The Association of Animal Osteopaths was created to support practitioners who use osteopathic techniques on animals. From a historic perspective, animal osteopathy is a young and growing profession, and the regulation of it varies significantly, country to country. In some regions, animal osteopathy is now being taught as an undergraduate degree, with no demands whatsoever, to first undertake human osteopathic training. In others, it is an expectation that one would first train on humans before going on to postgraduate study [in animal osteopathy]. 

This has, and continues to be a contentious topic, which is why AAO has taken a neutral position as an information provider and register for those who wish to join together with their international colleagues for the betterment and unification of animal osteopathy and the welfare of the animals that we all love. 

In line with the position, AAO’s Code of Conduct embraces all that should be important to any professional practitioner and it is for this reason that all who ask to join the AAO must sign a declaration agreeing to the Code and its contents.

AAO Code of Conduct - for practitioners

Those who have registered themselves (with AAO) as a practitioner of animal osteopathy, have signed to agree to the Code and its contents, and as such, are held accountable as a professional whilst listed on the AAO’s Find a Practitioner page.

Registrants of the AAO agree to raise standards across the profession, by endorsing and agreeing to the following code: 

  • Practice only on animals after you have completed a recognised course of study with a professional educational establishment, which includes face-face practical classes and assessments, and which is accredited or validated by an external institute. 
  • Treat only animals that you have been trained to assess and treat – and remember your limitations. 
  • Use titles only as suitable for your state and country. Where the title osteopath is held only for those with a human trained background, practitioners must instead use a title such as manual therapist or functional practitioner. 
  • Work within your scope of practice at all times and refer back to the animal’s veterinary surgeon whenever pertinent. 
  • Hold suitable professional indemnity and public liability insurance, as expected by the state, region or country of your practice. 
  • Work within the legal boundaries of the state, county or country in which you practice and abide by all relevant legislation. 
  • Maintain clear, accurate and appropriate records, such as would be appropriate in a vet-led-team or as legally required (in your country of practice).
  • Always place the animal and its welfare at the heart of your assessments, treatments and actions. 
  • Complete and update all clinical notes in a timely fashion to ensure clarity and correctness. 
  • Keep all records in accordance with the laws of your country and ensure data protection is adhered to, as appropriate. 
  •  To promote your services in a professional and appropriate manner, using clear concise information that is not in breach of any advertising standards nor misleading to the general public. 
  • Develop and demonstrate a life-long approach to learning and professional education, aiming to complete no less than 25 hours of CPD (animal specific) training per academic year. 
  • Foster a positive and supportive working practice within your community and the professionals with whom you work.  
  • To optimise professional relationships and act as a resource centre for those wishing to learn more about animal osteopathy and its benefits. 
  • Run one’s clinical business in an ethical manner and in line with all local laws and regulations. 
  • Act in accordance with your professional role, so as never to abuse your position of trust. 
  •  Adhere to the AAO’s Code of Conduct at all times, so as to uphold the name of the profession. 
  • To inform the AAO immediately if you are no longer in clinical practice. 
  • To inform the AAO immediately if any complaints are made against you as a practitioner. 

Professional practice and educational standards

Introduction

The Association of Animal Osteopaths (AAO) is a professional Body which has been established to provide clear clinical guidance, expected Practice Standards and a professional Code of Conduct in Animal Functional Osteopathic Practice. Practitioners will be included on our Professional register. The Register will incorporate members in the UK and Worldwide.

The AAO Professional Practice & Educational Standards (PPES) and Register have been establishedby Experts in the field, in order to fulfil the needs of Practitioners, the Veterinary Profession, and the General Public, in providing assurance of Clinical Competence, transparency in Scope of Practice, and clarity in professional developmental opportunities and expectations.

The AAO has two primary objectives: 

  1. To develop and uphold Standards of professional practice for AAO members.
  2. To provide clarity in academic expectations for any programmes/courses to fulfil, to be considered as acceptable routes for graduate inclusion on the Register.   

For clarity, the terms Animal Functional Osteopath, Animal Functional Practitioner, Animal Osteopath or Veterinary Osteopath are taken to be synonymous, as all relate to practitioners working in clinical animal healthcare. The difference in title is usually individual choice of the institutions offering programmes of learning. The selected title may also be dependent on national or regulatory restrictions and/or legal requirements on practitioners caring for animals. Though essentially, they can be considered interchangeable.

In most national arenas, working in animal care, requires the authorisation and close supervision of a Vet for the intended treatment protocols. 

For ease, this document will use the term Animal Functional (Osteopathic) Practitioner to encompass all the above.

