Building Design for Animals

5 Considerations for a Smart Animal Shelter Design

Animal shelters have unique needs and considerations and there are 5 key points of focus for a successful design.

With an animal shelter there are a myriad of needs and concerns to take into consideration when developing a design. The health and welfare of the animals is top priority, but so are the needs and well-being of the staff and the use and perceptions of the general public. The building must be designed to cater to all three of these groups.

When designing an animal shelter there are 5 major points of focus for the design:

Healthy Housing

In order to provide the healthiest environment for the animals, staff and visitors in an animal shelter, air quality, sanitation, and acoustic quality need to be top priorities in the design. High-quality environmental control for air and acoustic quality can reduce odors and noise, while humidity control, fresh air filtration, and building pressurization can address airborne pathogen control and odor elimination.

Housing should also consider elements such as floor drain grates selected to minimize or eliminate animal toe injury, multiple lighting levels that facilitate cleaning, and hot water drainage flushing systems to minimize bacterial growth.

Ideally an animal shelter is a temporary home for its animal occupants, and as such it should be comfortable and safe for them.

Adoption Focused

Housing and environments for shelters should be designed to help calm the animals, and intrigue the people who come to see them. The goal is to create a richer interaction that leads to more adoptions. Bright colors, open spaces, glass doors and a vibrant environment take an animal shelter away from the old image of ‘doggy jail’ and present the animals in a more positive light.

Incorporating elements such as natural daylight, outdoor play spaces, catios and communal housing can uplift the shelter environment and reinforce a positive perception. Animal housing and the shelter settings should stimulate the animals and intrigue the people who come to see them, creating a positive and cheerful environment that encourages people to adopt pets.


Traffic flow, circulation and maintenance are important for an efficient building. Staffing spaces should be adequate for workflow and public spaces need to have a logical layout that visitors can navigate easily.

Circulation for movement throughout the building by staff and by visitors must be carefully planned, with specific zones of use, adjacencies and support spaces all plotted out for optimal movement and security.

It starts with effective programming, determining what’s needed and where. This initial step will result in a facility designed to operate effectively and efficiently.


Shelter designs not only serve the animals, they cater to the staff as well. Spaces ought to be designed to be functional, easy to operate and maintain, and enjoyable to work in.

As with any animal facility, choosing the right materials is important. Finishes should be carefully selected so that they are durable and easily cleaned. Flooring, walls, ceilings, and furniture all need to be properly selected and installed correctly to get the best use out of each.

In a shelter, clearances should be adequate, and any equipment layouts should be correct for procedures. In short, a shelter facility should be designed to “Work”.


Budget is always a concern, but there are ways to work within a given budget while still designing for quality and aesthetics. An experienced shelter and animal care facility designer can provide advice on where funds are best allocated.

Figuring out the budget necessary to provide the elements that your shelter facilities needs is the first step. From there, measures can be taken towards planning, fundraising and “value engineering” on a design to help get the biggest ‘bang for your buck’, and the best facility possible on your budget.