How to Become an Animal Physical Therapist: Education Requirements & Qualifications

This article will look at the education requirements and qualifications needed to become an animal physical therapist. Read on to learn more and determine whether this is the right career for you. Schools offering Animal Care degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

Career Information at a Glance

This career is focused on rehabilitating animals who struggle to live a comfortable daily life due to injury, surgery or long-term illness. An animal physical therapist uses a range of therapy types, depending on what is appropriate for the animal, to help them gain a better quality of life by relieving discomfort or pain caused by their condition. An animal physical therapist may have previously trained in physical therapy (for humans) or as a veterinarian, as there are two main routes into this career. Take a look at the table below for more information about this role.

Degree Required Master's accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education or a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine
Education Field of Study Physical Therapy or Veterinary Medicine
Licensure (if trained as a physical therapist) National Physical Therapy Exam (Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy)
Job Growth (2016-2026) 28% (for all physical therapists)*
Median Salary (2017) $86,850 (for all physical therapists)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Does an Animal Physical Therapist Do?

An animal physical therapist works much like a regular physical therapist, but they only work with animals. When they first receive a patient who has been referred for physical therapy, they will examine and diagnose the cause(s) of pain and discomfort in the animal. They will also prescribe the treatment needed for the animal and use a range of treatments throughout the therapy. Most animal therapists practice treatments such as acupuncture, exercise, massage, and hydrotherapy, dependant on the patient's needs.

What Responsibilities Will I Have?

An animal physical therapist is responsible for improving their patients' quality of life, allowing them to be more independent and comfortable. Their first responsibility is often to observe the animal in order to correctly diagnose the source of its medical issue. Once this has been addressed, an animal physical therapist is required to help animal patients with strength and conditioning exercises, use massage as a form of therapy, and utilize their expertise to provide other forms of therapy as needed. Each patient is different, but therapies such as laser, magnetic, ultrasound, and shockwave are often used in this field.

What Level of Education Is Required?

Most animal therapists need a bachelor's degree in any subject, but science or mathematics may be preferred, before they undertake a master's degree program in physical therapy. They will need to complete a master's which is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education and complete their National Physical Therapy Exam before they are able to practice physical therapy. Alternatively, qualified veterinarians can also pursue a career in animal therapy. For this, a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree from an accredited veterinary college and a state license are required.

What Qualifications Do I Need?

Although additional qualifications beyond the education requirements listed above are not essential, the American Association of Rehabilitation Veterinarians recommends that each physical therapist have at least 15 hours of continuing education documented every two years. Centers such as the Canine Rehabilitation Institute and the International Veterinary Acupuncture Society offer courses which allow practicing animal physical therapists to continue developing in their profession. Courses such as 'Nutrition in Canine Rehabilitation' can help an animal physical therapist to specialize within their field and ensure that they're abreast of the latest research.

What Personal Qualities Should I Have?

Working with animals requires patience and good communication skills. As we know, we cannot speak directly to animals, therefore it is essential that an animal physical therapist has a good understanding of animal behaviours. This role requires working specifically with animals who are experiencing pain or discomfort due to injury or surgery. Due to this, they are more likely to be distressed than a healthy animal. It is important for an animal physical therapist to be able to acknowledge the signs of distress in a range of animals and act accordingly. Communication with co-workers is also important as the animal may also be under the supervision of a veterinarian or other animal care professional.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

  • 1. Degree Options:
The schools in the listing below are not free and may include sponsored content but are popular choices among our users. Tuition and costs will vary across programs and locations. Be sure to always request tuition information before starting a program.

Popular Schools

  1. 1
  2. 2
  3. Next »