Does working as an animal physical therapist sound interesting to you? You might be surprised to know that’s there a high demand for this challenging and rewarding occupation.
Just as athletes and everyday people injure themselves and have a need to rehabilite from those injuries, so do animals. Dogs, cats, horses and other animals sustain injuries, and once they leave the vet, they usually require some sort of specialized treatment and recovery. Animal physical therapists help recovering animals get up and running again, literally.
If you love being around and working with all types of animals, you’ll find this work stimulating and maybe even a lot of fun. There are a variety of tasks that an animal physical therapist can assist in, from animal surgery to post-op recovery, chronic pain management, recovery from broken limbs, and more.
While it’s true that veterinarians and vet technicians do perform some types of physical therapy on animals, they typically only do this on a limited basis, and eventually pass the recovering animal onto a certified therapist to complete the rehabilitation process.
In order to legally perform this type of animal physical therapy, you’ll need to become a licensed physical therapist (or PT), or a licensed physical therapist assistant (PTA for short).
What types of therapy do these licensed professionals perform? For one, an animal physical therapist may help to increase the mobility of an animal after a neurologic or orthopedic injury.
Other duties include assisting in good animal nutrition and weight management, rehabilitation after surgery, and improving the function and quality of life for older animals. Just as humans have a variety of health and mobility issues as they age, so do animals, and a trained therapist can help improve the aging animal’s overall health and quality of life.
Usually animal patients are administered to on an outpatient basis, just as in human physical therapy. Some common forms of treatment include stretching, strenghening exercises, range of motion exercises, massage, cold or hot therapy, and even exercising in a pool.
A typical treatment plan can last up to 8 weeks, depending on the injury and age of the animal, and the animal patients are usually seen two or three times per week. You’ll need a good education in order to work as a professional animal physical therapist.
Typically you’ll need at least a master’s degree in physical therapy, with a strong emphasis on animal therapy. These programs usually take from three to four years to complete. Then you’ll need to pass a state licensing exam in order to start practicing physical therapy on patient animals.
If you want to work as a PTA, the requirements are at least an associate’s degree, which can usually be completed in two years or less. Then you could complete your education later if you want to move up and become a full animal physical therapist at some point in the future.
The pay is quite a bit higher for PTs, and they can start their own practice and earn even more. An experienced PT with a good practice can earn $50,000 per year or more. PTAs earn less, usually from $25,000 to $30,000.