This annual list of the best pet franchises was revised and updated on January 21, 2021.
People love their pets. Animals that started out working for us centuries ago have become part of our families, to be loved, doted on, and played with. Whether it’s the dog walkers in the park, the cat owner letting her lap be used as a heated bed, or a kid watching a fish swim round and round its bowl, millions of people have made their animal companions a central part of their lives.
Two-thirds of households in the US own a pet, meaning that the pet industry serves the majority of the population. This love of animals is reflected in the amount that people spend on their pets. In 2019, the pet industry was worth $95.7 billion in the US. This money goes on a wide range of expenses, with veterinary services often top of the bill, followed by food, and kennels or home care services for when pet owners are away. Grooming, treats, toys, and vitamins can also feature heavily, depending upon the animal, as owners shower their pets with extra care and attention.
Pet ownership has been on the rise for a while. 68% of American households owned a pet in 2017, compared with only 58% in 1988. Consumer expenditure on the pet industry rose by 560% from 1994 to 2019, driving the rise of several big brands, including the big franchises that are now available. This is a business that has been seeing steady growth off the back of the natural human desire for companionship.
Pet franchises cover a wide range of different business models. There are general purpose pet stores and supply services, ones catering to specific types of animals, day care services, training providers, and grooming businesses. Natural and holistic foods are increasingly popular, so many providers include them in their stock, and some specialize in them, to appeal to an eco-friendly and nutrition-conscious customer base. Within both food supply and grooming services, there are some where the client goes to the business and others that come out to the customer. As franchised industries go, this is one of the most diverse, meaning that there’s plenty of choice for how to work and what business model to adopt.
When considering what sort of pet business to get into, it’s worth considering the popularity of different animals. 63.4 million US households own a dog and 42.7 million own a cat, making these the most popular pets, and so the ones where specialist services are most likely to succeed. But there are also other animals whose needs can keep a pet business going, such as the freshwater fish owned by 11.5 million households, or the reptiles cared for by 4.5 million. Only 1.6 million households have horses as pets, a fraction of the number of dogs or cats, but horse care and riding require a range of specialist products and services, which can help drive business.
The pet industry bucked the general trend of the COVID-19 pandemic, benefiting from its impact. With more time at home and less human contact, there was an increase in pet adoptions, meaning more households had more animals in need of the industry’s services. Being at home also made owners more aware of existing pets and those pets’ needs, as well as the need to keep them distracted while home working, and this boosted expenditure. Even as belts were being tightened in other areas, US pet expenditure rose, reaching a projected record high of $99 billion in 2020. The industry’s existing growth accelerated over the year.
Like some other symptoms of COVID, it’s likely that this increase will last beyond the pandemic years. These newly adopted pets aren’t going to go away, and people who have become pet owners are likely to get more pets in the future. The pandemic has also accelerated an existing shift toward flexible work schedules and home working in many professions, which makes it easier for people to own and care for pets, and means that owners spend more time around their animals. The recovery period is expected to consolidate more widespread pet ownership and a stronger pet services industry.
Recent growth has predominantly benefited big brands. This promises good things for franchises, as brand recognition and the backing of a bigger business are among their key assets.
Millennials have recently become the largest demographic for pet ownership, and this may benefit the franchised pet industry. As customers, millennials tend to be brand conscious and driven by online marketing, again allowing franchises to make use of their strong identity. Younger customers are also less established in their buying habits, and so easier to lure away from competitors.
As our list shows, this isn’t just a growing industry, it’s a diverse and thriving one, where you can pick a business that suits you.
The Top Pet Franchises of 2021
Husse is a Swedish company that makes high-quality, premium pet foods for cats and dogs, cat litter, and a variety of accessories. Its special franchising twist is that it delivers pet food to people’s homes free of charge in Husse-branded vans. Husse was the first company to be approved by the USDA to export its pet food to the US market.
Founded by Tom Eliasson in 1987 and franchising since 2002, the number of locations stands at 540 as of 2019 (up from the previously reported total of 524), of which one is company-owned and 530 are located outside the US (only nine US locations).
