Some say that the field of veterinary rehabilitation is one of the fastest growing fields in veterinary science. Studies done at the University of Vienna showed a growth rate of 180% over the last three years. 

What does a Veterinary Rehabilitation Therapist do?

Veterinary rehabilitation therapists use various therapies and exercises to improve an animal’s mobility, enhance surgical outcomes, minimize pain and increase lifespan. Animals may be experiencing all sorts of symptoms as a result of injury, a developmental condition or a chronic condition related to old age. Rehabilitation therapy makes an enormous difference to the comfort and mobility of most pets, and can greatly enhance quality of life for both animal and owner.

Carrie Adrian, Director of Rehabilitation Services for VCA Animal Hospitals, agrees: “This niche is a hot topic in the human physical therapy field. Growth and interest continue to increase, as more and more human physical therapists join the team in veterinary hospitals.”

So what draws professionals to the field? Chiefly, it seems to be the strong sense of gratification one receives after changing the course of an animal’s life and the appreciation of both owner and pet once ease of movement is restored.

“There is nothing greater than receiving a kiss of thanks from your patient,” say Carrie Adrian. “Despite a lack of verbal communication, I truly believe these dogs learn to understand that I am there to help them. It’s an honour and a blessing to work in this field.”

The personal reward factor is undeniably high for rehabilitation therapists. Reward is found not only in the appreciation of animal and owner, but in the element of informed experimentation and discovery; applying scientific knowledge to unique individuals will always yield varied results. Matt Brunke, rehabilitation veterinarian in Washington DC, says he loves the excitement that each day brings – solving puzzles, finding solutions and advancing the care of his patients are what drives him. 

Diverse Beginnings

The field of veterinary rehabilitation brings together people from diverse professional backgrounds. Some come to the profession via physical therapy or physiotherapy; others from veterinary science. Usually rehabilitation therapists will have an undergraduate qualification; for vets, either a veterinary science or veterinary technician qualification; for physiotherapists, either a human physiotherapy or physical therapy qualification.  Veterinary rehabilitation is usually studied post grad.

A great option for those who know what they want to do straight after school is theEquilibrium Veterinary Physiotherapy College in Plettenberg Bay, South Africa. It offers a full time, four-year course in the field of veterinary physiotherapy. Graduates from this program can go straight into veterinary rehabilitation practice.

For those who already have an undergraduate qualification, there are two main options:

  1. Become a certified canine rehabilitation practitioner (a CCRP). This qualification can be attained from the University of Tennessee in Knoxville through North East Seminars in the US. The qualification is also available in other countries; currently, Brazil, Argentina, South Africa and several European countries offer it, and in 2018 it will become available in Thailand, the Czech Republic and Croatia through ww.U-TENN.org
  2. Become a certified canine rehabilitation therapist/assistant (a CCRT/CCRA). Vets or physical therapists who do this course gain a CCRT; veterinary technicians and physical therapy assistants gain the CCRA.  These qualifications can be attained through the Canine Rehabilitation Institute  in the US, which has branches in Australia, England, Germany and Belgium.

Both courses and certificates allow one to practice as a veterinary rehabilitation therapist – so what is the difference between the two?

I put together a table to compare the courses:

Each course offers something different. Di Bollweg, a human physiotherapist, has attended both courses and felt that the CCRP, in particular, offered a very useful bridge between human physiotherapy and animal physiotherapy, introducing the various animal conditions and surgical procedures very well. On the whole, however, she found that she related better to the content of the CCRT: “The CCRT course focused on treatment based more on the individual patient’s signs and symptoms, rather than just treating according to diagnosis. I was familiar with the approach, as this is the way we access and treat in human physio practice.”

Both courses – the CCRP and the CCRT/CCRA – offer the same level of authority to practice, have the same ‘prestige’ factor and yield the same salaries, so the choice is really open. I would advise contacting the institutes that offer them (see links above) and asking as many questions as you can to satisfy yourself that you’re making the choice that is best for you.

Looking Ahead

Where do we see the field of veterinary rehabilitation in the next ten years?

Carrie Adrian: “My hope is for better prevention, gaining a better understanding of how we may reliably detect dysfunction earlier, then possibly prevent issues before they become clinical.”

Matt Brunke hopes that veterinary rehabilitation becomes a standard of care globally for all patients, and that it is introduced as an integral component of the primary veterinary care team.

These developments are almost inevitable, given how many advances have already been made in the field of veterinary rehabilitation in the last few years. I believe we can look forward to increased awareness of and appreciation for this essential component of veterinary practice. For those of us who relish variety and challenge, love animals and enjoy the puzzle of working with patients who communicate quite uniquely, this is an ideal career.

What makes it especially exciting is that new modalities are being developed all the time, often by the individual vet working alone and experimenting with different techniques. Knowledge, skill, common sense, research, sensitivity, a willingness to experiment and learn, a love of animals and a love of business – all have a place in this most rewarding of professions.

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