A multi-year effort to regulate animal physical rehabilitation in California hits a new milestone this week. During a virtual hearing starting at 9 a.m. Thursday, the state's veterinary medical board will hear what the public thinks about its proposed rules on who can perform "corrective physical treatment" on an animal and under what circumstances.
The field of animal rehabilitation has grown steadily during the past two decades. Along the way, veterinary medicine has been adapting, expanding animal-rehabilitation-related education and establishing a board certification in veterinary sports medicine and rehabilitation.
Simultaneously, independent programs have been established to train and certify physical therapists who want to work with animals. In response, state veterinary professional boards and associations have been working to set parameters for these non-veterinary professionals.
The CVMB's proposed rules would restrict the practice of animal physical rehabilitation (APR) to veterinarians with an established veterinarian-client-patient relationship; registered veterinary technicians working under the degree of supervision determined by the veterinarian; and veterinary assistants working under direct supervision of the veterinarian.
In a public notice, the CVMB said it is proposing the regulations "to protect the health, safety, and welfare of consumers and their animals."
The language of the proposal rejects the recommendations of the board's own Animal Rehabilitation Task Force, which recommended in 2017 that physical therapists specifically trained and certified to work with animals be permitted to administer physical rehabilitation away from the referring veterinarian's premises.
The board rebuffed this recommendation "because only licensed veterinarians and RVTs possess the knowledge and training to plan and supervise APR for animal patients and ensure proper animal handling, recognize pain and discomfort, and provide emergency care and assistance as needed in the particular field of APR," according to the public notice.
In 2018, some task force members attempted to go around the CVMB with legislation amending two state practice acts. Assembly Bill 3013 would have expanded the scope of the physical therapy practice act to include the treatment of animals. It also called for an advanced certificate in animal physical rehabilitation in the veterinary medicine practice act, and would have allowed physical therapists to operate independent animal-rehabilitation practices, working with patients referred by veterinarians.
Proponents of that bill argued that including physical therapists would expand consumer choice without endangering animal welfare. The bill did not make it to the floor of the Legislature for a vote.
Thursday's hearing takes place during a CVMB meeting and will be hosted on Cisco Webex.
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