How to become a Veterinary Physiotherapist. Read through our comprehensive job guide to learn more about this career.
What does a Veterinary Physiotherapist do?
As an animal physiotherapist or veterinary physiotherapist, you would assess and treat animals with injuries or movement problems.
You would mainly treat horses and dogs, including both pets and ‘working animals’, such as race horses and greyhounds. However, you could also work with other animals such as cats and farm or zoo animals.
Your tasks would typically include:
- planning exercise programmes
- using manual and electro-therapy methods to reduce pain, increase flexibility and restore normal movement
- giving advice on changes to animals’ environments to help them perform tasks more easily.
You would only be legally allowed to carry out treatment for diagnosed conditions or injuries if animals are referred by (or with the permission of) a veterinary surgeon.
Your work could be full- or part-time, and your hours would be flexible, depending on the needs of clients.
You could carry out treatments in stable yards, the client’s home (when treating small animals) or in veterinary surgeries and hospitals.
How much does a Veterinary Physiotherapist earn?
Salaries vary enormously for this type of work, and for self-employed private practitioners they will depend on workload. As an example, a survey of ACPAT members showed a wide range of charges for physiotherapy sessions:
- Initial consultations (from 30 minutes to 2 hours) from £25 to £74.50.
- Follow-up consultations (from 30 minutes to 1.5 hours) from £25 to £70.
Figures are intended as a guideline only.
There are two ways to become a veterinary physiotherapist:
Chartered physiotherapist working with animals
You must first qualify and gain experience as a chartered physiotherapist in human physiotherapy. See the Physiotherapist profile, and the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy website, for details.
You would then need to learn to apply your professional and practical therapy skills as a chartered physiotherapist to working with animals, by completing postgraduate training in veterinary physiotherapy.
Postgraduate Diploma and MSc courses in Veterinary Physiotherapy are offered by the Royal Veterinary College (RVC) and the University of the West of England (run at Hartpury College, Gloucestershire). Check with the universities for their entry requirements.
To complete the course you must:
- attend one weekend a month over 18 months at the Royal Veterinary College in Hatfield, Hertfordshire
- complete 25 hours’ private study, including completion of assessed coursework
- pass an exam.
As a MSc student you would also complete a thesis or dissertation.
Successful completion of either the Diploma or MSc would entitle you to become a Category A member of the ACPAT and to use the title veterinary physiotherapist.
Alternatively, you may be able to train with a fully qualified (Category A) member of the Association of Chartered Physiotherapists in Animal Physiotherapy (ACPAT) and complete the ACPAT education course over a period of two years. To do this, you must have trainee (Category B) membership of the ACPAT.
When you have completed the training, you would be able to apply to upgrade to Category A membership of the ACPAT, and become an independent practitioner.
Visit the ACPAT website for more details.
Training without a qualification in human physiotherapy
If you have a good working knowledge of animal care and handling, and a higher or further education qualification, you could complete the Canine and Equine Physiotherapy Training (CEPT) Advanced Certificate in Veterinary Physiotherapy. Check the CEPT website for details.
Training and Development
Once qualified as a chartered physiotherapist working with animals, you would need to attend courses and other relevant training to keep your clinical knowledge and competence up to date. As a ACPAT member, you would be expected to show evidence of at least 25 hours’ continuing professional development (CPD) each year.
If you have a MSc qualification, and want to develop a career in research, you may be able to complete a PhD.
After completing the CEPT course you can join the Institute of Registered Veterinary and Animal Physiotherapists (IRVAP) which will give you access to support and advice from experienced colleagues and CPD days which will help you keep your skills up to date and learn new ones. See the IRVAP website for details.
Skills and Knowledge
- an interest in animals and experience of handling them
- good powers of observation
- an enquiring mind and an aptitude for science
- good communication skills
- the ability to work in a team with other professionals
- good organisational and administrative skills.
You would usually run your own animal physiotherapy practice, although there are occasionally opportunities in private practices, large veterinary practices or universities.