Letter: Barriers to physical therapy for pets hobble consumers

Author holds that under indirect veterinary supervision, patients remain protected

September 18, 2017 (published)
By Karen Atlas

In "Physical therapy for pets poses conundrum" (Sept. 5, 2017), I appreciate the writer's effort to offer a "balanced" account of the issues around the regulation of animal rehabilitation (AR). But for a non-discerning reader, the case of the dog with osteosarcoma that collapsed in the underwater treadmill and later needed to be euthanized supports a misguided argument about the necessity that a veterinarian be present for AR.

First off: The California Association of Animal Physical Therapists (CAAPT) absolutely supports the requirement that any animal receiving AR do so only after a veterinary exam and medical clearance. A dog like the one in the case, frail and vulnerable, should not be sent to AR if the veterinarian feels that it would not be safe for it to receive treatment without a vet on site.

Second, licensed physical therapists receive extensive education in a range of medical issues, far beyond what most members of the public realize: We are required to have both undergraduate and graduate degrees (all programs are now doctorate level), take a licensing exam, and perform hundreds of hours of supervised practice before being licensed. We are trained to detect illnesses and injuries outside the scope of our practice, and therefore know when to refer our patients — human or animal — back to their primary care practitioner, or for emergency treatment.

In addition, the CAAPT believes that any physical therapist performing AR should have the appropriate additional training on animals to learn the red flags, to assess and reassess conditions, to understand precautions and contraindications to treatments, and more.

It is noteworthy that other jurisdictions have dealt satisfactorily with this issue in a collegial way for the benefit of the consumer, and have not had such a contentious discussion. Despite the facts that support a safe model for indirect supervision to improve consumer access to qualified professionals, the California Veterinary Medical Board (CVMB) appears to want to pursue the same agenda that was heavily opposed by consumers at a public hearing in September 2015. The board's decision to place unnecessary barriers to consumer choice and access does nothing to protect animals, but does serve the financial interests of a special interest group. When special interests, like the California Veterinary Medical Association, dominate the thinking of regulatory boards like the CVMB, this is too often the outcome — and it is the consumer (and in this case, their pets, too) who suffers.

Karen Atlas, PT, MPT, CCRT, is president of the California Association of Animal Physical Therapists and a past member of the California Veterinary Medical Board's Animal Rehabilitation Task Force. She practices in Santa Barbara, California.

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