Building Design for Animals

Article by Wayne Usiak, NCARB

Getting Started: 3 Must-Haves in Veterinary Design

When starting a building project there are three people who will make or break a project; whether you’re going to renovate, remodel or build a new veterinary hospital. Increase your chances for success by getting the right folks who will work right together.

A strong core team is critical to the success of any veterinary hospital design project. Here are the three key players, what each must bring, and some criteria for selecting them.


The lender in veterinary projects is a crucial team member for success. Many collateral-based lenders require appraisals with "comps" which, because comparable-quality veterinary projects are rarely available, are often based on lower-quality general office buildings, which often results in appraisal failure.

Better to start with a veterinary-specific lender. These lenders:

  • Base their decisions on a cash flow model, evaluating your business ability and growth to pay the debt as opposed to selling your building when you fail as local lenders do.
  • Have experience with veterinary businesses and buildings which leads to successful appraisals.
  • Commit to financing approval much sooner in the process and can often distribute draws for land and soft costs early.


Next is the Architect, who will take lead in the design process. Whatever architect you choose should understand the nuances of veterinary medicine.

A good architect will:

  • Have knowledge of veterinary productivity metrics, staffing complexities and workflow protocols.
  • Know veterinary design trends, materials and construction costs.
  • Help select and coordinate a team of engineers to design veterinary-specific solutions critical to thermal comfort, patient and staff health, and acoustic and odor control as well as balanced lighting systems and efficient energy consumption.
  • Balance design selections with budget concerns and will not design an over-budget project.


Many projects use competitive bidding when selecting contractors. Our preference—at least on renovations—has been to negotiate with a single contractor as early in the process as possible. Following an interview/vetting process, we work with the practice owner to identify the most comfortable and competent fit. We then bring in that contractor to weigh in on design issues and their effect on budget, schedule and performance.

When selecting a contractor keep in mind:

  • The main concern is not on how much they can be “under budget,” but an assurance that the project will be “in budget.”
  • A contractor should be fully vested in your success in schedule, quality and budget.
  • At each stage of the design process, from initial floor plans to complex permit drawings you want the contractor’s buy-in. Why? After the project is done, the contractor will be largely responsible for any adjustments that will inevitably be required for final satisfaction.

Assembling your team and getting the three design team members right means you'll have the best chance to wind up with a design project that meets the functional and economic goals of the practice, the established budget constraints, and financing considerations.

This article was originally published in Vetted Magazine. Read the full article here on the dvm360 website.