4 ways to beat the background noise in your veterinary clinic

4 ways to beat the background noise in your veterinary clinic

You may be oblivious to the loud noises of your veterinary practice, but you can bet that pet owners—and pets—hear them all too well.
Feb 01, 2014

Like dogs that don't come when called from the backyard while "doing the doo," veterinarians and veterinary team members seem to have selective hearing loss when it comes to noticing or being affected by the cacophony of sounds inside a typical veterinary hospital. Having invisible earplugs might be good for our sanity, but bad for pets and pet owners. How?

Just sit for a few minutes inside a veterinary hospital and listen. You'll hear a discordant mixture of mostly unpleasant sounds, including phones ringing, door chimes dinging, doors opening, cages shutting, buzzers going off, conversation humming, cats meowing and dogs barking, whining or crying out. We don't seem to hear this background noise, but somebody does. And those somebodies are pet owners—and perhaps even more importantly, pets.

Can you imagine what it's like for a pet owner to hear the caterwauling (I bet I've waited 20 years to use that word in an article!) that reverberates inside the clinic walls? These sounds are ripe for misinterpretation. Was that dog crying out in pain? Why would that cat make that horrible sound? What was that thump? Why the raised voices? It's even worse for the pets.

While dogs don't speak cat and vice versa, they certainly know when they hear a sound of their own species in pain or distress. Cats know whether a fellow feline is in the fight-or-flight mode. And both dogs and cats can hear stress and anger in people's voices. I've been working for more than four years now on creating fear-free visits for pets, and I can tell you that the grating sounds of a typical veterinary healthcare facility cause distress to pet owners and pets. So what can you do?

I've been talking with veterinary architects, and the fear-free hospital of tomorrow will be much more soundproof, with exam rooms being like small recording studios. But here are some proven sound-deadening steps you can take today to improve the auditory environment for both pets and people:

1. Adjust your voice. Take your voice down from an at-a-concert level to an at-the-dinner-table level.

2. Tone down the rings and dings. At the very least, turn down the phone ringer and door chime volumes. It's also a good idea to look into products that alert via vibration or light signal.

3. Wait management. Get pets out of the waiting room and into exam rooms ASAP. The ideal situation is to put pet owners and pets immediately into exam rooms and do the initial check in there.

4. Quiet kennels. Use yoga mats in the kennels to decrease sound. Open and shut cage doors gently. Shut doors like you're at a funeral.

Moreover, the calmer pets and pet owners are when they arrive at the practice, the less noise they'll make. Also using pheromones, "chill pills," compression jackets and other tools before the visit means a more pleasant experience for individual pets and everyone else at your veterinary practice.

Dr. Marty Becker, Veterinary Economics Practice Leadership Editor and CVC speaker, is author of The Healing Power of Pets: Harnessing the Amazing Ability of Pets to Make and Keep People Happy and Healthy and 21 other books. He practices at North Idaho Animal Hospital in Sandpoint, Idaho.