged for such special attention, but the length of the pet’s stay should also be taken into consideration. A pet staying only five days will not need much attention, but one staying for two weeks will need frequent attention and handling to prevent loneliness and stress in social species, and to maintain socialization in less social animals. In this case, giving the pet attention could be included in the boarding fee.

Special care should be taken to prevent accidents such as an animal jumping out of a staff member’s arms and being injured or escaping. This danger can be mostly removed by having staff hold the pets only while sitting on the floor, and keeping the door to the room closed.

Retailers can encourage owners who are boarding their pets to buy a new toy to put in the cage to keep the pets busy and prevent boredom, or to buy some treats for the staff to give to the pet every day.

Debbie Ducommun has a B.A. in animal behavior and has worked in the animal field since 1982. She is the author of the book Rats!, the booklet Rat Health Care and, her most recent book, The Complete Guide to Rat Training: Tricks and Games for Rat Fun and Fitness.

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