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What Does an Animal Therapist Do?

By G. Wiesen
Updated May 17, 2024
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The duties of an animal therapist can vary quite a bit, depending on what type of work the therapist chooses to perform and any specializations he or she may pursue. Someone who works as a behavioral therapist with animals often helps train animals, usually domesticated pets or animals for entertainment, to behave in certain ways. There are also duties for an animal therapist who helps animals with physical therapy, often assisting animals in ways similar to how a physical therapist helps humans. Some therapists, who focus on working with people, can utilize animal-assisted therapy by using animals to help humans overcome various difficulties or conditions.

An animal therapist is typically someone who works professionally with animals, in some type of therapeutic capacity, though the exact nature of this work can vary quite a bit. Behavioral therapists for animals often work with different types of animals to understand why it is behaving a certain way and then assist in altering or correcting negative behavior. This work often includes observation on the part of the therapist, to understand how an animal is behaving and interpret that activity based on prior knowledge of animal behavior. An animal therapist working with behavior issues then usually helps the owner in training that animal to act in a way that is more appropriate or acceptable.

An animal therapist is not to be confused with a therapy animal or emotional support animal. These are instead assistance animals that help humans who have mental health conditions. Although a licensed mental health professional is required to write an ESA letter, that would not make them an “animal therapist

There are also some forms of physical therapy that can be done by an animal therapist. This type of work is often performed after an animal has sustained an injury or gone through surgery, much like the work done by human physical therapists. This type of animal therapist can then help that animal to once again learn to walk or run, or to adjust to injuries that may have greatly impacted the comfortable mobility of the animal. This type of work often includes observing animal behavior and understanding how an animal may be reacting to physical changes it has undergone.

Some therapists who work with humans can utilize animal-assisted therapy for people. This therapy usually follows certain routines and therapy strategies while utilizing animals. Someone who is having difficulty dealing with depression, for example, may be experiencing feelings of loneliness and isolation due to a disability or other condition. The introduction of a pet into the person’s life can help alleviate these feelings in some instances. The therapist usually works with an animal trainer to choose the right animal to help the person in therapy.

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Discussion Comments

By Zancie — On Mar 19, 2014

To be an animal physical therapist, I would recommend studying to be a human PT first. You can then take specialized classes for animals later. It takes about 6-7 years to earn a DPT.

By ImDeity — On Mar 18, 2014

What kind and how many years of schooling does it take to become an animal therapist?

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