What should I expect from a Functional Osteopath who treats animals?

Functional Osteopaths take into consideration the following factors when initially evaluating a case:

  • Presenting picture – signs and symptoms.
  • Mechanism of injury (what caused the problem in the first place).
  • The animal’s medical history (past and present).
  • The animal’s environment (what is usual and any reported changes). This also includes relationships, training styles, loss of a companion etc.
  • Activities (how and when are they exercised. Any changes?)
  • The animal’s size/weight ratio, their typical diet, any changes in eating habits and bowel and bladder movements.
  • Overall status of the animal’s welfare (reviewing and addressing all areas of the Five Freedoms).
  • Any changes in the animal’s behaviour and if so, any associated links? Would it be pertinent to refer to a behaviourist?
  • Movement analysis – is the animal moving as it should? 
  • General Health Screen and Body Scanning – Are there signs of ill-health, during this assessment?
  • Neurological Assessment – are there any signs of neurological impairment? 
  • Any signs that the case is outside the remit of osteopathy/functional therapy  and requires an immediate referral to the vet. If so, an immediate referral should be made and the animal should not be treated by the practitioner. 

As an AOI graduate, you will be taught how to perform all relevant assessments and tests (to ascertain the above), whilst also having the background knowledge to identify common orthopaedic and pathological ill-health.

Once an practitioner acquires a veterinary referral (if required i.e., in remedial cases) and has undertaken a full case history, they will typically undertake the following assessment process.

  • Overall observations (how your animal behaves and interacts. What the animal’s skin, coat, eyes etc. look/feel like).
  • Active assessment – watching how your animal moves.
  • Passive assessment – seeing how the body functions passively.
  • Osteopathic testing – to evaluate the flexibility, stability, mobility of certain key areas.
  • Once the above assessments and examinations have taken place, the practitioner may refer back to your vet for further investigations if it deemed inappropriate to continue with osteopathic treatment before more information has be acquired. This isn’t commonplace in a typical remedial case, but a good practitioner should always seek to do what is best for the animal and should never work outside their scope of practice.
  • Rehabilitation exercises may be given, as appropriate to your animal’s case. 

If, after the assessment and evaluation process, osteopathic care is deemed appropriate, your practitioner will discuss the line of action they intend to take and the treatment that they consider to be most appropriate. Animal osteopathy includes a wide range of treatment modalities, which range from the very subtle (such as cranial osteopathy) through to direct mobilisations. However, we would remind readers that whilst cranial osteopathy may appear subtle and gentle, it can have powerful lasting effects. Such effects (and those associated with any other form of treatment that has been administered), should be discussed with you in advance, so that you can support your animal as required after treatment.

In addition to treatment, a professionally trained practitioner should provide you with an outline of their treatment and management plan, so that you know what to expect, how long the process is likely to take and what costs could be involved. Furthermore, you should be given home advice as pertinent and, where appropriate, rehabilitation exercises. Sometimes this require owner’s to purchase items such as a wobble board, balance pad or TheraBand exercise bands.

Typically, a Functional Osteopathic Practitioner, would treat an animal 2-3 times under a consider treatment plan, before reconsidering their approach – if necessary. This is to allow the animal’s body to adapt to any treatment that has been performed and recover from any minor side-effects that they may have experienced. However, if within this time, the animal’s picture worsens (or remains exactly the same), it would it’s typical for the practitioner to do one of two things. 1. Fully reassess the animal and re-adapt their treatment plan or 2. Refer back to the vet for further investigations and a second opinion. It would be unprofessional for any AO practitioner to continue treating an animal who is not making positive progress.

If you have any concerns relating to a practitioner, you are welcome to reach out to us, or go directly to the Association of Animal osteopaths (AAO).

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