A busy waiting room can induce a tumult of emotions in our canine and feline patients. Unfamiliar environments, or negative associations can make patients stressed the moment they arrive at the practice. Barking, frustrated and fearful dogs, alarm pheromones, crying children, noisy adults, and anxious owners can be incredibly overwhelming, and are likely to escalate this stress. This can cause an eruption of negative emotions to spread amongst patients and owners.
Small changes to the waiting room environment can have a huge impact on patient welfare. Treats are a vital tool in veterinary practice. Ensure there are several treat sources in the reception area that staff and owners can give dogs. Owners can feed their cat treats in their carrier. This will create a positive environment for patients and enhance their emotional state.
Physical and visual barriers should be used to avoid the threat of other animals or the frustration of trying to access them. Enclosed hiding spaces will help them to cope. Cat carriers can be covered with blankets sprayed with Feliway. Dog waiting areas should have an Adaptil diffuser.
If space is limited, and separate dog and cat waiting areas are not possible, have a designated afternoon in which only cats have access to the waiting area and consult room. Reducing olfactory exposure to dogs will help to avoid another potential stressor.
Reception staff can be trained to identify signs of stress in cats and dogs, and intervene where appropriate. If consulting rooms are free, patients can wait in a room. Dogs can wait outside or go for a short walk. Getting owners to engage their dog in a game can distract their brain from the scary environment and put them in a better headspace. If they won't accept treats, or are extremely distracted, it is an indication that they are too anxious and we need to remove them from that environment.
Wall signs can be utilised asking owners to have dogs on a short lead and to keep their dogs focused on them to help reduce confident dogs affecting fearful dogs. Signage can also ask people to make minimal noise and speak quietly.
Plants are reported to reduce stress in waiting areas, as are fish; however, then we must protect the welfare of the fishes.