Clinic design with Fear-Free in mind


Veterinary architect Heather Lewis shares her tips for eliminating pets stress, starting with design.

Visiting your clinic, with its unfamiliar smells and sounds, can be disorienting and frightening for pets. While practice procedures have made strides to reduce pets' fear-from using pheromones to reducing wait times-what if you implemented features that would ease fear from the start of the design process? It's not impossible, says veterinary architect Heather Lewis, AIA, NCARB, of Animal Arts in Boulder, Colorado.

Use of high ceilings and natural light as much as possible is a good place to start. Implementing species-specific waiting areas, with visual blocks, such as plants, in client areas can help get the appointment off to a smooth start.

>>> Cats have their own waiting nook-complete with a fish tank-at Bigger Road Veterinary Center in Springboro, Ohio. Visit for more from this hospital.

Moving from reception to the exam and treatment areas, noise elimination would be a key focus. Pets hear extremely well, and removing noise leakage, like using two doors between exam rooms and treatment, can help lessen extra anxiety for pets, Lewis says. When it comes to the details of animal housing, keeping cages from facing each other will lower anxiety as well.

>>> Exam rooms-including cat-only rooms-line this indoors walkway from the lobby at Bigger Road Veterinary Center in Springboro, Ohio. High ceilings and natural light give the practice a warmer feel.

A more advanced technique Lewis is exploring is making the treatment area less scary, something that can be hard to do. Some things she suggests are to carry the separation of species through treatment and recovery and to create visual blocks. The blocks can be placed between tables in treatment, and at the front of cages, but that can be removed if the animal needs to be directly observed. If you wanted to go a step even further, you could implement separate laundry for cats and dogs, to prevent the transfer of odors.

For more strategies about reducing pets' fear through design and otherwise, see  comprehensive coverage of Fear-Free tips by heading to

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