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Careers in Domestic Animal Rehabilitation: Education and Job Info

Professionals in the field of domestic animal rehabilitation apply their knowledge of veterinary science and physical therapy to help animals recover from injuries or illnesses. Animal rehabilitation is an emerging field focused on dogs; however, some practitioners also offer their services to other animals. Training in this field is only available to veterinarians, veterinary technicians, physical therapists and physical therapy assistants.

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Educational Requirements

Veterinarian and Veterinary Technician

Aspiring veterinarians must obtain a bachelor's degree from an accredited university or college. Although students can major in any field of study, rigorous preveterinary undergraduate coursework is necessary. Veterinary schools typically require applicants to have completed coursework in biology, chemistry, physics, social sciences, and English composition. Admission is highly competitive, so high standardized test scores, exceptional recommendations and internships or work experience in a veterinary office or animal care facility are useful. Graduates of veterinary school receive a Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) and, once licensed, are eligible to practice medicine in small and large animal hospitals and private practices.

Veterinary technicians work alongside veterinarians and provide support within the veterinary office. In high school, aspiring technicians should enroll in college preparatory courses before enrolling in a veterinary technician program. Veterinary Technician programs are accredited by the American Veterinary Medical Association, and most entail a minimum of two years of study at a community college leading to an associate's degree in science.

Physical Therapist and Physical Therapist Assistant

Physical therapists work to treat injuries and illnesses that debilitate or inhibit patients' movement and flexibility. Physical therapists must graduate from a program accredited by the American Physical Therapist's Association, ultimately leading to a Master of Science in Physical Therapy or a Doctorate in Physical Therapy. Graduate programs in physical therapy are typically 2-3 years in length. Admission typically requires completion of prerequisite courses in the sciences (biology, chemistry and physics), English composition, statistics, psychology, and the social sciences.

Physical therapy assistants work directly under the guidance and supervision of a trained and accredited physical therapist. Physical therapy assistants must graduate from a physical therapy assistant or PTA associate's degree program. These programs are typically two years in length and are offered at the community or junior college level.

Physical therapist and physical therapy assistant programs address the common conditions and ailments affecting human patients. Even if an individual's goal is to work with animals, he or she will first need to complete educational and training requirements for human physical therapy before enrolling in a postgraduate program specializing in domestic animal rehabilitation.

Postgraduate Options for Animal Rehabilitation

Because domestic animal rehabilitation is a relatively new field, there are a limited number of postgraduate programs that specialize in it. Veterinarians and physical therapists often enroll in seminars or continuing education programs to acquire the necessary knowledge and training. Certificate programs can be found in a handful of colleges and universities, usually within the school's college of veterinary medicine.

The American Association of Veterinary State Boards (AAVSB) has approved two specific certifications for this field: the Canine Rehabilitation Therapist Certifications (CCRT) for veterinarians and physical therapists, and the Canine Rehabilitation Assistant Certification (CCRA) for veterinary technicians and physical therapy assistants. Both credentials are based on completion of three courses offered by the institute and a 40-hour internship.

Job Information

Professionals in the field of animal rehabilitation work at animal hospitals, private veterinary practices and animal rehabilitation clinics. Veterinarians, veterinary technicians, physical therapists, and physical therapy assistants share their knowledge and experiences to help injured animals regain strength, movement and flexibility. The most common conditions practitioners are able to treat include arthritis, post-operative issues, tendon/ligament repair and muscle tears, sprains and strains. They use a variety of techniques, such as acupuncture, chiropractic procedures, ultrasound therapy, electrical stimulation and laser therapy to help animals live comfortable, mobile lives.

Salary and Employment Outlook

The employment outlook for professionals who care for animals is generally strong. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicted a 12% growth in the number of veterinarian jobs between 2012 and 2022, which is about average growth rate for all professions combined (www.bls.gov). Veterinary technicians were expected to see a 30% rate of growth for that same period.

The BLS reported in May 2012 that veterinarians had a median annual salary of $84,460, while veterinary technologists and technicians earned $30,290 in median salary.

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