Animal Physical Therapist Salary and Career Facts

Research what it takes to become an animal physical therapist. Learn about the job duties, places of employment, required training and salary information to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Animal Care degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is an Animal Physical Therapist?

Animal physical therapists help animals recover from injuries and operations through methods like therapeutic ultrasound and swimming therapy. They may also utilize different stretching or massaging techniques to help muscles and tissues heal more quickly than they would without the treatment. Animal physical therapists must communicate clearly with the animal's owner to discuss treatment, as well as preventative measures to make sure the injury does not get worse or happen again. Some veterinarians may also use some physical therapy treatments, but typically diagnose and treat injuries and illnesses through medication, surgery or other medical procedures. The following table provides information on professional paths to this career:

Physical Therapist Veterinarian
Degree Required Doctoral degree Doctoral degree
Education Field of Study Physical therapy Veterinary medicine
Licensure Licensure as a physical therapist Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM)
Job Growth (2014-24) 34%* 9%*
Median Salary (2015) $84,020* $88,490*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Does an Animal Physical Therapist Do?

Animal physical therapists, like physical therapists for humans, provide services for animals to help them physically recover from injury or surgery. As a therapist, you would perform a physical, neurological and orthopedic exam and record measurements to develop an animal's treatment plan. Benefits of animal rehabilitation include a quicker rebound after an operation, better quality of life and an improved range of motion.

You might use techniques such as therapeutic ultrasound, electrical stimulation and aquatic therapy to treat animals. Therapeutic ultrasound may be used to ease muscles and treat conditions like tendonitis, soft tissue pain and muscle tension. You might use electrical stimulation to treat wounds, fortify and relax muscles or help animals absorb medicines applied to their skin. Opportunities may also be available to use swimming facilities to improve the physical conditioning of dogs and help them recover from surgery or trauma.

Where Might I Work?

You might find work in an animal rehabilitation center that employs physical therapists, veterinary technicians, veterinary assistants and board-certified veterinary surgeons. In an animal rehabilitation facility, you might use tools and techniques such as aquatic therapy, ground treadmills, therapeutic exercises and massage to aid the recovery of patients.

What Training Do I Need?

If you come from a background in veterinary medicine or physical therapy, you might enter a canine rehabilitation therapist certification program. You would learn the advantages of physical therapy for dogs and be exposed to recent research that will help you expand your understanding of the field. This would also be an opportunity to study canine anatomy and physiology, injuries and conditions, therapeutic exercise, physical therapy assessment skills, manual therapy and the business of canine rehabilitation. Programs focused on rehabilitation for other types of animals are also available; for example, you might pursue training in equine rehabilitation.

What Might I Earn?

Many animal physical therapists come from the fields of veterinary medicine or physical therapy. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, physical therapists earned a median annual wage of $84,020 in May 2015 (www.bls.gov). The median annual wage for veterinarians was $88,490 that same year.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

A few related careers in the medical field include medical scientists, audiologists and physicians. All of these positions require a doctoral or professional degree. Medical scientists typically work in a laboratory setting and perform various research projects meant to help improve human health. They are often involved in clinical trials. Audiologists specialize in treating conditions of the ear. They work with patients to diagnose any medical problems and improve their hearing. Physicians, like veterinarians, diagnose and treat injuries and illnesses, but in human patients. They may recommend physical therapy as a part of treatment, as well as prescribe medication, surgery or other procedures.

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