2. Pet Supplies Plus
Pet Supplies Plus recently had to recall all of its pig-ear dog treats sold in bulk in open bins because some were found to be contaminated with salmonella bacteria. In July 2019, 90+ people in 27 states had salmonella poisoning the CDC linked to the treats – and dogs can be poisoned as well. Luckily, no one died. The chain carries a full range of supplies for all kinds of pets, and services such as pet washing, grooming, dental care, flea treatment, nail clipping, and ear care. The company is now owned by private equity firm Sentinel Capital Partners.
Founded in 1987 by Jack Berry and Harry Shallop in Redford, Michigan and franchising since 1990, the number of locations has nearly doubled over the past nine years from 239 in 2010 to the current total of 504 (up from the previously reported total of 459), of which 218 are company-owned and all are located in the US.
3. Wild Birds Unlimited
Wild Birds Unlimited isn’t one those pet chains that serve any and all pets. It has one and only one focus: birds. But as the name indicates, it’s not about birds as pets. This is a chain that sells bird-feeding and bird-watching supplies (bird food, feeders, birdhouses, binoculars, bird baths, field guides and other books about birds). In short, it’s the perfect store for any bird nerd. To keep up with the times, the chain has been rolling out online shopping for each store that mimics the in-store experience as closely as possible for each location, along with a new company-wide point-of-sale system.
Founded in 1981 by Jim Carpenter in Carmel, Indiana and franchising since 1983, the number of locations has expanded in recent years from 272 in 2010 to the current total of 347 (up from the previously reported total of 341), of which none are company-owned and 20 are located outside the US.
4. Aussie Pet Mobile
Aussie Pet Mobile brings their grooming services to the places where pets live and delivers them in their specialty vans outfitted with air conditioning, heat, electricity, and a water supply, none of which need outside hookups. There is plenty of room in the van even for larger dogs.
Founded in 1996 in Australia, the company moved to the US in 1999 and began franchising throughout North America. The number of locations has been growing steadily in recent years from 205 in 2013 to the current total of 308 (up from the previously reported total of 279), of which none are company-owned and all are located in the US.
Petland sells all kinds of pets (selection depends on location) and a wide variety of pet-related products. The company has been the object of much debate and protests from animal advocates, who accuse the chain of sourcing dogs from “puppy mills” that don’t provide adequate care. The chain itself has been accused of not treating animals well when in their care, and many customers have complained about buying pets that turn out to be sick.
Founded in 1967 and franchising since 1971, the number of locations declined from 186 in 2009 to a low of 130 in 2014 but has since rebounded to the current total of 235 (up from the previously reported total of 232), of which 19 are company-owned and 145 are located outside the US.
6. Camp Bow Wow
Camp Bow Wow doesn’t sell franchises to just anyone – you’ve got to be a demonstrated dog lover to join the company as a franchisee. This chain supports dog owners with doggy daycare, overnight boarding, training, grooming, in-home pet care, dog walking, and pet waste removal services (the exact array of services will vary by location). Strategically-placed webcams in the outdoor play yards allow pet owners to check on their furry friends remotely.
Founded by Heidi Ganahi in Denver, Colorado in 2000 and franchising since 2003, the number of locations has grown steadily in recent years from 102 in 2010 to the current total of 182 (up from the previously reported total of 169), of which 11 are company-owned and one is located outside the US.
Dogtopia has been getting a lot of press coverage lately. The company has a whole program centered around giving employment opportunities to adults with autism. The chain has also started pursuing a new target audience by establishing doggy daycare and spa locations exclusively for corporate customers, just like an employer might have on-site childcare. When in their care, dogs are separated into groups by size for play, socialization, and training. Webcams let owners check on their pets as well.
Founded by Amy Nichols in 2002 and franchising since 2005, the number of locations has expanded rapidly in recent years from 23 in 2010 to the current total of 140 (up from the previously reported total of 105), of which 10 are company-owned and 17 are located outside the US.
