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A lack of regulation puts animals at risk

A lack of regulation puts animals at risk
APA’s new Position Statement on Animal Physiotherapy calls for all animals to be treated by highly qualified experts, whether they are high-performance competitors, working animals or much-loved family pets.

National Chair of the APA Animal Group, Lynne Harrison, said the APA is calling on veterinary surgeons to only refer their clients to qualified allied health professionals, such as animal physiotherapists, to ensure the most appropriate and skilled treatment for all animals.

“Physiotherapy is not only for people, but it also offers essential rehabilitation and treatment for animals to improve their quality of life and, to assist in prevention and recovery from injuries.

“Animal physiotherapists work closely with veterinary surgeons predominantly treating horses, dogs and cats, both pets and working or performance animals such as racehorses, show jumpers and greyhounds.
“Physiotherapists working with animals offer the same skills and multidisciplinary care as in human health care, helping to reduce pain, improve function and mobility and prevent recurrence of injury. The results are better outcomes for animals following surgery and neurological events, and improved quality of life for elderly animals and those undergoing palliative treatment.”

APA physiotherapists are working hard to build relationships, and a multidisciplinary approach to animal rehabilitation with veterinarians explains Ms Harrison. Still, a lack of awareness is putting animals at risk.

“APA has received feedback that there are still many veterinarians who do not endorse physiotherapy due to a lack of education about the profession and personal bias. Vets may not fully understand the benefits of working with us. As a result, animals are not being referred for physiotherapy.

“Education veterinary students is also essential. APA animal physiotherapists have presented to vet students, but this is not a regular occurrence. It would be beneficial if all vet schools in Australia offered lecture time to physiotherapists, educating graduates on the benefits of working closely with animal physiotherapists.”

One of the biggest hurdles, though, is a lack of regulation in the veterinarian sector. APA is concerned that some animal practitioners, claiming to be physiotherapists, may not hold qualifications or have any formal, recognised training.

“There are many ‘therapists’ out there who are not clinically trained, not insured, and work without supervision. It’s not uncommon to see these therapists advertising themselves as canine/equine physiotherapists.

“The APA has lobbied Ahpra and the Physiotherapy Board of Australia in the past about protection of title, but only ‘physiotherapist’ is legally protected. To date, we have failed to achieve protection of title as animal/canine/equine physiotherapists – prolonging the confusion. It’s for this reason, APA is promoting and encouraging vets and consumers to work with qualified physiotherapists.”

Ms Harrison said that all Ahpra-registered physiotherapists had completed a four-year Bachelor of Science degree in Physiotherapy, but those working in animal physiotherapy have undertaken additional postgraduate training.

“Animal physiotherapists either hold a Masters or postgraduate diplomas in animal or veterinary physiotherapy or have completed the APA’s Career Pathway in Animal Physiotherapy.

“Consumers have a right to know that practitioners calling themselves physiotherapists are just that, and should be confident that their animals are receiving physiotherapy from a qualified professional who is providing the best care possible.”

The APA is also calling on pet insurers to include animal physiotherapy cover in their policies, and provide policies that cover the range of complaints that animal physiotherapists regularly treat.

“Pet insurers should provide policies that cover common injuries and illnesses that animal physiotherapists normally treat, such as cruciate ligament repair, hip dysplasia and intervertebral disc disease.

“Pet insurance companies certainly have a role to play in promoting physiotherapy provided by qualified physiotherapists. Providing physiotherapy cover in their policies endorses the profession to vets and the general public.

“The pet insurance market offers multiple policies for owners, but only one company covers physiotherapy as part of the policy – while two others cover up to two sessions per annum. We are currently working with Petcover, who has covered physiotherapy for many years and sees the benefits of working with a physiotherapist to reduce medical and surgical intervention.”

Until there is greater uptake in the pet insurance market, it’s buyer beware for animal care, according to Ms Harrison.

“We would urge all animal owners to carefully scrutinise all pet insurance policies, to ensure they stipulate their pet or working animal will receive care from highly qualified, Ahpra-regulated physiotherapists.”

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Haley Williams

Haley Williams has a Bachelor of Communication in Journalism and over a decade of experience in the media, marketing and communications industries.

She is a widely published journalist with a particular interest in writing magazine features on parenting, health, fitness, nutrition and education.

Before becoming a freelance journalist, Haley worked as a writer for NeoLife (a worldwide nutrition company), News Limited and APN News & Media.

Haley also has extensive experience as an SEO Content Writer and Digital Marketing Strategist.