The establishment of the register in conjunction with the development of the expected Professional Standards of Practice, will serve to:

  • Reassure the General Public on the safety standards of registered practitioners.
  • Provide clarity for other professionals in the veterinary field, of the competency and role of the Animal Functional [Osteopathic Practitioner] within multidisciplinary animal care.
  • Direct and clarify for educational groups developing courses in the treatment of animals, the expected academic outcomes required for graduate inclusion onto the register.
  • Provide information for those interested in pursuing a career in animal care, on the programmes best suited to meet their needs and which provide the best standards of education.
  • Provide support for the Animal Functional (Osteopathic) Practitioner to further develop their professional skills and provide professional links to further their clinical practice.

Educational links.

Currently Animal Osteopathy International (AOI) is the main educational group aligning their programmes to the AAO Standards. AOI programmes have a broad curriculum and include cognitive and conceptual learning, acquisition of specialised practical palpatory and manual skills, application of the safe and competent animal handling and the legal and professional understanding of working with other professionals in the veterinary field. 

The acquisition of ‘in-action’ critical thinking, team-working, reflection, and confidence in safe animal handling are personal skills, is facilitated by hands-on interaction with highly experienced professional AOI tutors. The development of these key aspects reinforces the development of informed clinical responsibility, autonomy, and professionalism.

All these factors significantly differentiate AOI graduates from those graduating from many other programmes, not least those which rely on only, or mainly, online learning.

A focus on the legal and ethical dimensions of animal care within National regulations provides an underpinning tenant in the AAO’s PPES and is embedded within all AOI programmes.  

The AAO Professional Practice & Educational Standards (PPES).

The PPES are based on those initially used as the professional Standards for osteopaths practising in human clinical practice. The AAO believes that for an embryonic profession explicitly defined standards and expectations provide reassurance for the Public and for Veterinary Professionals and offers support for the Animal Practitioner in clinical practice.  

The key capabilities are:

  1. Knowledge, skills & understanding
  2. Effective and safe clinical practice.
  3. Personal professional development
  4. Professional collaboration
  5. Professional identity, legal, ethical, and regulatory accountability.
  6. Information and data handling.
  7. Advice and support for animal care.
  8. Managing a safe and efficient clinical environment.
  9. Knowledge, Skills & Understanding.

A thorough working knowledge of how dynamic functioning in animals related to their anatomical and physiological morphology underpins the study of the pathological and pathophysiological manifestation of disease. The acquisition of practical skills coupled with informed clinical opinion, also enables the application of techniques to facilitate healing.

Core areas include:

  • Basic sciences relevant to animals
  • Clinical disciplines related to animal care
  • Osteopathic sciences adapted for animal care
  • Application of acquired practical skills for effective therapeutic care.

Animal Functional/Osteopathic Practice usually relates to canine, equine and feline areas of study although the individual may extend their scope of practice and specialism to meet their needs and they may wish to specify these when promoting their service.

The Animal Functional (Osteopathic) Practitioner should be able to demonstrate:

A1:  a detailed knowledge of the anatomy, physiology, within their chosen area of animal care, which should sufficiently support their understanding of disease manifestation. 

 Animal species/types can include (but is not limited to):

  • Equine
  • Canine
  • Feline
  • Other small domestic animals
  • Zoo animals
  • Farm animals

A2:  an understanding of the normal biomechanical functioning including gait which may be causative in clinical presentation.

A3:  full knowledge of the pathological, patho-physiological, neurological, orthopaedic, and other disease processes prevalent in canine, equine, and feline patients.

A4:  the practical understanding of how disease processes affect the functional status of the animal patient, particularly in consideration of the innate characteristics of each animal species. 

A5: a deep understanding of the principles and concepts of Osteopathy which reinforce the relationship between structure and function, that can be modified and applied to the animal patient.

A6:  expertise in safe animal handling and the application of effective practical techniques specific for use in animal treatment.  

A7:  an awareness of the specialist nature of care in the treatment of ‘elite’ animals (whether working or recreational sport animals), and the need for further specialist study in this area if required.

A8: a working understanding of animal behavioural science including, psychological, social, and environmental factors which may contribute to the animal’s state of stress/distress. 

A9:  an understanding of the implications of improper use of external factors e.g., saddles, bridles, leads, harnesses etc.,

  1. Effective and safe clinical practice.

Rapid and effective identification and evaluation of the animal’s state of heath are critical in the safe handling and treatment of animals. Unlike the human patient the animal may not be conducive to prolonged time spent evaluating and testing, and the chance of an increased risk to the practitioner or others may therefore be significantly increased. Handling skills need to be effective and confidently applied.

