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When and why choose a 'Veterinary Physiotherapist' over someone else?

Updated: Mar 26, 2022

For many owners, deciding between a vet physio, massage therapists, osteopaths, chiropractors and more, can be a minefield! What is the difference between them? What does my animal need? Do they all do the same thing?

First of all, how do you know that your animal needs Veterinary Physiotherapy or similar?

- A change in mobility of your animal, have they sudden slowed down or stopped jumping on the sofa?

- A change in behaviour of your animal, for example, becoming more reserved, evading petting, 'naughty' behaviour .

- Following injury or to help mitigate disease or disorders, such as osteoarthritis.

- To support changes in or high level activity, such sporting animals doing an increase in work or competing regularly.

- Plus many many more...

Do all types of MSK (musculoskeletal) practitioners do the same thing? The short answer is NO, they are all different and good therapists should describe on their website how and what they treat. For example:

  1. Physiotherapists - considerately treat the whole musculoskeletal system using manual therapies, electrotherapies and formulate ongoing plans.

  2. Chiropractors - manually manipulate bones, joint and muscles using sharp/quick adjustments. Mostly focused on the spine.

  3. Osteopaths - a mix of manual treatments considering the whole body.

  4. McTimoney practitioner - a chiropractor method using quick, specific adjustments.

  5. Massage therapist - Massage only. Usually consider whole body.

Not each type will suit each animal. For example, a dog that had undergone corrective joint surgery may benefit more from a physiotherapist who will work gently and devise a progression plan than a chiropractor. In other cases, an owner may prefer an osteopath for their pet. It often depends on what services are available locally and how each individual practitioner markets and performs their practice; many may have their own quirky methods and know which cases benefit from their treatment.

Although each type of physical therapy has a place, it is important as an owner to understand who is treating your animal and how competent they are.

  1. Firstly, look at their qualifications. What did they do to get there? Some 'practioners' may have completed a weekend course in massage for £150 whereas others, such as a qualified vet physio, have undergone years and years of extensive training.

  2. Secondly, a BIG HINT of their qualifications is if they are registered with some form of animal practitioner registers. Many therapists require a certain competency to gain memberships, and those without will not appear on their regional lists. Some to check out include NAVP, AHPR (who break down each type regionally), RAMP, ACPAT (physio's who qualified on humans first). To maintain their membership, members are required to undertake hours of continued learning to remain up to date and competent within their field.

  3. Thirdly, insurance. Make sure anyone treating your animal IS INSURED. Therefore if anything goes wrong, you have something to fall back on. Without insurance and registration with a governing body, you will have no one to complain to if it does happen.

If you are unsure:

  • Speak to your vet for advice

Your vet is liable for your animals care. They will be able to recommend a suitable, credible local practitioner to use. Furthermore, a physiotherapist or similar CANNOT work on your animal without official veterinary consent unless treating for maintenance conditions only. By your vet giving referral/consent to a physiotherapist or similar, your vet is liable for this decision and remains the one true professional responsible for your pets care. Therefore, they are unlikely to provide consent to someone that they do not 'trust'.

If your vet is unaware of local providers, you may wish to discuss ones that you have come across. Vets are aware of MSK practitioner credentials, so will still be able to offer advice on which would be most suitable.

  • Ask the therapist - all suitably qualified practioners will be happy to chat and discuss their credentials, training or potential treatment they would provide your animal.

  • Check the registers listed above.

Trudie (Herriot Vet Physio)

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