Functional Osteopathy & Training for Animals

What is Functional Osteopathy?

Functional Osteopathy for animals is a highly integrated form of manual medicine for animals. which is founded on a solid understanding of functional medicine and osteopathic concepts and principles. It identifies the impact of both intrinsic and extrinsic factors on an animal’s health and utilises a clinical process of elimination and osteopathic testing to localise the underlying cause of dis-ease.

Practitioners of this science and art, use techniques to treat all aspects of the body through extensive knowledge of anatomy and physiology. This allows them to treat the whole being, from the muscles and bones to the organs (viscera) and neurological system.  

Functional Osteopathic Practitioners (for Animals) work closely with vets and other veterinary professionals to ensure the very best care for the animal patient. They seek to find for that, which is within the body (such as neuromuscular dysfunction or visceral imbalance) and that which is outside the body (such as environmental factors and diet). Collectively, they find long-term solutions. 

In the UK, human osteopaths train for 4-5 years to attain the level of clinical competence required to treat patients safely and, as it is in many other parts of the world, the title “Animal Osteopath” is preserved for human practitioners who have undertaken a structured pathway of education in the field of animal osteopathy. This situation is not however, exclusive, and some non-human trained practitioners (such as vets or physiotherapists) can also train in animal osteopathy, but should choose to use a different professional title, such as a Canine or Equine Functional Practitioner. Consequently, it is wise for animal owners to look closely at the qualifications held by practitioner before pursuing an appointment, so that you are clear about the training that the therapists have acquired. 

Animal Osteopathy International

Animal Osteopathy International is a private training educational provider of excellence that focuses its professional training on professional and clinical needs. Whilst also working on international collaborations for the betterment of animals worldwide, and new generations of practitioners and discerning owners.

We use the title Functional Osteopathy (as opposed to Osteopathy) because as a UK company, we need to respect that the term Osteopathy is preserved only for human practitioners registered with the GOsC. As such, those who join us from a non-human background, may instead prefer to use the term Functional Bodyworker or Functional Practitioner – as works for their geographical location. Furthermore, functional medicine focuses on the systems affected by dis-ease, not the named condition itself. Supportingly, this links beautifully with osteopathy, which does exactly that. It focuses on the animal/person as a whole, not the name of the disorder or “tissues causing symptoms”. 

That is why AOI’s training programme focuses on the key clinical elements required, to care for the animals we love. Our team of highly experienced practitioners and lecturers have seen first hand the sad outcomes of animals that have been assessed (and/or treated) by poorly trained practitioners. It was with this experience and knowledge that we built our Academic Pathway, which is designed not simply to teach an add-on modification of the human osteopathic model, but to encompass all that should be known by any veterinary/animal practitioner, claiming to be competent in osteopathic technique for animals. 

We welcome practitioners from professional and veterinary backgrounds who want more than a rudimentary education, and understand the importance of an extensive clinical toolkit that fulfils the expectations of their Scope of Practice. For more information, click on the “All Courses” and pick the course that is right for you and your level of knowledge. 

AOI teachers range from osteopaths to veterinarians to physiotherapists, and all are in practice. Collectively, they have with decades experience. Meaning that they offer up to date information and experience for all with whom they teach. We also support past students, who wish to become AOI teachers, and are always happy to engage with other animal organisations or charities.

AOI believes in offering a robust educational process, that ensures graduates that are safe, competent and clinically astute. That is why, whilst we teach some elements online, all key courses have associated practicums, which are taught in groups of no more than 12-14 with 2 supporting lecturers. This ensures that our hybrid approach of education i.e., online and face-to-face components, offers the same attention to detail, that we have taught for many years. 

Animal Osteopathy International “We deliver high quality education for the betterment of animal welfare and because we want to produce AOI practitioners who are safe and clinically competent. We have trained hundreds of students over the last decade, producing some of the finest animal osteopaths in the industry. I am very proud of that fact”  Dustie Houchin – Founder & Executive Director

What are the regulations in the UK?

Animal osteopaths in the UK are now able to perform competition and maintenance care without prior vet consent, but they are still required by law to first speak to your animal’s vet, for remedial care and/or where the animal is known to have an underlying condition or where signs of ill-health are evident during the initial consultation process.

This is in line with the following: It is a legal requirement of all Animal Osteopath in the UK to work under the guise of the Veterinary Surgeons Act (1966), Veterinary Surgeons (Exemptions) Order (2015). The Statement of Clarification within the Veterinary Code of Professional Conduct – click HERE for up to date information.

This highlights the need for high quality training, because practitioners who have not studied canine and/or equine anatomy, physiology, pathology and clinical testing, competently, risk doing harm, by omission of knowledge. That is why AOI is so averse to courses that lack adequate support and hands-on practicums. It is physically impossible to learn everything there is to know about treating horses or dogs without specific knowledge and substantial hands-on experience, and whilst AOI has seen the benefits of blended learning, it should never replace face-to-face teaching for assessment and techniques, which require a lecturer’s hands to guide the student. 

At the time of writing there are no statutory regulators of animal osteopathy in the UK, which is why we run our courses in line with core academic frameworks. We also ensure that our programmes are robustly reviewed on an annual basis and align with the expectations of any clinical programme. That way, we rest assured that our students are getting a high quality educational experience. 

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 their skin, coat, eyes etc. look 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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Are you interested in becoming a Functional osteopath for Animals?

If you would like to become a Functional Osteopath for animals, you will first need to complete an educational programme that is fit for purpose. Any course you take, should  train you in such a way that you can competently assess any animal patient (within your scope of practice). Without suitable training, you risk doing harm by omission of knowledge. The AOI’s Academic Pathway is designed for those who already have a clinical background. Who work with animals or human patients already and understand what it is to be a clinical professional.  

Those seeking to work autonomously as a Functional Osteopath for animals, will need to complete the AOI Diploma Programme. This will give you a well-rounded osteopathic skill-set, which will allow you to safely assess and where appropriate, treat)  any case – within your scope of practice. 

Thereafter, you can study the Advanced Modules as CPD units to define your own scope of practice and clinical competency. 

Conversion Course options

Please note that the following are also available as conversion courses for specific subgroups of previously trained practitioners. These courses allow specific students a chance to bypass some elements of year one. For more information, click on the course below. 

EOCC = Equine Conversion Course – for existing equine practitioners, with a degree level qualification.

COCC = Canine Conversion Course – for existing canine practitioners. with a degree level qualification.

EFOCC = Equine Functional Osteopathic Conversion Course – for EEBWII students (pre-2015)

CoD – Equine Functional Osteopathic Conversion Course – for those trained in Hirtshals, Denmark at the Center for Dyreterapi.

Diploma Course Pages

If you would like to apply for our Academic Pathway, please reach out, by contacting us today. We are here to help.