8. Sit Means Sit Dog Training
Sit Means Sit Dog Training helps pet owners train their puppies and dogs, whether it’s for having an obedient pet, hunting dog, service dog, or K-9 unit dog. Many locations also offer boarding services and sell a variety of dog-related products, including collars. The company founder started making dog-training videos on a daily basis that after a few years were getting millions of views every month, serving as the company’s main draw around the world.
Founded by Fred Hassen in Los Angeles, California in 2006 and franchising since 2009, the number of locations has steadily climbed to the current total of 139, of which none are company-owned and one is located outside the US.
9. Pet Wants
Pet Wants is a chain that capitalizes on pet owners wanting the very best for their four-legged friends. The company produces and delivers fresh, custom-made, highly-nutritious pet food made in small batches without the use of any corn, wheat, soy, fillers, sugar, dyes, or animal by-products. Franchisees can choose either a retail store model or a mobile model, with pet food delivery being a major feature of each approach.
Founded by Michele Hobbs and Amanda Broughton in 2010 and franchising since 2015, the number of locations currently stands at 106 (down from the previously reported total of 124), of which none are company-owned and one is located outside the US.
10. Fetch! Pet Care
Fetch! Pet Care helps match up the right pet sitter to each customer for dog walking, pet sitting, a special puppy program, group off-leash exercise, overnight care, and specialty services when pet owners are away from home. The chain’s Pet Care Coordinators tap into their pool of service providers who are all background checked, insured, and come highly recommended. The company philosophy is that pets are always better off being able to stay at home instead of shuttled off to someplace else when owners are away.
Founded by Paul Mann in Berkeley, California in 2002 and franchising since 2004, the number of locations has declined in recent years from 205 in 2010 to the current total of 73, of which one is company-owned and all are located in the US.
11. EarthWise Pet Supply
EarthWise Pet Supply is a chain of retail stores where pet owners can find pet food and supplies of all kinds, along with DIY pet-washing stations and grooming services at select locations. The company’s approach to pet food is to mimic as closely as possible the natural diets the animals would eat in the wild. It also focuses on greener options in its pet supplies, featuring many items made from recycled materials.
Founded by the Seitz family in 1977 in Huntington Beach, California and franchising since 2008, the number of locations has grown slowly but steadily to the current total of 61 (up from the previously reported total of 58), of which two are company-owned and all are located in the US.
12. Central Bark
Central Bark was founded in 1997 by Jackie Jordan as Doggy Daycare in Wisconsin. Then in 2003, her business merged with Chris Gaba’s Florida-based Central Bark Dog Day Care to become Central Bark Doggy Day Care. More recently, the company has rebranded itself with a new logo and name, now calling itself Central Bark. The chain serves as a home-away-from-home for dogs when owners don’t want to leave their beloved pet home alone all day long. This doggy daycare focuses on exercise, socialization, and training to keep dogs happy and healthy.
Franchising began in 2004 and the number of locations currently stands at 28 (up from the previously reported total of 26) spread across seven states, of which one is company-owned and all are located in the US.
13. Wag ‘N Wash Natural Pet Food and Grooming
Wag ‘N Wash Natural Pet Food and Grooming is like a spa and buffet in one convenient location. Dog and cat lovers can bring their furry friends in for DIY bathing, professional grooming, and a wide range homemade treats and deli items, along with a selection of healthy pet food brands and unique toys for training and play. Loyal customers enjoy volume shopping rewards, coupons, free food programs, and other in-house promotions.
Founded by Jef Strauss and Dan Remus in Colorado Springs, Colorado in 1999 and franchising since 2006, the number of locations has grown to 18, of which five are company-owned and all are located in the US.
An Important Note About Our Methodology
The franchises on this list were ranked according to the number of units in the franchise system. If you are a prospective franchisee searching for franchise opportunities that meet or exceed certain performance benchmarks for sales, profits, and return on investment, please check out this list of America’s Most Lucrative Franchises.