From Veterinary Nurse to Animal Physiotherapist

by Donna Boddie RVN, Dip A Phys, D32/33, PTLLS, CC

As a school leaver the world is your oyster. With a bit of grit and determination you can be whatever you want to be, yet through education there are many paths opened up to you and choosing that correct path may sometimes be the tricky bit!

I feel incredibly lucky that at 17 I knew what I wanted to be. A Veterinary Nurse. With some research and numerous phone calls I found a very supportive training practice, and this is where it all began!

Unlike many further education courses, Veterinary Nursing has various ways of learning. Whether you learn better being hands on or feel you need more of a class room environment, there are courses to suit everyone. Due to my learning style the practice encouraged me to do what was then the residential learning program. I began my study linked to the Berkshire college of Agriculture and this particular course entailed: 9 months in practice, 3 intensive months of full time study, a further 9 months in practice and then a final 3 months full time study. There were 2 written papers and practical exams. Those students that felt intensive classroom learning was not best suited to their learning style were able to do the day release course while working in practice.

Since qualifying there have been many changes to the Veterinary Nursing profession.

Unfortunately the “protect the title” did not go through parliament last year, but in my eyes would have been a positive step forward.

Across the pond the American Veterinary Technicians are looking to change their title to Veterinary nurse and more nurses are completing further education and specialising than ever before. Nurses run or in some cases own their own practices and overall our work is receiving greater recognition.

Whilst I love and am very proud to be a Veterinary Nurse, in 2008 I started researching into furthering my education and skills. I wanted to feel I could offer more to my four legged patients. I had always been interested in Animal / Veterinary Physiotherapy so looked into this further. I found courses but was told you can only be an Animal Physiotherapist if you first qualify as a human Physiotherapist. I found it odd that I would have to train on people first, especially when this is not the case for any other animal or veterinary profession. So I did more research and was delighted to learn that there were in fact courses available to people like me, people who have worked with animals through their career so far.

For me animals come first, I understand them and have spent the last 2 decades working with them. There are many recognised routes into animal physiotherapy. Like in Veterinary nursing there are diploma and degree options. Some people chose to become a human physiotherapist before further training to work on animals. Others have studied and worked with animals in one way or another (Vets, Veterinary Nurses, professional trainers, therapists, Animal / Equine science graduates etc) and then find a suitable course for them.

I completed a diploma in Animal Physiotherapy through The College of Animal Physiotherapy. I chose this route as it enabled me to continue working alongside studying. It took me 2 years to complete and consisted of 10 modules and research with 3 unit exams (including anatomy and physiology, neurology, behaviour, electrotherapies, biomechanics, injuries and rehabilitation and much much more), 20 compulsory practical days, a dissertation and then wrapping up with a final written and practical exam.

As Veterinary Physiotherapy has become more popular, alongside The College of Animal Physiotherapy there are other courses that have become available, each with a slightly different course layout suiting various learning needs. If you want to look further into training to be a Veterinary Physiotherapist have a look at the associations listed opposite who can advise you on the right course.

I strongly believe the route you take does not affect your ability to be a good Animal Physiotherapist, just that you have qualified in a different way. Let’s be honest, you can be educated to the hilt, but if you can’t handle an animal safely, achieve positive results, and build trusting relationships with your two and four legged clients, Vets and other professionals, you will never make a good therapist!

No matter which route taken, all therapists MUST:

  1. Work under Veterinary referral (The Veterinary Surgeons Act 1966 and Veterinary Surgery (Exemptions) Order 1962 all animal physiotherapy is carried out under veterinary referral )
  2. Have professional insurances
  3. Carry out CPD
  4. Remain professional to others at all times

International Association of Animal Therapists

National Association of Veterinary Physiotherapists

Institute of Registered Veterinary and Animal Physiotherapist

Association of Chartered Animal Therapist


I am a Registered Veterinary Nurse and Animal Physiotherapist. I run my own Small and Equine mobile physiotherapy business, i’m the in-house physio at Milford Veterinary Hospital in Surrey, and offer clinics at The Vet in Morden Surrey.

I am registered with IAAT – International Association of Animal Therapist and have also become a committee member as I am passionate about spreading the word about training and helping good quality therapists. I have also recently started training students attending The College of Animal Physiotherapy.

I have had a full and diverse nursing career, working in general small animal practice, multi discipline referral centres and emergency and critical care. I also have the pleasure of working in Australia and volunteering through animal charities while on my travels.

I have been a head nurse, involved in training and assessing for the NVQ and clinical coach for current studies. I have worked with exotics, thrived on ECC, rotated through different specialised disciplines in referral and all the while I was looking for my niche.

I keep up to date with my RVN (Registered Veterinary Nurse) qualifications and attend CPD for both my RVN and Animal physiotherapy registrations.

I am very proud of my achievements and have worked hard to gain qualifications, perfect my skills and expand my knowledge. I love what I do so continued learning is an absolute pleasure for me.

I would like to encourage us all to work together for the sake of our patients and keep on learning – there are so many fantastic opportunities out there and at the end of the day everyone is working in this industry as they have a passion for animals.