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Good Practice: Animal Rehabilitation

Animal rehabilitation is a topic that is occasionally brought up by members of the public and physiotherapists seeking to better understand the dynamic of providing care to animals. The goal of this article is to clarify the regulation of animal rehabilitation, why it is not physiotherapy, and what physiotherapists should keep in mind if they are thinking about providing animal rehabilitation services.

The College of Physiotherapists of Alberta receives questions from:

  1. The public, who have had an animal treated with animal rehabilitation and were told it was “animal physiotherapy.”
  2. Veterinary practices, asking about involving physiotherapists in the rehabilitation of animals.
  3. Physiotherapists, who also want to provide animal rehabilitation.

This article will hopefully give us an opportunity to educate all parties on the topic of animal rehabilitation, the legislative requirements, use of title, and who holds regulatory responsibility over this area of practice.

What is the legislative framework?

In the regulatory world, the legislation and regulatory requirements are always the foundation for College decisions. The legislation is quite clear on the topic of animal rehabilitation and there is no room for misinterpretation. All animal services being provided in the province of Alberta fall under the Veterinary Medicine Act (VMA). This act governs all services regarding animals. Whether it is rehabilitation, surgery, prescription of medication or anything else; if it is related to animals it falls under the VMA.

Physiotherapy, physical therapy, and PT are all protected titles under the Health Professions Act (HPA). The HPA only applies to the provision of services to humans. This means that those registered as physiotherapists in the province of Alberta cannot use their protected title in their care of animals as they are not providing service to human beings as established in the HPA.

The College is aware that there are individuals who are registered physiotherapists that work out of veterinary clinics or under the direction of veterinarians but in this role they cannot represent themselves or the services they provide as physiotherapy. They would be working as a tech or assistant providing animal rehabilitation not as a so-called “animal physiotherapist” or “animal PT” and would not be providing “animal physiotherapy” or “animal physical therapy”. To do so would be in direct contradiction to the legislation.

Who regulates this?

The College of Physiotherapists of Alberta is responsible for the regulation of physiotherapists and physiotherapy practice in the province of Alberta and receives its mandate from the Health Professions Act (HPA). It is part of the College of Physiotherapists of Alberta’s mandate to protect the public and the public interest. As part of this role the College works to protect the misuse of titles afforded to physiotherapists through the HPA and to prevent misrepresentation of non-physiotherapy services as physiotherapy.

Since the legislation concerning any treatment of animals is under the VMA then the regulation would fall to those who regulate the treatment and care of animals. The Alberta Veterinary Medicine Association (ABVMA) is the regulatory body who has the mandate to regulate all those working with animals. This would include veterinary practitioners, their assistants or other staff involved in the care of animals. If you are a registered physiotherapist and working as a veterinarian assistant or tech in the rehabilitation of animals and a complaint is brought forward by an animal owner, the ABVMA would deal with the complaint.

Where should the public or physiotherapists go with any question regarding animal rehabilitation?

From the questions already discussed, the regulation of animal rehabilitation is covered by the VMA, therefore; the ABVMA would be the regulatory body involved in answering any of the questions or concerns.

How would someone develop their skills to provide animal rehabilitation services?

It is important to keep in mind that competence is required by those treating under either the HPA or VMA. If you are a physiotherapist, you earned that protected title by completing an accepted education whether in Canada or abroad. Your entry to practice education took a considerable amount of time in the classroom and more than one thousand practicum hours. Then you had to pass a written and practical exam to become a physiotherapist and practice independently in Alberta. As you learned new skills and techniques you went through a process to become competent before applying them in your practice location to a patient.

Competency to provide animal rehabilitation is no different.

Those that practice veterinary medicine went to school for a long-time to become capable and competent of treating a wide variety of animals. Physiotherapists expect their knowledge and skills to be recognized by their colleagues and members of the public, but that also means they need to recognize the knowledge and skills of other professionals. Is it reasonable that someone without that background knowledge would be competent to provide veterinary services without the direction of a veterinarian?

Now that we have answered the “Who, What, Where, Why and How” of animal rehabilitation I hope it provides clarity to those in the practice of animal rehabilitation or those contemplating getting into the practice of animal rehabilitation. If you have questions you can always reach out to either the ABVMA at https://www.abvma.ca/ or you can contact us at professionalpractice@cpta.ab.ca.

Page updated: 07/10/2022