Animal physiotherapist

An animal physiotherapist and a dog


Animal physiotherapists provide a therapeutic treatment following veterinary diagnosis or referral. They concentrate on the application of physical therapy and exercise procedures to support animal rehabilitation after surgery or an injury, aiming to return the animals to normal function and/or maintain performance in accordance with national legislation.

Animal physiotherapists typically do the following duties:

  • Conduct thorough assessments of animals to identify musculoskeletal or neurological issues, taking into consideration the animal’s medical history, behavior, and physical condition.
  • Develop individualized treatment plans based on assessment findings, outlining specific exercises, stretches, and modalities to address the animal’s specific needs.
  • Administer physical therapy sessions, guiding animals through exercises to improve strength, flexibility, balance, and coordination.
  • Perform massage and manual therapy techniques to alleviate muscle tension, reduce pain, and improve joint mobility in animals.
  • Utilize hydrotherapy, such as swimming or underwater treadmill sessions, as a form of low-impact exercise to aid in rehabilitation.
  • Apply electrotherapy modalities, such as ultrasound or electrical stimulation, to promote healing, reduce inflammation, and manage pain.
  • Educate pet owners on the importance of at-home exercises and activities to support the ongoing rehabilitation of their animals.
  • Work collaboratively with veterinarians to develop comprehensive treatment plans, monitor progress, and adjust interventions as needed.
  • Maintain detailed and accurate records of assessments, treatments, and the progress of each animal under care.
  • Select and use specialized equipment and aids, such as braces, slings, or assistive devices, to support animals during their rehabilitation.
  • Implement strategies for pain management, including the use of therapeutic modalities and recommendations for at-home care.
  • Stay updated on advancements in animal physiotherapy, attend relevant workshops or conferences, and pursue additional certifications to enhance skills and knowledge.

Other titles

The following job titles also refer to animal physiotherapist:

animal physical therapist
veterinary physiotherapist

Working conditions

Animal physiotherapists may work in veterinary clinics, rehabilitation centers, or as independent practitioners. The role often involves hands-on interaction with animals, and the ability to adapt to different temperaments and species.

Minimum qualifications

A bachelor’s or master’s degree in veterinary physiotherapy or a related field is typically required. Practical experience gained through internships, supervised clinical hours, or entry-level positions is crucial for developing expertise. Certification from relevant professional organizations may also be necessary. Compassion for animals, effective communication skills with pet owners, and a deep understanding of animal anatomy and physiology are essential for success in this role. Continuing education and staying updated on the latest advancements in animal physiotherapy contribute to ongoing professional development.

ISCO skill level

ISCO skill level is defined as a function of the complexity and range of tasks and duties to be performed in an occupation. It is measured on a scale from 1 to 4, with 1 the lowest level and 4 the highest, by considering:

  • the nature of the work performed in an occupation in relation to the characteristic tasks and duties
  • the level of formal education required for competent performance of the tasks and duties involved and
  • the amount of informal on-the-job training and/or previous experience in a related occupation required for competent performance of these tasks and duties.

Animal physiotherapist is a Skill level 4 occupation.

Animal physiotherapist career path

Similar occupations

These occupations, although different, require a lot of knowledge and skills similar to animal physiotherapist.

animal chiropractor
animal osteopath
animal behaviourist
official veterinarian
general veterinarian

Essential knowledge and skills

Essential knowledge

This knowledge should be acquired through learning to fulfill the role of animal physiotherapist.

  • Biosecurity related to animals: Awareness of hygiene and biosecurity measures when working with animals, including causes, transmission and prevention of diseases and use of policies, materials and equipment.
  • Signs of animal illness: Physical, behavioural and environmental signs of health and ill health in various animals.
  • Animal welfare legislation: The legal boundaries, codes of professional conduct, national and EU regulatory frameworks and legal procedures of working with animals and living organisms, ensuring their welfare and health.
  • Animal welfare: Universally recognized animal welfare needs as applied to species, situation and occupation. These are:
    • need for a suitable environment
    • need for a suitable diet
    • need to be able to exhibit normal behaviour patterns
    • need to be housed with, or apart, from other animals
    • need to be protected from pain, suffering, injury and disease.
  • Physiology of animals: The study of the mechanical, physical, bioelectrical and biochemical functioning of animals, their organs and their cells.
  • Environmental enrichment for animals: Types, methods and use of enrichment for animals to allow the expression of natural behaviour, including the provision of environmental stimuli, feeding activities, puzzles, items for manipulation, social and training activities.
  • Anatomy of animals: The study of animal body parts, their structure and dynamic relationships, on a level as demanded by the specific occupation.
  • Animal behaviour: The natural behavioural patterns of animals, i.e. how normal and abnormal behaviour might be expressed according to species, environment, human-animal interaction and occupation.