The capability considers the ability to consider the clinical presentation of the patient in relation to the expected anatomical, physiological, biomechanical, and pathological state. The understanding and observance of safe and competent animal handling techniques so as not to compromise the safety of themselves, the owner, others present in the clinical setting or the animal. The ability to assess, mitigate and/or respond to risk factors as necessary.

Core areas of capability include:

  • Development of clear concise clinical records.
  • Critical decision-making based on practical evaluation.
  • Application and adaptation of animal handling skills appropriate to the clinical situation.
  • Understanding the psychology and response of the animal patient with respect to experiencing pain, anxiety, or stress.
  • Awareness of risk in animal practice.

The Animal Functional/Osteopathic Practitioner should be able to demonstrate the ability to:

B1:  ascertain the difference between normal and abnormal tissue states and areas of dysfunction using competent palpatory skills and be aware of indications or contra-indications in the use of certain techniques.

B2: adapt and change application of techniques as necessary, in consideration of the uncertainty experienced when treating animals.

B3:  use techniques in the handling of animals and/or in their attitudes and behaviours to reduce the effects of stress (be that emotional or physical) on the animal patient.

B4:  use palpation as a means of continuously monitoring the effects of treatment.

B5:  compile complete and accurate clinical records which show clear justification for their actions, treatments applied and/or those proposed, and which are based on their case questioning and palpatory evaluations.

B6:  conduct safe, effective, and sensitive palpatory and biomechanical evaluations of the animal patient, and not (intentionally) by their actions, compromise the safety of themselves or any others present in the consultation.

B7:  commit to monitoring of the effects of treatment during and after its application, and justification for any decision to change, modify or stop treatment as the case warrants.

B8:  recognise, advise, and respond, as appropriate, to potential contagious disease and possible spread. This should include advising owners/ handlers, veterinary practitioners, vet nurses, and other animal practitioners caring for the animal, and may include National Health and Safety departments.

  1. Personal and Professional development

The area of animal health care is fast moving and ever changing and the need for a practitioner to ensure that their knowledge and skills are current and applicable is

paramount. To this effect practitioners are urged to undertake a critically reflective approach to their own position. Ideally, they should plan to do so annually, and subsequently consider undertaking CPD to support and enhance their ongoing practice.

Whilst at present there is no required number of hours of continuing professional development which has been set as a pre-requisite for continued registration on the AAO register, it is strongly suggested that some CPD be planned for on an annual basis.  

The acknowledgement of and commitment to ensuring that the Practitioner’s own physical ability sufficiently enables the safe handling of animals is paramount. Whilst the ability to adopt a critically aware perspective of their own strengths and limitations, in dealing with specific animal groups, application of critical reflection in the development of further areas of specialism in animal care and awareness of national and/or cultural

approaches in animal ownership and care within the Country of their practice, e.g., within the communities such as Traveller, Maori, Indigenous people of Australia are all included.

Core areas of capability include:

  • Reflective practice
  • Professional developmental planning
  • Cultural attitudes in animal care/ownership.

The Animal Functional/Osteopathic Practitioner should be able to:

C1: demonstrate a mature understanding for the need to participate in ongoing CPD

C2:  recognise and make informed judgements, based upon knowledge and palpatory evaluation, on the limitations of their own clinical practice and the appropriateness of their capabilities in the care and welfare of the animal.

C3:  demonstrate an awareness of, and respect for the inherent beliefs and/or attitudes of owners, within ethnic or cultural groups e.g., the Maori, Indigenous People, or Traveller communities, whilst ensuring that the animals’ welfare has not been put at risk.

C4:  undertake ongoing CPD to keep their skills and knowledge up to date in line with professional and legislative requirements

C5:  a willingness to contribute to professional CPD within a multidisciplinary setting if their practice warrants it.

C6: demonstrate a willingness to undertake supervision within the clinical environment, be that as a mentor or for their own development if needed.

 C7:  exhibit the aptitude to deal with the uncertainty prevalent when treating animals, in an effective and efficient manner, and without loss of control or their professional self-confidence.

C8: maintain high standards in their professional effectiveness, by applying appropriate strategies for their own physical and psychological well-being.   

C9: demonstrate the willingness to undertake the required amount of CPD within any specific time frames, if CPD becomes a registration requirement

  1. Professional collaboration & communication

The work of an animal musculoskeletal practitioner will inevitably involve working alongside other musculoskeletal therapists, veterinary practitioners and nurses, animal handlers and others involved in the care of the animal patient, at some stage. It is therefore crucial that practitioners are able to work in a respectful and collaborative way that continues to uphold the current professional regard which is awarded to it.

