Design of Veterinary Spaces

The vestibule at the main entrance to a hospital in California. The double sets of doors hamper animal escape attempts, provide views for clients to help prevent pets from interacting in the entryway, and create a thermal barrier for the lobby. (Foto Imagery / Tim Murphy. Courtesy of Adobe Animal Hospital, Petaluma, California.) A greeter’s station helps to keep staff focused on your clients and their pets.  In this practice model, other administrative functions are performed away from the lobby. (David Dietrich Photography. Courtesy of Upstate Veterinary Specialists and Emergency Clinic, Greenville, South Carolina.) Long-term waiting should include more comfortable furnishing and provide amenities for your clients such as internet access. (Foto Imagery / Tim Murphy. Courtesy of Upstate Veterinary Specialists and Emergency Clinic, Asheville, North Carolina.) An exam room with access to an enclosed porch. The hospital often uses the porch as a Fear Free option to perform examinations on dogs. (Foto Imagery / Tim Murphy. Courtesy of Adobe Animal Hospital, Petaluma, California.) A larger consultation room with ample and comfortable furnishings. Consultation rooms provide a flexible space to perform euthanasia, exams for pets who come to the hospital with multiple family members, and exams for families with multiple pets.(Foto Imagery / Tim Murphy. Courtesy of Coral Springs Animal Hospital, Coral Springs, Florida.) This exam room doubles as an ultrasound suite during the middle of the day, when there are fewer client appointments. Multipurpose spaces can allow smaller facilities to provide care to more clients. (Edmunds Studios, Inc. Courtesy of Veterinary Village, Lomira, Wisconsin.) The laboratory and pharmacy are combined in this small hospital. The open and adjustable shelving and cabinetry that line the walls provide ample storage and organization. (Foto Imagery / Tim Murphy. Courtesy of Melrose Animal Clinic, Melrose, Massachusetts.) This separated pharmacy provides easy access for clients from the lobby. (Posh Pooch Portraits. Courtesy of Adobe Animal Hospital, Los Altos, California.) The pharmacy at Tryon Equine Hospital. The Dutch door provides both security and a “window” for access for clients and staff.  (Foto Imagery / Tim Murphy. Courtesy of Tryon Equine Hospital, Columbus, North Carolina.) Organization is crucial for inventory control. A prescription bag storage system can help keep a pharmacy organized and efficient. (Courtesy of Melrose Animal Clinic, Melrose, Massachusetts.) Daylight floods this treatment space from windows placed above the cabinetry.  Daylight creates a more natural environment for both staff and animals. (Courtesy of Four Seasons Veterinary Specialists, Loveland, Colorado.) An example of a run to back room, or mini-treatment area, equipped with both an exam table and a wet table. These spaces are the perfect place to perform minor procedures, such as blood draws and nail trims. (Posh Pooch Portraits. Courtesy of Adobe Animal Hospital.) A radiology room with an X-ray viewing station located just outside in the hallway. This station enables doctors and technicians to quickly view x-rays before an animal is moved to treatment or surgery. (Posh Pooch Portraits. Courtesy of Adobe Animal Hospital, Los Altos, California.) An example of a floor plan for an ultrasound room with multiple tables. A tabletop used for cardiology. The area under the tabletop allows space to manipulate the ultrasound wand under the patient. A floor plan layout for CT. The control station is located to allow a direct view of the patient table and through the center of the gantry. (Courtesy of VCA West Los Angeles Animal Hospital, Los Angeles, California [VCA, Inc.]) The floor plan for an MRI suite. Note the location of the equipment room adjacent to the magnet side of the MRI and the large magnet access panel on the outside wall used to install the MRI. (Courtesy of VCA West Los Angeles, Los Angeles, California [VCA, Inc.]) An interior image of the rigging process as an MRI machine is moved in through an access panel. (Courtesy of Vancouver Animal Emergency and Referral Center (Associate Veterinary Clinics, VCA, Inc.) The copper sheeting used as shielding lining an MRI suite. (Courtesy of VCA South Shore Animal Hospital, South Weymouth, Massachusetts [VCA, Inc.]) A LINAC vault designed with a door large enough to allow the equipment to be moved into or out of the room. The use of this shielded door eliminates the need for a maze to gain access to the space. Lead bricks being installed in an I-131 room for shielding. (Courtesy of VCA Veterinary Referral Associates, Gaithersburg, Maryland [VCA, Inc.]) An example floor plan for an endoscopy suite in a large specialty hospital. Wet tables are generally specified for endoscopy rooms. Note the ample circulation space provided at the ends of the tables. (Courtesy of SAGE Centers for Veterinary Specialty & Emergency Care, Redwood City, California.) Pack/prep and scrub share this hallway outside of surgery in this hospital. The space has separate sinks for handwashing and pack/prep activities and ample counter space for the preparation of surgery packs. (Foto Imagery / Tim Murphy. Courtesy of VCA PetCare Veterinary Hospital, Santa Rosa, California [VCA, Inc.].) An example of a small surgery room. (Foto Imagery / Tim Murphy. Courtesy of Melrose Animal Clinic, Melrose, Massachusetts.) A surgery suite in a specialty hospital that feels open and bright with natural light and views to the outside. (Foto Imagery / Tim Murphy. Courtesy of VCA PetCare Veterinary Hospital, Santa Rosa, California [VCA, Inc.].) Rehabilitation services can start small in an oversized exam room. Evaluations and dry rehabilitation modalities can be performed in this space. (Foto Imagery / Tim Murphy. Courtesy of Woodhaven Veterinary Clinic, Edmonds, Washington.) A simple, fenced-in outdoor agility/exercise area that can be used to assist in physical rehabilitation. (Courtesy of VCA Veterinary Referral Associates, Gaithersburg, Maryland [VCA, Inc.]) Vertical housing makes it easy to provide cats with separate eating and elimination areas. These units provide ventilation at the top to keep the air fresh. (Courtesy of Mason Company.) Runs with half-height walls and glass fronts allow staff to easily monitor dogs who require critical care. (Foto Imagery / Tim Murphy. Courtesy of VCA PetCare Veterinary Hospital, Santa Rosa, California [VCA, Inc.].) Glass-fronted caging and runs allow the dogs in the ICU to be fully visible to staff. (Foto Imagery / Tim Murphy. Courtesy of VCA West Los Angeles, Los Angeles Animal Hospital, California [VCA, Inc.].) An isolation room finished with tile for easy cleaning includes appropriately-sized housing for different animals in care. (Foto Imagery / Tim Murphy. Courtesy of VCA PetCare Veterinary Hospital, Santa Rosa, California [VCA, Inc.].) The storage room in this large specialty hospital has rolling, stainless steel shelving that can be adjusted to different heights to provide flexibility. (Foto Imagery / Tim Murphy. Courtesy of Upstate Veterinary (Specialists and Emergency Clinic, Greenville, South Carolina.)

