ImproMed, LLC. Logo
Issue: 69 - Sep 15, 2014
New Ideas for Noise Control in Animal Hospitals
By: Heather E. Lewis, AIA, NCARB
Animal Arts

Designers and architects have been talking about noise control in animal hospitals for a long time. And yet, most hospitals are still loud and clattery instead of tranquil, peaceful spaces to care for and heal the animals we love. This has always bothered me, as I believe animals sense things even more strongly than we humans do. How can we design spaces that are truly quiet and calming? In this article, we’ll explore some more subtle concepts in noise control that really do make a difference, as well as some exciting new ideas.

In order to think creatively, we need to review the basic tools we use for noise control in animal facilities. These are:

  • Noise reduction: the art and science of choosing materials that absorb sound.
  • Sound isolation: building walls that prevent the passage of noise from space to space.
  • Dissipation: placing noisy objects at the far end of the hospital away from quiet spaces.
  • HVAC design: ensuring that ducts do not act as conduits for noise between spaces.
  • Masking: as a last resort, we can use background white noise to disguise some sounds.

We will continue to use the helpful tools listed above, but they are somewhat limited in that they presume the noise has already occurred. What if we focused on prevention as our first line of defense? 

While some dogs will never cease to bark completely, barking tends to increase when the animal is stressed and aroused. We know from our clients that the following strategies can help to prevent excessive barking:

  • Dogs do very poorly when facing each other at a close distance in chain link runs, and they benefit from not being housed in this way. However, we must also be careful not to put the dogs in physical and visual isolation, which might arouse fear. They should be able to see out of their runs or rooms.

This dog can see out of his enclosure, which may reduce anxiety in a medical setting. 

Belacoop Animal Hospital of North Park.

  • Our clients report that dogs are quieter in glass enclosures than they are in bar and chain link enclosures. Glass run doors can be equipped with a small barred area at the bottom to encourage air flow.
  • The runs should be designed to be a comfortable shape for the dog. Consider creating enclosures that are almost square in shape, rather than long and thin. Dogs move more naturally and have better interactions with technicians when they are housed in wider enclosures.
  • The run, room or cage should be as comfortable as possible and should be supplied with bedding, a warm surface, natural light, and proper ventilation.

Aside from barking prevention and the usual noise control strategies, what new frontiers can we explore? We are very excited about these new concepts:

Noise Reducing Flooring. In the past, we have focused on ceilings for noise reduction in a room.  The problem with this mentality is that ceilings do not provide enough surface area to prevent a room from being completely reverberant. Noise reducing flooring doubles the workable area and can make a huge difference. Rubber flooring products are naturally sound absorbing, and some are even designed specifically for this purpose. Unfortunately, the current affordable options are only for use in “dry areas” of a hospital and not in hose down rooms, leaving out all of the medical and client spaces. If we could create treatment rooms that were less cacophonous, both staff and animals would be happier.

Reducing Unnecessary Clatter. We’re so used to clatter in hospitals that we don’t even notice it. For example, the cage door, with its horrific and repetitive slamming sound. Cage manufacturers now make quiet latches for cages. We should use them! Let’s consider other sources of noise. Do you know that it is possible to get soft casters for chair and equipment wheels rather than hard clackity-clacking ones? We can also put silencers on doors so they close nicely instead of rattling in their frames. Challenge yourself to look for opportunities to take unnecessary noise out of your workday, and ask your designers to do the same.

Consider Sources of Noise Outside of the Range of Hearing. Animals perceive frequencies well outside of the ranges humans can hear. Cats in particular have excellent hearing in the high frequency ranges. We tend to design buildings for people, and in doing so, may tolerate hideous high frequency noises and low frequency rumblings of which we’re not even aware. It is a great rule of thumb that all mechanical equipment should be kept far away from the animal areas, especially the cat wards. If you have an old hospital, start by replacing those old buzzing fluorescent fixtures with new electronic ballasts.

Psychological and Social Strategies. Fast food restaurant designers know how to motivate people to move quickly so the restaurant can move on to the next customer. Lights are bright, and so are colors. People eat fast, move quickly, make lots of noise, and leave. In contrast, a restaurant that wants diners to stay a while and rack up a large bill often employs low lighting and comfortable seating. I am intrigued by the idea of borrowing from other industries to encourage doctors, techs, clients, and animals to relax a little, move more deliberately, and feel more at ease. While we still need the option of bright lighting in medical areas, can we soften it a bit in patient exam areas? Can we select more comfortable seating for both animals and humans? Can we use soft colors that are relaxing and calming to clients? These small changes may have the effect of making the hospital feel less chaotic. 

Summary

In a nutshell, I suspect that animal hospitals are loud in part because we let them be. They need to be active and efficient spaces, but perhaps they could be fine-tuned to be effective without so much bustling. At Animal Arts, we look forward to the next frontier of noise control and to talking with veterinary clinics about smarter strategies to make hospitals more enjoyable places for people to work, and more effective spaces to reduce stress for animal patients.