This capability includes adopting respect and professionalism whilst working in a multi-disciplinary environment; applying effective and applicable forms of communication with colleagues, owners or others involved in the patients’ care.

Core areas of capability include:

  • Standards of professional conduct – attitudes and behaviour consistent with being an animal healthcare practitioner.
  • Willingness to work with others for benefit of own development and that of the profession
  • The understanding and respect for practice within other modalities and the legalities associated with Animal care.
  • Willingness to refer patient to another professional if necessary
  • Confidentiality rights of Owners.
  • Effective communication.

The Animal Functional/Osteopathic Practitioner should be able to:

D1: work in a professionally respectful and collaborative manner with other animal practitioners, putting the needs of the animal patient at the forefront of the care.

D2: fully appreciate and factor in the wishes of the owner into their proposed treatment of the animal patient, being mindful of the need to keep the welfare of the animal paramount.

D3: communicate effectively, professionally and with justifiable reasoning with colleagues on their proposed treatment.

D4: complete clinical records contemporaneously and accurately and be able to provide them should the need arise, to support and justify their proposed role and treatment within multi-disciplinary care.

D5: communicate with clarity and reasoned justification on issues regarding referral or collaborative/multidisciplinary care of the animal patient and demonstrate professional confidence in their role within the team. 

D6: demonstrate respect for the philosophies of other musculoskeletal therapies also recognised as providing benefit to animal healthcare, whilst at the same time acknowledging the limitations of their own practice area if/when appropriate.

D7: adopt communication strategies which consider the potential diversity of ethnic or

cultural backgrounds, the need to alter their communication methods to facilitate a full understanding for owners/handlers of any clinical advice. Where language barriers exist, coping strategies e.g., inclusion of a translator, should be employed.  

D8:  demonstrate empathy and understanding with owners/handlers in challenging cases which require additional tenacity and support.

D9:  demonstrate a willingness to work with others for benefit of own development and that of the profession

  1. Professional identity, legal, ethical, and regulatory accountability.

Animal Functional (Osteopathic) practice currently is regulated by voluntary registers and professional associations. However, the highly skilled area of animal care demands that practitioners are able to demonstrate a level of self-governance which reflects the multi-disciplinary nature of practice and the need for informed justification for their actions. 

This capability includes knowledge and practical application of the legal restrictions on the treatment and care of animals. Behaviour consistent with ethical care of animals and consideration of their owners/handlers. Upholding the AAO Professional Standards.

Core areas of capability include:

  • Professional identity
  • Ethical awareness
  • Respect and dignity
  • Laws
  • Adherence to PPES
  • Insurance requirements

The Animal Functional/Osteopathic Practitioner should be able to demonstrate:

E1: an awareness of their role within animal care, including their scope of practice and especially any limitations or professional/personal restrictions, and recognising the need to practise safely, competently and lawfully.

E2: an awareness of and compliance with the Professional standards and expectations as set out by AAO (PPES) or other professional bodies to which they may belong.

E3: an awareness and understanding of ethical issues related to the treatment and care of the animal patient and exhibit justifiable strategies to manage these issues.

E4: commitment to upholding Professional integrity and honesty and not lay claim for skills, competencies, or credentials in the care of animals for which they have not obtained acceptable, recognised qualifications.

E5:  the ability to justify verifiable rationale for their actions, to all stakeholders.

E6:  an up-to-date understanding of the legal restrictions on their practice imposed by National laws or those of other relevant Worldwide Professional Regulators e.g., Royal College of Veterinary Science (RCVS, UK), Australian Veterinary Association (AVA), Veterinary Council of New Zealand.

E7: the clear understanding of and delineation between their scope of practice as an animal therapist and those of human physical therapists e.g., Osteopaths,

Chiropractors, Physiotherapists, and will not at any time bring the profession into disrepute by suggesting either overtly or covertly, that they have the skills or competencies to treat human patients unless they do possess the required qualifications and legal rights to do so outside of their animal practice.  

E8: appropriate professional attitudes and behaviour consistent with being an animal healthcare practitioner, and which will not bring the profession into disrepute.

E9: current insurance and other up-to-date certification required to support functional animal practice.

E10:  commitment to uphold, respect, and abide by the PPES set by the Association of Animal Osteopaths (AAO) and the recognition of its role in establishing and upholding Professional practice standards.

E11:  adherence to the fact that they cannot make any suggestion that they are entitled to use the protected title of “Osteopath” unless they have the acquired the appropriate qualifications and are legally entitled to do so. They must hold a current registration with the General Osteopathic Council (UK) to be able do so.    

