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Set Up the Perfect Exam Room for Cats

Heather E. Lewis

As veterinary practices implement Fear Free design for their patients, it becomes more important to cater specifically to felines. Even if you have a smaller facility, at least one exam room should be properly outfitted to care for cats. Many ideas are easy and inexpensive to implement. Here are some favorite cat exam room ideas:

Room Placement and General Features

  • Choose a room in a quiet spot. Reducing noise, traffic, and activity is a great way to sculpt a quieter and calmer experience for our feline friends. Ensure the walls around the room have sound insulation in them, if possible, to screen noise coming from other spaces.
  • If possible, use a room with a window. Cats see well in low-light conditions. Cats will prefer the room if artificial lights are lowered and the room is flooded with soft natural light. It is useful to have lights on a dimmer switch so they can be brighter for a proper physical exam and then lowered again for client consultation.

Furnishings, Cabinets, and Finishes

  • The exam table should be comfortable. Ensure that your table will have a non-slip surface for cats and that it can be outfitted with something soft. Any exam table is potentially acceptable and can be updated with a yoga mat for slip resistance and a towel for a soft surface. This said, we prefer a smaller table for less awkward maneuvering when working with a cat.
  • Create appropriate retreat spaces. Cats often need to hide to feel comfortable. Avoid designing trash access holes or flaps in cabinets or your feline patients will end up in the trash can! Extend upper cabinets to the ceiling to prevent cats from being able to get into ceiling panels (yikes)! Avoid chairs cats can get underneath; solid-fronted benches work better for seating. Create an appropriate space in the room for retreat, such as a wall-hung basket or a box in an appealing location in the room. The cat can enter this retreat space at will and coaxed out gently or examined there.
  • Choose light colors. We prefer to paint feline exam rooms with lighter colors, so they will function well when the lights are dimmed. However, avoid bright whites as sometimes these appear even brighter to a cat. Calming colors can help reinforce your goal for the room to be a retreat.


While equipment may appear to be a small consideration, the right accessories will help your cat exam room become the Fear Free space you envision. Consider the following:

  • Feliway dispensers in the room.
  • A towel warmer to warm blankets and towels for use during examinations.
  • Non-figural artwork and no photorealistic images of cats. Cats can react negatively to this type of visual input. Use soft abstracts and landscapes.
  • Quiet casters on the stool so it does not clatter when rolled.

Feline exam rooms are easy and rewarding to design and finish. We consider cats to be our best architectural students; they tell us when we have executed spaces well. We create for them. Pair good spaces and good operations, and your feline patients will be happier and calmer. Happy patients make for happy clients!

This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT.

Heather E. Lewis, AIA, NCARB, is a principal of Animal Arts, an architectural firm that has exclusively designed animal care facilities, including veterinary hospitals and animal shelters, for more than three decades.  She has worked on dozens of projects across the country, both large and small in her 19 years with the firm.  Heather is a member of the Fear Free℠ Advisory Board and assisted in creating the Fear Free facility standards for veterinary hospitals.  Heather is a regular contributor to various veterinary industry magazines.  She has spoken on the design of facilities for the care of animals at dozens of national and regional conferences including Fetch Hospital Design Conferences, the UC Davis Low Stress Animal Handling Conference, and the Humane Society of the United States Animal Care Expo.
Photo courtesy Loyal Companions Animal Hospital & Pet Resort, Tim Murphy / Foto Imagery.

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