How Do I Become an Animal Therapist?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Nancy Fann-Im
  • Last Modified Date: 10 August 2019
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Careers in animal therapy usually require at least a two year degree in veterinary physical therapy or animal behavior, depending on what kind of therapy a person plans to practice. Someone who wants to become an animal therapist may also want to consider certification through a professional organization that specializes in animal behavior or physical rehabilitation. While this may not be required to practice, it can increase chances for employment and provide access to more professional tools for networking and other activities.

To become an animal therapist, whether in physical or behavioral contexts, training in animal anatomy and physiology is helpful, as is an understanding of basic animal behavior. A two year training program can provide students with basic information on animal health and welfare in the first year, and more specialized training in the second year. Such programs can be available through veterinary colleges as well as trade and technical schools. One advantage of attending a program at a veterinary college can be greater access to clinical practice opportunities as well as expertise from leaders in the field.


A person who wants to become an animal therapist who focuses on physical therapy may choose small or large animal specialization. In training, students can learn about the anatomy of their patients and how to diagnose and treat a variety of conditions. Physical therapists often work closely with veterinarians and veterinary technicians. In school, they should have access to clinical practice hours under supervision to give them a chance to work with injured animals.

Animal physical therapy can include teaching animals to walk again after injuries, using techniques like water therapy to address pain and stiffness, and massage to address muscle tension and soreness. Certification in this field usually requires passing an examination and providing proof of a minimum number of practice hours and training courses. A person who wants to become an animal therapist may find certification helpful when it comes to working in veterinary clinics or establishing partnerships with working veterinarians.

To specialize in behavioral therapy, a similar level of training and clinical practice is helpful. Also known as “pet psychologists,” animal behavioral therapists can work with large and small animals on behavior problems. Some focus on rehabilitation of shelter animals, while others may work with pet owners who have concerns about issues like food aggression, biting, or intense fear of thunderstorms. After a person has become an animal therapist of this type, professional certification may be available through organizations of animal therapists.



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Post 3

@umbra21 - It might actually be worth becoming an animal physical therapist if you don't want to work with creatures that might end up being destroyed. Generally an animal is only going to get physical therapy after they have survived something traumatic and that survival usually depends on being supported by people who love them, so there's a much greater chance of a happy ending.

Post 2

@Mor - Unfortunately, there is a very sad and even a scary side to it as well. Sometimes dogs and cats who are scared will lash out at people and if you work for a shelter or for animal control, you have to deal with that kind of risk.

And, of course, there are plenty of animals that have just been too badly scarred by mistreatment. Many dogs who have been used in fighting rings can never be re-homed, for example, because the urge to attack other animals is just too strong.

Often if a dog can't be trained to not tear up the house when its owner is away they won't ever be put with a family either. And unless

the shelter is a "no-kill" shelter, the animal then gets put down, which can be after weeks of working with it.

I wouldn't discourage people from heading down this path because shelter animals need as much help as they can get, but the job is definitely not all sunshine.

Post 1

It must be so rewarding to become a behavior therapist working with animals in shelters. I know they often come into the shelter very scared and unhappy and being able to bring a little bit of joy into their lives must be wonderful.

Plus I suspect the job basically consists of giving them a lot of love and attention and there's nothing that isn't fun about that.

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