F:  Information and data handling

Familiarity in the use of Information Communication Technology (ICT) to support professional practice. Audit and data handling to support clinical development and research.  Efficient record keeping, storage and retrieval as necessary for legal, insurance or regulatory purposes, or for requests from colleagues or others.

Core areas of capability include:

  • Completing clinical records.
  • Data Storage compliance.
  • Use of data handling software.

The Animal Functional/Osteopathic Practitioner should be able to demonstrate:

F1:  the ability to produce clear, concise, and accurate clinical case notes that record the presenting complaint(s), clinical tests, and evaluations, and which support their clinical judgement and proposed treatment plans.

 F2: the use of technology to compose electronic communication consistent with modern clinical practice.

F3:  thorough knowledge and adherence to national data handling and storage laws e.g., GDPR (UK) that may be applicable in the care of animals, and which may apply to the confidentiality rights of owners/handlers.

F4:  the practical ability to retrieve and or manipulate data using wide varieties of software e.g., word processing, spreadsheets, or databases, to support interprofessional communication and/or facilitate audit or research of their clinical practice.

F5: the ability to comply with preparation of data for legal and/or regulatory purposes.

G: Advice and support for animal care

Providing informed advice and information to owners, handlers and those responsible for the care of the animal patient forms an essential aspect of overall management of the animal and is an underpinning osteopathic philosophy – to restore normal structure and functioning.

Core areas of this capability include:

  • Exercises and lifestyle changes
  • Use of external factors – e.g. bridles, harnesses, leads, saddles.
  • Working with other colleagues/therapists
  • Potential referral.

The Animal Functional/Osteopathic Practitioner should be able to demonstrate:

G1:  an informed knowledge of the application of exercises to support treatment and aid recovery.

G2:  a justified approach in providing advice and support regarding changes to the animal’s lifestyle. Offering possible alternatives if the need arises and respecting the inherent beliefs and/or attitudes of owners, within ethnic or cultural groups e.g., the Maori, Indigenous People, or Traveller communities, whilst ensuring that the animals’ welfare has not been put at risk.

G3: the ability to recognise when referral to other practitioners/colleagues is in the best interest of the patient or may be due to their own limitations in their scope of practice.

G4: the acceptance to work alongside other practitioners in the best interests of the animal patient. 

G5: a practical knowledge in the use of harnesses, bridles, leads and saddles and their inherent effects on the structure and functioning of the animal patient, and the ability to advise on alternatives to support recovery.

H: Managing a safe and efficient clinical environment.

An Animal Functional (Osteopathic) practitioner may practice from their own clinical premises, or from a multi-disciplinary clinic. Besides this they could be called out to a variety of different environments at which they may be required to administer treatment e.g., stables, kennels etc. whichever environment is used the following capabilities should be adhered to.

 Core areas of this capability include:

  • Risk assessment
  • Safety in clinical environment/setting
  • Complying with legal requirements of practice e.g., data storage, staff safety (incl., PPE, hygiene, notifiable diseases),
  • Understanding animal behaviour when subjected to stress or pain.
  • Complying with employment or fiscal requirements.
  • Implementations of practice policies/procedures e.g., complaints and feedback

The Animal Functional/Osteopathic Practitioner should: 

H1: be able to conduct safe, effective, and sensitive palpatory and biomechanical evaluations of the animal patient, and not (intentionally) by their actions, compromise the safety of themselves or any others present in the consultation setting.

H2: assess and apply strategies to mitigate or reduce risk to themselves, owners, others, or the animal. Effectively controlling the clinical setting so as not to add undue anxiety to the distressed animal. This may include exclusion of individuals from the clinical setting in the best interests of the animal patient or others present.

H3:  adapt and change application of techniques as necessary, within the uncertainty experienced in the clinical environment when treating animals.

H4:  apply all required hazard and infection controls and the use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to ensure the safety of themselves and all other involved within the clinical setting. 

H5:  demonstrate and apply all required hygiene procedures to enable safe and effective practise.

H6:  demonstrate a thorough knowledge and adherence to national data handling and storage laws e.g., GDPR (UK) that may be applicable in the care of animals, and which may apply to the confidentiality rights of owners/handlers.

H7: comply with all legal and employment regulations for operating a healthcare practice with necessary facilities for staff/owners/handlers/those responsible for the animal’s care, comfort, and safety.

H8: be able to implement previously established, policies and procedures in response to exposure to potential contagious disease and possible spread. Including advising owners/ handlers, veterinary practitioners, vet nurses, and other animal practitioners caring for the animal, and may include National Health and Safety departments.

H9: possess awareness of the need to manage staff effectively to comply with legal obligations, providing support in line with practice requirements for efficient business functioning e.g., owner/staff complaints and feedback policies.