Divide and conquer
Keeping cats and dogs as far apart as possible in the hospital will go a long way toward securing more feline appointments.
Whether you are a dog lover or a cat lover, you would agree that routine veterinary care is integral to maintaining the health of both. However, cats are a substantial minority of veterinary visitors.
One of most easily identifiable reasons for their absence is in-clinic anxiety, an issue easily addressed during construction of a clinic or renovation of an existing space. While I am seeing more feline-only clinics, the idea of making a general practice cat friendly is not new. My colleagues and I have been working at it for a while.
What follows are features we have been refining over many years, so we have learned what works.
When it comes to your hospital, separate the species to the greatest extent possible on both the client and clinical sides. In other words, keep the stinky dog over there!
If you can, maintain separate air flow in feline areas. If you can’t do it, configure the flow so that fresh air is introduced into the feline area before it circulates toward the canines. The intent is to minimize dog scents in cat spaces.
Noise control is equally important. Separate dog spaces from cat spaces, especially in noise-producing rooms like wards. If distance is not an option, install a sound-resistant dividing wall and add sound-absorbing materials. Walls are made sound resistant by adding mass, usually layers of drywall. Major drywall manufacturers offer products specific to this purpose.
Don’t forget to seal the wall, too. A 1-inch hole will negate all your sound-proofing efforts. Use acoustic caulk at the floor and top. (Walls must be continuous to a solid plane above.) Fill outlet and switch boxes with expanding foam, and use foam gaskets under cover plates.
The goal also should be to cover as much of the room’s surface as possible with absorbing finishes. One third is minimal, one half is better. Also consider installing carpet in cat-only rooms. High-abuse carpet tiles like those installed in airports are effective at improving acoustics. If a carpet is not possible, cleanable area rugs can help.
A separate cat-only waiting area will ease both cat and owner. The client is already anxious after removing the feline friend from its area of comfort — the home. Fear of trauma is real, and cats will pick up on it, thus heightening the anxiety.
A cat waiting room should not be a pass-through space. Rather, create an alcove off the main area. And remember that cats are aerial creatures. They don’t like to be low, so provide raised platforms — a countertop, perhaps — for the carrier at the reception desk and in the waiting and exam rooms. A cat will feel more secure if it is looking down.
If possible, a feline-only exam room should have direct access to the waiting room. The fewer transitions and changes of scenery for a cat, the better.
Exterior exam room doors can be extremely beneficial, too. Many clinics feature exam rooms that have separate exit doors or that are close to a side exit. Such a configuration could allow an arriving cat owner to bypass the waiting area altogether. This approach would require attention to scheduling, cell phone communication and possibly an exterior waiting spot, such as a reserved parking spot or patio.
Feline exam rooms should be bright, well-ventilated and securely enclosed. Use solid or frosted-glass doors along with door closers and latching hardware. Doors should swing into the room to help “sweep” a loose cat back from the opening. Avoid sliding doors that do not seal well at the floor. (Some kittens can squeeze through a floor gap.)
- Seating that does not allow a cat to hide under it.
- Closable doors on all lower cabinets.
- Exam tabletops made of warmer materials — laminate or phenolic tops instead of stainless steel.
- Heated tops to help comfort a cat and reduce anxiety.
- A towel over a non-slip rubber pad if the tables are stainless steel. One practice used an electrically heated version intended for foot warming that worked quite well.
- Synthetic scents or pheromones and frequency-tuned music to set a relaxed mood.
- A shelf within a client’s reach for carrier-covering towels.
Separating the species in treatment areas is more challenging for existing hospitals. If you can’t have a separate cat ward and ICU, minimizing dog-cat interaction might be possible. For example:
- Use cage covers and other sight barriers.
- Position cage banks so they don’t face each other. If that’s not possible, try to turn them 90 degrees to allow for more separation.
- If possible, noisy dogs should be kept in a separate room. Even a cage bank behind a glass wall will be better.
- By considering these ideas, a welcoming space can be created to reduce feline anxiety and increase the frequency of visits for routine and specialty care. Soothe the cat, soothe the owner and everyone will be happy.
Constructive Criticism columnist Paul Gladysz is the principal architect at BDA Architecture. The firm specializes in the planning, design and construction of animal care facilities.