Essential skills and competences

These skills are necessary for the role of animal physiotherapist.

  • Manage animal biosecurity: Plan and use appropriate biosafety measures to prevent transmission of diseases and ensure effective overall biosecurity. Maintain and follow biosecurity procedures and infection control when working with animals, including recognising potential health issues and taking appropriate action, communicating site hygiene control measures and biosecurity procedures, as well as reporting to others.
  • Assess the animal’s rehabilitation requirements: Assess the animal’s rehabilitation requirements in accordance with its current condition and according to referral from a veterinary surgeon, taking into account pre-existing health conditions e.g. diabetes, epilepsy and medication.
  • Protect health and safety when handling animals: Protect the health and welfare of animals and their handlers.
  • Prepare animal therapy equipment: Ensure that animal therapy equipment is assembled and prepared for use, including personal protective equipment.
  • Manage animal welfare: Plan, manage and evaluate the application of the five universally recognised animal welfare needs as appropriate to species, situation and own occupation.
  • Apply safe work practices in a veterinary setting: Apply safe work practices in a veterinary setting in order to identify hazards and associated risks so as to prevent accidents or incidents. This includes injury from animals, zoonotic diseases, chemicals, equipment and work environments.
  • Plan physical rehabilitation of animals: Develop a plan for the handling of animals undergoing physical rehabilitation treatment, considering: age, species, breed, temperament, surroundings, prior experiences, owner’s influence, current health status, clinical history, prescribed drugs and their effects, reason for referral for rehabilitation treatment, external influences including interaction with humans and other animals, and welfare requirements. Formulate a rehabilitation treatment plan, following referral from a veterinary surgeon.
  • Manage animal hygiene: Plan and use appropriate hygiene measures to prevent transmission of diseases and ensure effective overall hygiene. Maintain and follow hygiene procedures and regulations when working with animals, and communicate site hygiene controls and protocols to others. Manage the safe disposal of waste according to destination and local regulations.
  • Manage personal professional development: Take responsibility for lifelong learning and continuous professional development. Engage in learning to support and update professional competence. Identify priority areas for professional development based on reflection about own practice and through contact with peers and stakeholders.
  • Handle veterinary emergencies: Handle unforeseen incidents concerning animals and circumstances which call for urgent action in an appropriate professional manner.
  • Monitor the welfare of animals: Monitor animals’ physical condition and behaviour and report any concerns or unexpected changes, including signs of health or ill-health, appearance, condition of the animals’ accommodation, intake of food and water and environmental conditions.
  • Use physiotherapy for treatment of animals: Adapt human physical therapy techniques to increase function and mobility of joints and muscles in animals. The goal of physical therapy for animals is to improve quality of life and decrease pain. Cooperate with veterinarians and owners to design a physiotherapy treatment and care package.
  • Advise on animal welfare: Prepare and provide information to individuals or groups of people on how to promote the health and well-being of animals, and how risks to animal health and welfare may be reduced. Provide recommendations for corrective actions.
  • Deal with challenging people: Work safely and communicate effectively with individuals and groups of people who are in challenging circumstances. This would include recognition of signs of aggression, distress, threatening and how to address them to promote personal safety and that of others.

Optional skills and competences

These skills and competences are sometimes, but not always, required for the role of animal physiotherapist. However, mastering these skills and competences allows you to have more opportunities for career development.

  • Provide mentorship: Guide and support less knowledgeable or less experienced colleagues.

ISCO group and title

2264 – Physiotherapists

  1. Animal physiotherapist – ESCO
  2. Animal physiotherapy – a profession, not a technique – Veterinary Practice
  3. How to Become an Animal Physical Therapist – Chron
  4. Featured image: By MAJic2288 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0
Last updated on February 11, 2024