How to Become an Animal Rehabilitation Therapist

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Love working with animals? How do you become an Animal Rehabilitation Therapist

Just like their human counterparts, animals can develop functional limitations and mobility impairments as they age. Therefore, animals will also benefit from a skillfully developed plan of care for rehabilitation to address these issues. An animal rehabilitation therapist is just the person for the job.

Animal rehabilitation is a growing niche field – so much so that the APTA’s Orthopaedic Section has a Special Interest Group dedicated to it! The World Confederation of Physical Therapy also established a subgroup for PTs in Animal Practice in 2011. As the field expands, physical therapists have more and more opportunities to become involved with animal rehabilitation.

Even Singapore Polytechnics are starting to embrace this and preparing their students for the growing demands.

How did animal rehabilitation start?

The veterinary community has long recognized the benefits of physical therapy for animals, but its clinical application and relevance here in the United States is still in its infancy. Among the earliest recorded pioneers of animal rehabilitation was Sir Charles Strong, a European neighbor who published a book on Equine Physiotherapy in the mid-1960’s. As equine sporting events grew in popularity, so did associated racehorse injuries. Thus, horses may have been one of the first 4-legged species to publicly benefit from physical therapy!

By the 1980’s, canine rehabilitation was well known in Europe and by the 1990’s, the U.S. started to take notice. The first canine rehabilitation certificate program was started soon after the American Veterinary Medical Association added “animal physical therapy” to its guidelines in 1996.

Much like human medicine, veterinary medicine is seeing a shift in practice to more preventative care versus curative and palliative care. In 2003, the Canine Rehabilitation Institute, established by veterinarian Dr. Janet Van Dyke, welcomed its first set of students with the vision and foresight to prepare professionals with tools and knowledge to treat our animal companions.

Similarly, the University of Tennessee established a slew of higher education programs for canine and equine rehabilitation. These programs are offered to veterinarians/vet technicians, as well as PTs/PTAs and OTs/OTAs.

How do you become an animal rehabilitation therapist?

As of today, our canine companions have most of the spotlight when it comes to animal rehabilitation. There are two places where you can become certified in canine rehabilitation: The Canine Rehabilitation Institute (CRI) and the University of Tennessee (UoT).

At CRI, you will be working towards the Canine Rehabilitation Therapist Certification (CCRT) and you must have your physical therapy license to qualify for enrollment. At UoT, the Canine Rehabilitation Certificate Program (CCRP) is offered to both PTs, PTAs, and students of those disciplines.

UoT also has certification programs for equine rehabilitation, equine taping, canine fitness training, canine osteoarthritis case management, canine pain management, and nutrition case management. Both centers have been approved by the American Association of Veterinary State Boards Registry of Approved Continuing Education.

Both the CRI and UoT websites offer fairly comprehensive descriptions of the length and cost of their courses, but here’s a table for a quick comparison:

Designation Pre-Requisite Course Duration Fees Education Model
Canine Rehabilitation Institute CCRT PT 3 total modules (open-book take-home final exam at the end of each module) + 1 40 horus CRI-Approved Internship USD 7400.00 Florida or Colorado
University of Tennessee CCRP PT, PTA, PT/PTA students 7 courses that includes lectures, labs, final certification exams USD 5,500 Mixture of online courses and live labs in various locations

What’s it like being a canine Physical therapist?

Most animal rehabilitation therapists work alongside veterinarians and veterinary technicians in a clinic-based setting. To gain more knowledge about the life of an animal PT. It is a very tiring job, moving in and out of water, land therapies, evaluations. But the job is rewarding, especially when you take a pet that is from non-mobile to regaining mobility.

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