Make Your Veterinary Clinic Sensory-Friendly

Curious about why your veterinary clinic should be sensory-friendly? Your clinic is a busy, noisy, bright environment. A mixed group of pets and people make your waiting area and treatment areas especially sensory-rich. The anxiety of your patients and their humans add to a stressful experience. As a result, these factors can contribute to a negative experience and cause a sensory overload response in both people and pets. Therefore, a sensory-friendly veterinary clinic experience makes pets and people (your staff and your clients) comfortable.

This blog post highlights effective and easy ways to create a sensory-friendly and accessible veterinary clinic that includes more people.

What are the sensory-rich aspects of vet clinics?

The term “sensory-rich” refers to factors that make an environment deliver a strong sensory experience. Below are common factors that may make attending vet difficult for some of your clients, pets and your team.

  • Loud noises of animals in waiting and treatment rooms
  • Overhearing stressful conversations between staff members and clients.
  • Background music.
  • Busy waiting rooms with people and pets coming and going.
  • Crowded waiting rooms with people and pets in small areas.
  • Bright lights.
  • fluorescent lights.
  • Limited seating options in waiting areas.
  • Strong scents of animals.
  • Scented cleaning products.
  • Clients being fearful of other pets.

If any of these factors are present in your space, they contribute to less comfort for the many people who experience sensory sensitivities. Additionally, it is important to note that even people without a sensory processing disorder or underlying reason to be sensory sensitive might find it difficult to cope with the sensory-rich aspects of these facilities, due to the added stress of a ill pet. Therefore, it is crucial to recognize that creating a more sensory-friendly vet clinic will benefit everyone.

How to create a sensory-friendly vet clinic

Wondering where to start? Adapting your clinic to become more accessible and inclusive to be sensory-friendly can be achieved by taking any of these steps. The more you do, the more positive change you create for your team, your pets and their people!

Infographic highlighting 8 ways to create a sensory-friendly vet.

Create a virtual tour of your clinic

One of the first solutions to create a more sensory-friendly clinic is to create a virtual tour of your clinic for clients. For many clients, an overwhelming and stressful aspect of going to the vet is the unfamiliar environment. Let people know what to expect. Show short videos. Take them with your phone! Keep it simple. Show photos of all public areas. Let people know the steps of an appointment, from start to finish, with photos, a description and short videos! Many pets love to pose, too!

Develop multiple avenues to contact the veterinary team

Another effective strategy to develop a more accessible clinic is to have different ways to contact the veterinary team. Phone, email, text and online chat are all options that can help people contact you in easy ways. Many people have hearing loss (and hearing aids do not solve the problem); create different ways to communicate. Try an automated scheduling system through your website. Choose options that help your team and your clients easily communicate.

Provide clients with noise-cancelling headphones or create quiet zones

Furthermore, an effective way to regulate sound within your clinic is to create quiet zones. A quiet zone is a dedicated area where noise is reduced or eliminated. For example, use a separate room for a quiet waiting area. Alternatively, add signs to indicate reduced noise like limited talking. Turn off background music. Choose furnishing that absorb sounds.

If a quiet zone is not possible, consider having noise-cancelling ear muffs to loan (or even sell) to clients.

Add sensory tools into waiting rooms

In addition to noise-cancelling headphones, there are other sensory tools that you can add to your vet clinic to help people feel comfortable. For example, consider providing fidgets, to help keep your clients calm as they wait to hear about their pet’s health.

I think that a place like this could really use sensory tools like fidgets and headphones. I’ve been in this exam room alone for over an hour waiting, and it’s a lot to take in. I don’t typically suffer from sensory overload but considering I’m not receiving “great” news from my vet, I do feel quite overwhelmed by everything happening. I can imagine this would be similar for many other people bringing their pets to the vet, regardless of the situation.

Darly-Lynn, pet owner of 2 cats

Create comfortable seating options

Another essential aspect of a sensory-friendly clinic is what people sit on! Do you have comfortable seats? Do you have seats with arm rests? Seats that allow pets to sit on their owner’s lap? Make people comfortable as they wait.

Install dimmed lighting options

Have you considered that most clinics have bright and irritating fluorescent lighting? Choose lighting that helps to calm people and pets! Lighting is a particular problem for people with hypersensitivity. Use dimmers. Importantly, ensure your reception desk has good lighting, but use task lights instead of overhead lights. Keep lighting bright enough for safety but not so bright that it is glaring to visitors. Consider lower lighting in your quiet room or area, too.

Create sensory-friendly signage

Let your clients know what changes you have made and why you made them! Add signs in your clinic about your quiet space. Let visitors know if you have noise-cancelling ear muffs. Furthermore, let visitors know how to ask for help.

Two vets working with dog at sensory-friendly vet.

Providing home services

Finally, another option to create a sensory-friendly veterinary clinic is to provide home visits. Consider the option for some clients to have their pets examined or treated at home, where appropriate for the pet. For many people, going to the vet is overwhelming and simply not possible. Provide an option for home visits if you can!

Do sensory-friendly vets already exist?

You may be curious if sensory-friendly vets already exist or not. Many vets across the world have begun to make efforts to create a more sensory-friendly and accessible clinic. For example, many vets have become “holistic” clinics. These are vets that have been designed to be sensory-friendly and relaxing environments that are fit to the preferences of both the pet and the client.

Make Your Event and Location Inclusive with Training

Another great example of a sensory-friendly vet is Vets4Pets in Cheshire, UK. This clinic has modified its office space to be more accessible for customers with hypersensitivity to light, noise and smells. Additionally, this clinic ensures that their communication style and expectations have been adapted to be mindful of clients with differing sensory preferences.

“Going to the vet can be an overwhelming experience for anyone, especially for people and pets with sensory sensitivity and sensory overload. Pets are a part of our family. And as a pet guardian, it can be stressful to take our pets to the vet. We worry and want to make sure that our dogs and cats and other animals are okay. Take the added surrounding stressors of dogs barking, cats meowing, bright lights, and lots of conversations taking place around you and you have a very overwhelming atmosphere.”

Darly-Lynn, pet owner

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