4 ways to control noise in your veterinary hospital


Your canine patients can transform your practice from calm to chaotic with one yip-and drive your team members from pleasant to harried. Consider these tips to tackle noise during your new construction or renovation.

Have you ever performed surgery for eight hours straight in a room that sits next to a set of dog kennels? Loud doesn’t even begin to cover it. Yet this is one of the biggest complaints C. Scott Learned, president of Design Learned in Norwich, Conn., hears from veterinarians about their facilities. Learned is an engineer who specializes in issues like noise control, odor control, mechanical issues, and plumbing systems for animal care facilities.

“Noise is definitely stressful for team members and clients,” Learned says. “The barking can be deafening, and it’s not something that can be easily tuned out.”

While noise control is probably on your to-do list as you plan your project, Learned says when the rubber hits the road, this is often an area where he sees veterinarians cut corners—with disastrous results. And just like the practice of medicine, where prevention is key, it’s much easier to prevent noise now than try to fix problems in a facility that’s been built with noise control flaws. Let’s discuss why noise matters—and how it can be part of your plan before your architect draws the first sketch of your dream facility.

Imagine walking into a room where you see, smell, and hear threats all around you, and it’s easy to understand why dogs bark. But the result can be a less-than-pleasant experience for your team members. And the deafening environment can have a direct result on the care you provide, Learned says. For example, in an acoustically untreated kennel, the noise can reach levels above 90 decibels, which exceeds OSHA exposure limits. This is not a level of noise you can tune out, Learned adds. And if team members are uncomfortable, they may spend less time cleaning cages and interacting with pets.

In these noisy situations, Learned says, it can feel impossible to think or even communicate with the person next to you. “It’s an unnerving kind of noise,” Learned says. “It’s not like a continuous background noise. I’ve been in kennels where even simple communication with the person next to you requires shouting.”

Excessive noise is stressful for pets, too, and some animals may experience diarrhea, failure to eat, failure to eliminate, or a host of other signs, Learned says. Not a good start for the healing environment you want to create, right? The good news: There are some solid solutions that can eliminate most noise control issues.

1. Change your behavior

Modifying your own actions can make a big difference when it comes to noise control, Learned says. This can be as simple as leading dogs through the practice differently. First, he says, it’s best to separate dogs into smaller groups.

“If you’re designing for new construction, you might consider three rooms instead of one large holding room,” Learned says. “This way you can put a bunch of barking dogs all together. Then you can use a different room for quieter dogs and a third room for geriatric dogs and dogs under sedation.”

The second part of behavior, Learned says, is creating an environment that mitigates barking. He says there are two issues that cause barking: noise and other barking. “Dogs are social pack animals,” he says. “They respond to noise that’s far off more readily than they will to noise that’s right in front of them. Dogs won’t always bark when they see you when you walk in to feed them. But if they hear a car door slam or a dog bark in the distance, they’ll respond almost every time.”

One solution, he says, is to create wall insulation systems so dogs don’t hear those far-off noises. You’ll also want to avoid planning windows in front of the parking lot if your kennels are on that side of the building. Seeing and hearing dogs jumping out of cars and hearing doors slamming and people talking can whip your canine residents into a frenzy in no time. Second, background noise such as classical music can minimize the sounds pets—and people—hear. The third solution is to take a closer look at your heating, ventilating, and air conditioning (HVAC) system.

2. Isolate doggy smells

Your HVAC system plays a couple of roles in your noise control. First, Learned says, when dogs smell other dogs, they get nervous. So keeping the dog wards on a separate zone from other areas of the practice will minimize the smells the waiting and boarding animals detect. Second, he says, your ductwork acts as an open conduit for noise—literally funneling noise to other areas of your practice.

“Investing in HVAC is a big bang for your buck kind of solution for noise control,” Learned says. “I usually recommend new HVAC equipment to put dog wards or kennel areas in their own zones. Usually I find these areas are undersupplied with fresh air and filtration anyway, so there are many benefits.”

3. Divide and conquer

Your floor plan plays a vital role in how effectively you’ll be able to control noise in your practice, and that’s why Learned says he recommends involving your sound specialist from your very first meeting with your architect. This will help you avoid common floor plan problems.

For example, Learned says he frequently hears from veterinarians who are frustrated by hearing barking dogs all day as they try to perform surgery or offer care in the treatment area. Consider positioning the kennels well away from client and treatment areas by placing them on the other side of a mechanical, laundry, or utility area.

Learned also recommends using hallways to separate kennels and wards. If you walk a dog through two different kennels to get to a third, you’ll likely trigger a chain of barking throughout the building. A hallway eliminates the visual trigger. Another solution is to install outside doors so dogs can exit from the kennel area and team members don’t need to walk the pet through the entire hospital to meet its owner.

4. Know the noise you can’t control

As long as dogs bark, you’ll need to plan for a certain amount of noise in certain areas of the practice. Learned says no amount of reverberation control will keep you from hearing dogs as you walk through those areas. “When dogs are barking at you from a cage system, you’re hearing the noise directly into your ears,” he says. “And no amount of materials on the ceiling is going to make a difference in how you hear that direct noise.”

You can control some transmission from room to room installing more highly rated acoustic doors, Learned says. It’s a cost-effective change that offers a big benefit.

Reverberation control within a room does work, he adds, in places like lobbies, training areas, or doggie daycares. But it can be a challenge to find a compromise between something that’s waterproof and offers acoustic performance and something that dogs won’t eat. This is one area where you’ll want to spend time working with your noise control expert to find the right material.

“I tell veterinarians that their acoustic consultant should be involved from the beginning,” Learned says. “So many things in noise control are related to floor plan decisions, building decisions, outdoor noise, and property noise.”

Portia Stewart is a freelance writer and editor in Lenexa, Kan.

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