How to become a veterinary physiotherapist

Nurse examining dog

What is veterinary physiotherapy?

Unlike the physiotherapy profession within human medicine, veterinary physiotherapy is a much younger discipline. Veterinary physiotherapists aim to restore movement and function in animals to as near normal as possible following injury, illness or developmental problems. Veterinary physiotherapy offers many options for working with small and large animals – from critically ill, recumbent patients to top athletes – using a number of techniques including:

  • Movement and rehabilitation therapies
  • Manual therapies
  • Soft tissue techniques
  • Electrophysical therapies
  • Hydrotherapies/aquatic therapies

These are the well-known areas of specialism, but there are certain key areas that are less well recognised. The different areas in which human and veterinary physiotherapists can work include:

  • Musculoskeletal and sports injuries
  • Care of elderly patients
  • Neurological rehabilitation
  • Trauma and elective orthopaedic rehabilitation
  • Respiratory and critical care medicine
  • Pain management and wound healing

Experience and training

It is essential to have a background and experience of working with animals, alongside an appropriate qualification. Veterinary surgeons, veterin­ary nurses and hydrotherapists can make exceptionally good veterinary physiotherapists, and there are a number of courses available specifically for professionals working in these fields.

Rachael McCooey is a vet nurse who decided to study for a diploma veterinary physiotherapy while working. Read more about her experience here

Veterinary physiotherapist Helen Fentem-Jones found out about veterinary physiotherapy when she was studying a degree in equine science. She says that "what really appealed to me about physiotherapy was the way in which hands-on techniques could make such a huge difference to patients; how the physio­therapist followed and assisted the patient from either surgical or medical trauma to complete recovery; and how it complemented and consolidated the work of the veterin­ary surgeon, improving outcomes and quality of life for the patient, and consequently the owner as well."

Read more about her experience here.

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