Animal Physiotherapist

The Job and What's Involved

Animal physiotherapists work alongside veterinary surgeons to help reduce pain, improve mobility and prevent recurrence of injury in animals. Treatments can only be carried out by permission or referral from a veterinary surgeon, who is treating the animal.

Horses and dogs are the most common types of animal referred for physiotherapy. They may be either pets or working animals such as race horses, show jumpers or greyhounds. Their injuries, immobility or discomfort may have been caused by a working accident, road accident, pulled muscle or ligament, or an illness. Other animals which may be referred for physiotherapy at times include cats, and some farm and zoo animals.

Physiotherapists are particularly concerned with problems affecting muscles, bones, the heart, circulation system and the lungs. They must have an in depth knowledge of animal anatomy and physiology and be able to recognise reduced movement and other conditions that can affect animals in their care.

Physiotherapy techniques include:

  • Soft tissue mobilisation.
  • Joint mobilisation.
  • Ultrasound (especially long-wave).
  • Magnetic field therapy, using permanent magnets or pulsating electromagnetic fields.
  • Neuromuscular stimulation.
  • Hydrotherapy.
  • Massage.
  • Re-education of muscle function and movement.
  • Rehabilitation.

Animal physiotherapists may devise exercise programmes to assist an animal's mobility and return to fitness. They may also give advice on adapting an animal's living environment where necessary.

Some animal physiotherapists qualify initially as human physiotherapists and then often treat both animals and humans.

Full-time animal physiotherapists usually work around 35 to 40 hours a week, Monday to Friday, if employed at a large vet's practice or an animal hospital or clinic. Working hours may include some weekends and on-call emergency duties. There are also part-time opportunities.

Some animal physiotherapists are self-employed so work more flexible hours, according to the needs of the owners of the animals.

Work is both indoors and outdoors, in a veterinary surgery or hospital, client's home, stable yard or farm building. It is a physical job requiring strength and stamina and there is likely to be heavy lifting at times.

A full driving licence is usually required, especially if the job involves travelling to premises over a wide area.

The usual starting salary for an animal physiotherapist is around £18,500 a year.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

Animal physiotherapists work at animal hospitals and clinics and in larger veterinary practices throughout the UK. Many physiotherapists are self-employed so are based at home or in a small surgery, travelling to and from the premises of their clients. Some work in conjunction with one or more veterinary practices or clinics in their area.

There is strong competition for jobs and for the work available to self-employed animal physiotherapists.

Job vacancies may be advertised in Veterinary Record or Veterinary Times. The Chartered Society of Physiotherapy's (CSP) magazine Frontline and the jobsonline section of their website may include animal physiotherapy vacancies.

Education and Training

There are two routes available to those who want to become animal physiotherapists:

  • Qualification first as a human physiotherapist, followed by further training in veterinary physiotherapy.
  • Qualification through the International Association of Animal Therapists (IAAT).

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Entry to a degree in physiotherapy is competitive, and is with at least five GCSE's/S grades (A-C/1-3) including English, maths and science subjects, plus three A levels/four H grades including a biological science. This is followed by completion of:

  • The MSc/Postgraduate Diploma in Veterinary Physiotherapy run by the Royal Veterinary College (RVC).
  • The Core Knowledge and Skills Course of the Association of Chartered Physiotherapists in Animal Therapy (ACPAT).

Applicants for the Royal Veterinary College course are given preference if they have experience of animal handling in a working situation and/or have taken some training through the ACPAT.

The IAAT offers a Postgraduate Certificate in Animal Physiotherapy and is open to those who:

  • Have a degree in equine or animal studies.
  • Are members of the British Veterinary Nursing Association (BVNA)
  • Have a high standard of knowledge and experience with animals.

The MSc/Postgraduate Diploma in Veterinary Physiotherapy is part-time, and was developed to enable chartered physiotherapists to apply their knowledge and skills to the treatment of animal patients, particularly dogs and horses. The RVC can provide full details.

ACPAT provides training through its Core Knowledge and Skills Course. This is made up of three modules of three days each, two are equine and one canine. This is followed by an on-going assessment scheme. ACPAT also holds annual seminars and Continuing Professional Development (CPD) courses for animal physiotherapists to update their clinical knowledge and competence.

The IAAT Postgraduate Certificate in Animal Physiotherapy is studied over one year, consists of eight modules and is a mixture of class-based learning, practical placements and distance learning. Contact the IAAT for details.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

An animal physiotherapist should:

  • Have good knowledge of the general care and treatment of animals.
  • Have a genuine interest in animals and their welfare
  • Be experienced in handling different types of animal.
  • Be physically fit and manually dextrous.
  • Be patient, observant, persistent and analytical.
  • Be able to match treatments with individual problems.
  • Have good personal communication skills.
  • Be able to work well as part of a team.
  • Be well organised in managing appointments and keeping records.

Your Long Term Prospects

There may occasionally be promotion opportunities in larger veterinary practices and animal hospitals to senior or chief animal physiotherapist.

Experienced physiotherapists may become self-employed, run their own animal physiotherapy business or act as a lecturer or consultant on the subject.

Get Further Information

Association of Chartered Physiotherapists in Animal Therapy (ACPAT),
21 Woodlands Close, Penenden Heath, Maidstone, Kent ME14 2EX
Tel: 01622 688777

Chartered Society of Physiotherapy (CSP), 14 Bedford Row, London WC1R 4ED
Tel: 020 7306 6666

International Association of Animal Therapists (IAAT),
Tyringham Hall, Cuddington, Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire HP18 0AP
Tel: 01844 291526

Royal Veterinary College (RVC), Royal College Street, London NW1 0TU
Tel: 020 7468 5000

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