Nurse Scratches A Dogs Head

How do I find the right vet to help my dog’s arthritis?

Managing your dog’s arthritis is a team effort. The most important players on this team are of course you and your dog. But you will also need a veterinarian and her staff that is experienced and interested in pain management to help you navigate this chronic condition. They will be involved with monitoring your dog’s body weight and blood work and making changes in medications and supplements as needed.

Chances are that this will be the same veterinarian that helped you identify that your dog has arthritis in the first place, and the same veterinarian that you see when your dog has an itchy ear or upset stomach. But, there is a chance that your family veterinarian may need back up and your dog may benefit from additional members on his team.

But how the heck do you find a veterinarian that specializes in arthritis?

Well, the clues may come in the letters after their name. In this article, we will break down all of the professional acronyms that you can look for to help build your dog’s ideal OA team.

*Note, this list applies to North American certifications- there are many other degrees, certifications, and acronyms awarded in the UK, EU, and other countries. We acknowledge that this is not an exhaustive list, but should provide you a great place to start when building your dog’s OA team.

Medical Degrees

  • DVM= Doctor of Veterinary Medicine: This is a medical degree equivalent to MD for human doctors. Vet school is a rigorous 4-year program that only a select group of students are accepted to after they have completed an undergraduate degree. So the majority of veterinarians have gone to at least 8 years of schooling to earn their DVM.
  • VMD= Veterinary Medical Doctor: University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine uniquely gives their graduates this degree, which is equivalent to DVM. If your vet has VMD after their name, you know that they graduated from Penn.


  • LVT, CVT, RVT= Licensed, certified, or registered veterinary technician. This is a (typically) 2-year associate’s degree. Veterinary technicians serve in very much the same capacity as a nurse in human medicine and are arguably the backbone of a practice. Many veterinary practices will also employ veterinary assistants, but there are state laws that limit what procedures can be done by assistants vs qualified technicians (such as run anesthesia, administer medication, etc.).

Physical Therapist

  • PT, DPT= This is a professional who has completed a graduate degree (often a doctorate) in (human) physical therapy. Every state has different regulations on whether PTs can work with animals and whether they must be directly supervised by a veterinarian. If a PT is working with animals, they should have advanced training in animal rehabilitation. PTs with canine rehabilitation training can be an incredibly valuable member of your dog’s OA team.

Veterinary Rehabilitation

The definition of veterinary rehabilitation is “the treatment of injury or illness to decrease pain and improve function.” Rehabilitation professionals use manual therapy, exercise therapy, therapeutic modalities (such as laser therapy), and traditional medication to accomplish these goals.  Arthritis management is one of the most common conditions managed by rehab professionals.

There are several programs that provide continuing education courses in the field of rehabilitation to veterinarians, technicians, and human physical therapists. These programs award a certificate once the student has completed the course work. These programs are designed for professionals to take over a few weeks and are not a full-time degree or residency program. However, they do require many hundreds of hours of coursework and hands-on training. The difference in the acronyms is based on which program the student graduated from.

Here is a link to find a rehabilitation professional:

  • CCRT: Certified Canine Rehabilitation Therapist= A veterinarian or physical therapist trained by the Canine Rehabilitation Institute (CRI)
  • CCRP: Certified Canine Rehabilitation Practitioner= A veterinarian, physical therapist or technician trained by Northeast Seminars/ University of Tennessee
  • CCRVN: Certified Canine Rehabilitation Veterinary Nurse= A licensed technician trained by CRI
  • CCRA: Certified Canine Rehabilitation Assistant= A technician or assistant trained by CRI
  • VMRT: Veterinary Massage and Rehabilitation Therapist= A veterinarian, technician, physical therapist, or massage therapist trained at the Healing Oasis.
  • CCRV: Certified Canine Rehabilitation Veterinarian= A veterinarian trained at the Chi Institute.

Board-Certified Specialist

In order to be considered a “specialist” in a field of medicine, a veterinarian (or MD) must attain “board certification.” This typically requires a multi-year (2-6) residency program in which the veterinarian is fully immersed in the training program with a dedicated mentor and structured curriculum that includes research and publication in the field of study. After completing the residency, they must pass a challenging examination to finally become a board-certified specialist. At this point, the veterinarian is awarded the status of Diplomate of the respective specialty organization. The following are the most common specialists that would help manage OA:

  • DACVSMR: Diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation. These are technically the only true “specialists” in veterinary rehabilitation. Rehab specialists often perform more advanced diagnostic and treatment procedures, such as joint injections. Here is a link to find a rehab specialist:
  • DACVS: Diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Surgery. If your dog needs joint surgery, you should look for a surgeon that is board certified.

Pain Management

Veterinarians and technicians can become certified in pain management through the International Veterinary Association for Pain Management. This is a rigorous certification process that includes continuing education courses, completion of case reports, and a final examination.


Veterinarians (but not technicians, human acupuncturists, or physical therapists) can become certified in acupuncture. Acupuncture can be helpful in managing OA in many patients. Similar to rehabilitation, the certification acronym signifies which training program the veterinarian completed.

  • CVA: Certified Veterinary Acupuncturist – trained at Chi Institute/ University or International Veterinary Acupuncture Society. These programs teach Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine, which may include food and herbal therapy.
  • cVMA: Certified in Veterinary Medical Acupuncture- trained at CuraCore. This program teaches a Western (neurophysiological) approach to acupuncture.
  • CVAT: Certified Veterinary Acupuncture Therapist- trained at Canine Rehabilitation Institute. This program teaches a Western (neurophysiological) approach to acupuncture.

Don’t forget- you and your family are the most important members of your dog’s team—you provide the love and support that your dog needs every single day! Keep up the great work!