I was recently contacted by Brooke Marsh, who is an Animal Physiotherapist based on the Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia. The term Animal Physiotherapy was new to me (a bit of research revealed that it’s called Veterinary Rehabilitation, Animal Rehabilitation, or Animal Physical Therapy here in the US) and I asked Brooke if she would be willing to share with us what it is, how it works, and a bit about herself.
Brooke is a human Physiotherapist and a qualified Titled APA (Australian Physiotherapy Association) Animal Physiotherapist. She completed her Masters of Animal Physiotherapy 2005 at the University of Queensland and is amongst Australia’s leading animal physiotherapists. As the Chair of the Animal Physiotherapy Group of the APA, she is highly motivated member of her field.
A trained Pilates instructor, ex-gymnast and acrobat who practices yoga daily, Brooke enjoys transferring her skills across to her 4 legged clients for more specific rehabilitation and progress the high level athlete. She says “after all, yoga postures came from observing animals in the wild e.g. “downward dog” and “upward dog!”
Brooke, who is the founder and owner of Holistic Animal Physiotherapy, has always had a passion and affinity for animals, and now works full time at North Coast Veterinary Specialists (NCVS), a busy small animal clinic on the Sunshine Coast, where she rehabilitates a wide variety of acute and chronic conditions and provides holistic management to her clients.
What Is Animal Physiotherapy?
Animal Physiotherapy is a complementary therapy, which is carried out under veterinary referral (in most States in Australia) and works in much the same way as Physiotherapy (“physical therapy” in the US) in human medicine. The same conditions are assessed and treated with a specialized knowledge of anatomy, biomechanics and rehabilitation.
Physiotherapists use a wide variety of techniques and with the help of a combination of Eastern and Western medicine, the goal is to relieve pain, improve overall function, stability of the joints, strengthen to ensure prevention of recurring injuries, and also to educate the owners.
Brooke believes it is important to treat the animal as a whole, and the greatest success comes from having a multi-modal approach, and from working intensively with the clients and patients to progress in health and recovery. When examining a pet, Brooke palpates from nose to tail. Animals are very good at compensating and without verbal feedback gained from humans, her “hands-on’ skills have been fine tuned to accurately assess and treat. She also uses an underwater treadmill – “a fantastic tool to help with gait assessment and treatment.”
A home program is also very important to maintain the condition in between sessions. Owners are taught massage and stretches, given advice about appropriate exercise at home and how to improve the overall quality of life of their pet.
Physiotherapy benefits include:
- Acceleration of rehabilitation process and restoration of function
- Reduction of pain and inflammation
- Improvement of joint range of motion and muscle strength
- Prevention of further movement dysfunctions or injuries
- Optimization of performance in sport/show
Conditions treated include: (Much like a human case load)
- Orthopedic – cruciate ligament/cartilage of knee (stifle); fractures; hip/elbow dysplasia; muscle and tendon injuries, patella luxation
- Neurological – including spinal injury, peripheral nerve
- Pre and Post surgical for any musculoskeletal/neurological condition
- Degenerative joint disease (osteoarthritis, geriatric)
- Back pain/ injury
- Soft tissue/ sporting injuries
- Poor conditioning (e.g. following cancer treatments, obesity, cardiovascular)
Animal Physiotherapy in Australia
Animal Physiotherapy is an emerging and rapidly growing profession in Australia. The Australian Companion Animal Council reports that there is an estimated 33 million pets in Australia living in 8 million households (i.e. 63% of households own a pet) and that Australia has one of the highest pet ownership rates in the world. 36% of households own a dog and 23% own a cat. There are also (approximately) 18.4 million fish, 8.1 million birds and 1 million other pets including horses, rabbits, guinea pigs and other small animals.
Pets have become an important part of the family and are increasingly being viewed as equals. Owners are progressively more aware and concerned about their pet’s health and wellbeing and are spending extra on preventative and elective veterinary and complementary medicines. However, because of the recent world economic downturn, pet ownership numbers declined and people turned to owning less expensive pets such as fish and birds. Now as the economy recovers and disposable incomes are starting to thrive again, it is anticipated that people will once again start spending more on their pets. The growing population is also anticipated to increase pet ownership numbers.
With advances in veterinary medicine and owners spending more on veterinary services, the lifespan of the dog is anticipated to lengthen, increasing the number of elderly pets who are likely to require ongoing care. It is thought that people who access complementary medicines such as homeopathy, acupuncture, chiropractic and physiotherapy are more likely to seek similar treatments for their pets. Having pet insurance has also become more common due to the increasing demand for veterinary care. It is anticipated that the demand for complementary medicines will continue to rise and will become more mainstream in the next 5 years. As this demand increases, veterinary clinics will need to start offering an option to access alternative animal treatments in order to compete with other clinics and to satisfy the wants of owners.
Is Animal Physiotherapy covered by pet insurance in Australia?
Animal physiotherapy is expected to become more mainstream as owners seek out complementary medicines, and are increasingly concerned for their animal’s well being. As demand for physiotherapy becomes apparent, veterinarians will need to offer or refer for these services to keep up with trends and in order to keep customers happy. Some Pet Insurance companies now cover Physiotherapy and Brooke is working with her professional body (APA – Australian Physiotherapy Association) to start to align the medical insurance benefits similar to her human clients.
Who can become an Animal Physiotherapist in Australia (i.e. what are the prerequisites)?
In order to become an Animal Physiotherapist in Australia, an undergraduate Physiotherapy degree is required. After a few years of clinical experience, you can move on to a Masters degree in Animal Studies (Physiotherapy). Such a course was offered from the University of Queensland in 2002 and was open to International Physiotherapists, but unfortunately it is on hold at present. The Animal Physiotherapy Group is working with the APA to develop another educational pathway for Physiotherapists, and we will hopefully see another Masters program start at the University in 2013.
If anybody would like any further information on how Animal Physiotherapy can help, feel free to send Brooke a question via the Online Consultation section on her website.