What is the difference between a Veterinary Surgeon and a Veterinary Physiotherapist?

Updated: May 4

When people ask, ‘what is the difference between a Veterinary Surgeon and a Veterinary Physiotherapist’, it’s usually because they have a much-loved animal who, for whatever reason, has developed musculoskeletal or neurological difficulties that impair the quality of life for the animal.


And their regular Veterinary Surgeon has recommended consulting with a Veterinary Physiotherapist for more specialist attention to improve the health outcomes of the animal concerned.

The relationship between the Vet Surgeon and the Vet Physiotherapist is a particularly strong one.


If an animal has any kind of injury, chronic musculoskeletal condition, or degenerative disease where they will benefit from rehabilitation, pain management or on-going physiotherapy treatment, the surgeon will refer you to a Veterinary Physiotherapist to agree a course of treatment.


Furthermore, since The National Association of Veterinary Physiotherapists, (NAVP), was formed over 35 years ago, the practice of Veterinary Physiotherapy has gained increasing credibility and recognition within the veterinary care sector.


And now many of the U.K’s top universities offer a Veterinary Physiotherapy degree, or post-grad courses for human physiotherapy practitioners with a passion for animal welfare, to gain their qualifications in animal physiotherapy.


But what is the difference between a regular vet and a vet physiotherapist? And what does a vet physiotherapist do, that a regular vet doesn’t?


Read more here to find out!


The Work of a Veterinary Physiotherapist


Following a referral, a Veterinary Physiotherapist will assess your animal’s musculoskeletal or neurological needs, just like that of a physiotherapist working with humans’ following accident or injury, or other poor musculoskeletal or neurological health reason.


If your animal has suffered an injury or has had an operation, your Veterinary Surgeon may suggest rehabilitation to help with the continuing improvement of the animal health outcomes post-surgery.


Similarly, a Veterinary Surgeon may diagnose your animal with a degenerative illness which can affect their long term health and wellbeing.


This is the point where the surgeon may refer you to a Veterinary Physiotherapist, who can not legally offer a diagnosis, but as a highly skilled professional, can examine your animal to determine the best course of restorative therapy for the long-term wellbeing of your beloved pet.


Whilst your regular Veterinary Surgeon will take care of more acute animal health issues, a Veterinary Physiotherapist is extensively trained in areas such as mobilisation of joints, improving muscle movement, or supporting animals with degenerative diseases such as Osteoarthritis, a condition that can affect up to 4 out of 5 geriatric dogs, and sadly can lead to premature euthanasia.


Thankfully, by assessing the needs of the animal, and using a variety of techniques such as manual therapy, electrotherapy, and a range of exercise programmes, your elderly but loyal companions can go on to lead happy and healthy lives, well into old age.

In addition, your Veterinary Physiotherapist can offer long-term management advice to owners on how to continue to meet the needs of their animal’s health and wellbeing following treatment.


And thanks to the incredibly high standards set within NAVP ,Vet Physiotherapy practitioners are required to undergo annual continual professional development, (CPD), to stay within the Code of Practice.


Which means that as the science improves through extensive research in to animal musculoskeletal and neurological conditions, treatments have, and continue to evolve, leading to even more improved health outcomes through Veterinary Physiotherapy.


Is Veterinary Physiotherapy the Same as Animal Massage?


The short answer to this is ‘No.’


The training and qualifications required to be a Veterinary Physiotherapist are far more detailed and complex than that of a person trained to solely carry out animal massage.


Indeed becoming a Veterinary Physiotherapist requires an in depth theoretical knowledge of the anatomy and physiology of animals, as well as gaining supervised practical experience, in order for them to carry out their profession.


Moreover, a Veterinary Physiotherapist will only work on your animal following a referral from your Veterinary Surgeon, giving you the peace of mind that you are working with professionally trained individuals who offer an extended service of treatment and expert advice on how to care for your animal.


And whilst most Veterinary Surgeons are based in a practice and treat domesticated pets, Veterinary Physiotherapists are generally mobile, meaning they can travel to you for treatment of your animal.


In addition, Veterinary Physiotherapists treat working animals or animals involved in sports, such as horses and dogs which gives them an excellent insight into the extensive range of complicated issues surrounding muscular injury.


Although their work isn’t just with horses and dogs.


A Veterinary Physiotherapist can treat a wide variety of animals, including cats and smaller furry pets, or they can work with livestock such as cows, sheep, pigs, and alpacas.


In fact, a Veterinary Physiotherapist can work with almost any animal that has received a referral from your regular vet when they need an extensive course of ongoing physiotherapy treatment.





Contact Us


So if you have recently had to pay a visit to your regular Veterinary Surgeon and they have recommended a course of treatment from a Veterinary Physiotherapist but you are unsure who to use, or you want to know more about the difference between the two, you can contact us here or call Tilly on 07568 309 221 for an informal chat.


Tilly has extensive Veterinary Physiotherapy experience and will be delighted to offer you some advice or discuss a treatment programme to meet the needs of your animal.


We look forward to hearing from you!

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