Building Design for Animals

Article by Paul Gladysz, AIA, NCARB, CSI, ICC

Design for Alternative and Holistic Medicine

When carving out space for alternative medicine treatments, your goal should be to create a calming atmosphere by reducing noise, odors and other distractions.

Animal care has changed and evolved over the years, from technology and standards of care to treatment options and growing awareness of preventive and wellness care. The biggest change has involved pet owners and their mindset that pets are no longer merely owned objects but are living, feeling, contributing family members.

It’s no secret that pet owners today are more open to treatments that are both medically essential and quality-of-life enhancers. BDA is frequently asked to include space in our designs for treatment modalities such as acupuncture, acupressure, therapeutic massage and physical therapy.

These alternative medicine options call for calming spaces; an animal that is not comfortably relaxed will have difficulty benefiting from treatments that fall under the alternative medicine label. A well-designed space will reduce stress and anxiety in a patient and put the practitioner and owner in the right frame of mind.

Few practices can accommodate separate rooms for each modality, so multipurpose space is often the answer.

Here’s what to consider when constructing such a room:

1. Overall Ambience

  • The room should feel calm, quiet and subdued to address animal sensitivities.

  • Isolating the room from more hectic areas of the hospital is preferred.

2. Acoustics

  • Reduce or eliminate intruding noise, and incorporate replacement sound.

  • Noise can be lessened through separation, insulation and absorption. Walls can be made more sound resistant by adding mass and vibration dampening.

  • Flanking noise, meaning noise that goes up and over the ceiling, should be investigated. A sound-resistant wall should go high enough to prevent noise from going over the top and down.

  • Sound produced inside the room can be deadened through the use of soft surfaces such as acoustic ceiling tiles, wall coverings, carpet tiles or washable area rugs, and upholstered furniture.

  • The right type of replacement sound can add significantly to a calming ambience. Commercially available frequency-tuned music has proven effective in reducing patient stress.

  • Install water features that trickle or spout. These add to the space’s acoustic personality and tabletop water features can be inexpensive.

  • Stay away from so-called “sound generators” or sleep machines which produce inauthentic versions of natural sounds that can be more distracting than helpful.

3. Color and Light

  • Avoid bright or splashy schemes. Walls painted in pastels, both warm and cool, work much better.

  • Lighting should allow for a range of brightness. During treatments, subdued lighting is preferred.

  • Natural light is best, if possible, consider incorporating a window or skylight that offers brightness control.

  • The color temperature should be on the warmer side, between 2300K and 3500K ( Kelvin Color Temperature). Cold white and blue light fixtures are to be avoided. Red-shifted light mimics early evening natural light, triggering the brain to produce melatonin and shift toward sleep-mode.

4. Flooring

  • A wood or stone texture underfoot adds to the sense of nature.

  • In a multipurpose room luxury vinyl tile or planks are an option which are both attractive and easily cleaned.

5. Scents

  • Reduce unwanted odors and install positive replacements.

  • Animals can smell anxiety and fear, so an alternative medicine room should not share air from waiting rooms, wards and treatment areas.

  • If the room can’t be isolated, a separate heating and air conditioning unit, like a minisplit, can be used. A unit that introduces outside air will positively pressurize the room so that odors are less likely to migrate from adjoining spaces.

  • Replacement scents can supplement filtration, especially in spaces that cannot be separated. Commercially available diffusers emitting calming scents made specifically for dogs and cats are effective, household floral air fresheners are not.

6. Filtration

  • A purpose-built unit normally used for allergy control can effectively eliminate odors.

  • The room should remain closed off from adjacent spaces and the air should be filtered long before the patient arrives.

7. Room Size

  • An alternative medicine room need not be overly large. A 6-by-6-foot floor space is usually enough.

  • Remember to add any casework or furniture to the dimensions of the room.

8. Work Surfaces

  • Soft and warm surfaces will calm dogs and cats. A custom-built foot-high, vinyl-covered, padded table will raise the animal enough to allow you to kneel without having to bend over.

  • Covering the table with a washable blanket or fleece will make cleanup easier between sessions.

  • The surface should be large enough so that the entire animal, including legs, is fully supported.

9. Casework

  • An alternative medicine room might double as an exam or euthanasia room out of necessity. A wall-mounted folding exam table can be concealed inside a cabinet.

  • Provide enough countertop space for a laptop or computer.

  • Include cabinets to store supplies for all functions.

The evolution in veterinary care has been exciting to watch. Not only are our pets better cared for, but the opportunities opening within the profession are substantial. A well-designed alternative medicine space can add to your practice’s service options.

This article was originally published in Today’s Veterinary Business. Read the full text Sound Advice (And More).