Ministry of Business and Innovation - Occupation Outlook

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Animal Handlers

Job Prospects

Job Prospects... At a glance

Animal handlers’ employment is projected to grow in the next few years, which could lead to more opportunities for new workers. However, some roles (such as zookeepers) will still be hard to get into because this is a popular role with strong competition. Income is average, but training fees are below average.

How to become an animal handler

What they do

Animal handlers train and take care for animals. Some work in zoos, whereas others work in stables or travel to peoples’ homes. Typical tasks include feeding, washing and training animals, and cleaning their cages or enclosures.

heir tasks may include:

  • teaching animals to obey verbal and non-verbal commands and addressing behavioural problems
  • training animals to accept riders and pull vehicles
  • training animals to perform in competitions
  • bathing, cutting, combing, blow-drying and styling pets' coats, clipping their nails and cleaning their ears
  • inspecting, preparing, cleaning, disinfecting and maintaining comfortable animal cages and enclosures
  • transporting food, filling water troughs and feeding animals according to their individual needs
  • maintaining animal health records, treating minor injuries and reporting serious conditions to Veterinarians
  • exercising and playing with animals, answering visitor questions, and transferring animals between enclosures by leading or carrying them
  • dusting and spraying insecticides on animals and immersing them in insecticide baths, to control insect pests.


There are no strict entry requirements to work as an animal handler, but most employers prefer to hire people with experience.

Qualifications are not formally needed to gain employment, and experience is usually more important. However, it can be hard to start out and gain experience and people with qualifications have higher chances of getting started in this industry.

Unitec and Southern Institute of Technology (SIT) both offer certificates in animal care. Unitec also offer a Bachelor of Applied Science (Animal Management and Welfare). Any other qualifications related to animals could also be helpful, such as veterinary studies or biology.

For people wanting to be dog groomers, Angels Grooming Academy offer four-week courses in grooming.

Cost of study

Certificate in Animal CareBachelor of Applied Science (Animal Management and Welfare)
$3,000 over one semester $21,000 over three years

Average costs in 2018 for a domestic student. Costs vary between institutions. First time students may be eligible for fees-free
tertiary education for their first year of study, which will reduce the total cost. For more information about fees-free eligibility, go to Some polytechnics may have a zero-fees scheme. Further costs include materials, textbooks, and accommodation.

The certificate in animal care costs around $3,000. It can be done full-time over one semester or part-time over two. The Bachelor of Applied Science (Animal Management and Welfare) costs around $21,000, and it takes three years of full-time study.

The StudyLink website provides general budget advice for students who are studying through polytechnics, and the Sorted website provides help with detailed budget planning.

Rents vary from place to place. Estimated market rents by region, city and suburb are available on the MBIE Tenancy services website.

Tenancy Services:

Where to study

Certificates in animal care are offered at Unitec in Auckland and SIT in Invercargill. Unitec also offer its certificate through distance learning, enabling it to be done from anywhere in New Zealand (that includes a five-day block course at Unitec in Auckland). The Bachelor of Applied Science (Animal Management and Welfare) is also offered by Unitec in Auckland. Angels Grooming Academy offer grooming courses in Auckland.

Angels Grooming Academy:

Completed qualifications

The number of students completing a Level 1, 2 or 3 certificate in ‘Veterinary Assisting’ has been between rising in recent years.

Qualification completions chart

Source: Ministry of Education

Income and employment prospects


In 2019, the annual income for animal handlers is estimated to be around $33,800.

Estimated Average Income

Source: MBIE estimates based on Statistics NZ Census and Labour Cost Index

Employment and skill shortages

Animal handlers’ employment

HistoricProjected Growth
2006 2013 2023 2028
2,271 2,634 3,300 3,730
  2.1% 3.8% 2.1%

Source: Statistics NZ Census and MBIE projections. Percentages are compound annual growth rates.
* Growth projections are based on the broader category “Animal Attendants and Trainers, and Shearers”.

The number of animal handlers in employment increased from 2006 to 2013. It is projected to increase at 3.8% to 2023, and by 2.1% until 2028. This should lead to more opportunities for new animal handlers, although having experience is still the preferred option for a potential employer.

The broad characteristics of the work tend to vary with the type of animal-handler specialisation. For example, horse trainers and dog trainers often work independently, so their income depends on their reputation and customer base. Zookeepers, on the other hand, are usually in more secure employment at a zoo.

 Employment chart

Source: Statistics NZ Census and MBIE projections

 Outcomes after qualification completion*

OverseasIn further studyReceiving a benefitIn employmentMedian Salary
3% 65% 7% 66% $34,000

Source: Tertiary Education Commission
*Three years after completion of L1, 2 or 3 Certificate - Veterinary Assisting. Three years after graduation with a Level 1-3 certificate, most animal handlers were either in employment or in further study. A low proportion were overseas or receiving a benefit. The median salary was around $34,000 two years after graduation.

Horse trainers are on Immigration New Zealand’s Immediate Skill Shortage List for the Waikato/Bay of Plenty region. If a job appears on the list, it means the government is actively encouraging skilled people in the role to come and work in New Zealand. A full list is available on the Immigration New Zealand website.

Other animal handlers are not on Immigration New Zealand's skill shortage list

Immigration NZ, skill shortage list:

Where to find job vacancies

The number of online job vacancies for the group ‘Animal Attendants and Trainers’ has increased over the last few years, and has increased at a faster rate than the average for all vacancies. This should mean that demand is picking up for animal handlers.

Jobs advertised chart

Source: Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment

Animal handler vacancies are advertised through public media such as the Trade Me Jobs and Seek websites.

Trade Me Jobs: 

Career path

An animal handler’s career path depends on what work they do. For some animal handlers, such as dog and horse trainers, career progression usually involves starting their own businesses and building a customer base. Other roles, such as zookeepers, can lead to roles with responsibility for more interesting animals, or a supervisory role with responsibility for other zookeepers.

Related occupations

The following occupations are related roles or alternative titles. Some of the roles may require a higher level of skill than entry-level animal handlers.

  • Animal Care Attendant
  • Dog Trainer
  • Dog Walker
  • Horse Trainer
  • Kennel Hand
  • Pet Groomer
  • Shepherd
  • Veterinary Nurse
  • Zookeeper
  • Zoologist

Other information


More information on animal handlers is available on the Careers New Zealand website.

Careers New Zealand:


The Australian New Zealand Standard Classification of Occupations (ANZSCO) is the official classification of occupations in New Zealand.

The occupation of animal handlers has been coded to the following ANZSCO code for the purpose of this report:

3611 – Animal Attendants and Trainers