Reception Areas

Another way to minimize the fear that animals can feel in your hospital is to eliminate the time that they would spend in a reception or waiting room altogether. One way to achieve this is to create entry doors directly into your exam rooms from the outside.

In order to create safe outdoor exam room access, follow these general rules:

  • Exterior-access exam rooms should have either vestibules or fully enclosed, fenced, or porch areas to prevent accidental escapes.
  • Locate exterior exam room access doors on the south and east sides of your building or otherwise protect these entrances from afternoon sun and winter winds.
  • It will most likely not be possible for all of your exam rooms to have outside access doors. Prioritize the use of these rooms for your patients that are the most susceptible to fear and stress.

Exam Rooms

Most cats would likely rank their experience with the veterinarian as somewhere between vile and horrifying. Anything that can be done to reduce their fear and stress at the veterinarian’s office is a win for everyone. Furthermore, we know that dogs benefit from not being able to see or smell cats. One thing that can be done to ease these stressors for both species is to separate cats from dogs in as many ways as possible within the confines of the hospital. As Fear Free becomes a mantra for veterinary practices, separating feline exam rooms from canine exam rooms might become the norm.

A species-specific exam room for a cat should be equipped with a small climbing structure, toys or other enrichments to help cats relax through exploration and play, views to the outside, and pheromone dispensers.

A species-specific indoor exam room for a dog should be large enough to perform exams in a creative manner, such as with the dog positioned on the floor. Don’t forget to include a pheromone dispenser in dog exam rooms as well.

A second option for dogs is an outdoor exam room. In this scenario, dogs can be led from the parking lot directly to this fenced outdoor space, avoiding the stress of the hospital environment altogether. It is important that any outdoor exam space be at least partially covered and fully cleanable.

Exam Tables
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A Fear Free exam table is another means of providing a more stress-free exam experience for dogs. A Fear Free table allows the dog to approach and walk to the top of the table surface without being lifted. The stairs can be designed to fold away to provide ample space in the room for floor exams. Options for Fear Free tables and other equipment are becoming increasingly available from veterinary caging and equipment manufacturers. 

A Fear Free exam table should also be provided with a gently heated surface with a tautly stretched towel over it infused with pheromones.

Treatment Areas

Smells, noises of all sorts, and, in the case of cats, snuffling noses passing by their location can be detrimental to an animal’s wellbeing and healing process. Consider the possibility of incorporating separate treatment areas for cats and dogs into your hospital. At a minimum, provide visual separation by installing curtain tracks around treatment tables, or, half-height walls that would block the animals’ views, but not that of the staff. Another option is to arrange the layout of treatment such that cats and dogs are treated on opposite sides of the room.

Animal Housing

Chapter 38 of the book includes, in its entirety, material on housing animals that fits into the Fear Free design scope. As you read, look for information on these elements that relates directly to developing Fear Free solutions for your hospital, which can include:

  • Separate housing by species
  • More than one dog ward
  • Quiet latches and hinges on caging
  • Resting platforms in caging for cats
  • Enrichment used in caging
  • Caging with nonreflective surfaces
  • Horizontal bars for feline housing
  • Dog runs with a view out at dog-eye level
  • Views to pleasant or neutral spaces 
  • Fear Free dimensions in caging and runs