Building Systems and Finishes

An oxygen manifold system with associated copper piping. An example of WAGD system. A medical gas valve control panel. A DISS oxygen connection above a bank of stainless steel cages in a treatment area. A quad emergency power outlet is located below. Large-format tile on the back walls in the dog runs at Woodhaven Veterinary Clinic. The hospital also used glass block in the windows to ensure privacy, but let in lots of natural light. (Foto Imagery / Tim Murphy. Courtesy of Woodhaven Veterinary Clinic, Edmonds, Washington.) Flexible seating allows clients the option to wait in the manner that best suits the needs of their pets, be it in the action or away from other people and animals. (Foto Imagery / Tim Murphy. Courtesy of VCA PetCare Veterinary Hospital, Santa Rosa, California [VCA, Inc.].) An example of a seating area with durable and comfortable furnishings in full view of the front desk. (Foto Imagery / Tim Murphy. VCA Old Marple Animal Hospital, Springfield, Pennsylvania [VCA Inc.].) A high-use laundry room with commercial equipment. Stainless steel counters provide space for staff to sort and fold clean laundry. (Foto Imagery / Tim Murphy. Courtesy of Larimer Humane Society, Loveland, Colorado.)

HVAC Design

It should be noted that animals are not metabolically like people. Depending on the age, health, and species of the animals, they have their own thermal comfort requirements as well. Veterinary hospitals rarely acknowledge these requirements, but in the pursuit of low-stress, Fear Free spaces, we should at least be aware of them.

Dog areas can be kept at temperatures similar to those of human spaces, but the thermal neutral zone for cats is higher, falling between 86ºF and 100ºF 1. As described in Chapter 10 of the book, the thermal neutral zone means the range of ambient temperatures necessary to maintain optimal metabolic activity. This means it is desirable to keep cat rooms warmer than typical office spaces—although it is generally not practical to keep them much warmer than 80ºF. Consider these factors:

  • Place cat housing in locations where they can benefit from warm, radiating sunshine, as long as the rooms or the surfaces within them do not get excessively hot.
  • Consider radiant-heated cages to provide a more comfortable surface for cats. In this instance it is important to place a mat between the cage surface and the cats’ paws.

It is also important to consider the requirements of each species in a hospital that cares for birds and reptiles. These environments are usually controlled right at the cage level so that the overall room doesn’t have to be warmed.

Patients recovering from surgery may also need to be kept warmer. While electric radiant heat is normally an inefficient way to heat, it is particularly effective for a small area, such as the floor surface in surgery recovery.

1. Hill, Richard, and Karen C. Scott. “Energy Requirements and body Surface Area of Cats and Dogs.” Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association 225, no. 5 (September 2004): 689–694

Noise Control

Since noise is a known stressor for both cats and dogs, it makes sense that all of the methods to reduce noise within a veterinary hospital can be considered Fear Free design ideas. There are a few more specific design items that should be considered:

  • Create a sound buffer between exam rooms and treatment. Sounds that occur in treatment can cause stress for animals in your exam rooms, and a sound barrier between these areas can help to mitigate this concern. A buffer can be another space, such as the laboratory, the pharmacy, or a charting area. If a full buffer zone is not an option for your hospital, consider at least developing a way to include two doors between the exam room area and treatment to minimize sound leakage. It is a good idea to incorporate either of these buffering methods between cat and dog ward spaces as well.
  • Another method of producing a sound barrier within exam rooms is to install fiberglass sound batt insulation within the walls of these rooms.
  • Locate mechanical equipment, including pumps and rooftop air-handling equipment, away from animal housing and treatment areas.
  • Installing a nonaudible paging system can help to reduce unnecessary noise within all areas of your hospital.

Lighting and Design

Places where daylighting can be particularly effective for reducing stress in animals include exam rooms and wards. Caging and runs that are open on one side to exterior windows provide the benefits of both natural lighting and pleasant views for pets.

If you are concerned about the privacy of your facility, you can frost the glass or install glass block, which distorts the view, but still allows plentiful sunlight into the building. Another option for protecting privacy is to place windows higher up on the wall.


The fear, and the real possibility, of slipping and falling can be a source of anxiety for dogs. An important component of building a Fear Free hospital includes installing flooring in areas where dogs will be walking that can be defined as non-slip. Non-slip flooring provides a COF of at least 0.60 when wet, according to the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM).

Flooring that meets this standard includes:

  • Safety sheet vinyl floors
  • Safety vinyl floors
  • Rubber tile and sheet flooring
  • Some porcelain tiles
  • Some resinous flooring

Remember that appearance is also important. The finish of the flooring should look stable to dogs and must not have a high-gloss or polished appearance, or it may give the psychological impression that it is slippery.


When choosing artwork and photography, keep in mind that many cats do not enjoy being eye to eye with photorealistic images of other cats. For this reason, it is better to furnish feline housing and exam spaces with other images. Save your beautiful cat photos for spaces in the hospital where they will be less stress inducing for your feline patients!