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  • Writer's pictureDr. Bill Wagner

“Yuck, what’s that smell?” Beautification matters!

Your clients only get a limited view of what happens in your veterinary hospital, so it is very important that the sights, smells, and sounds that they encounter at your practice get the attention that they deserve. Just as a client can only judge the quality of your surgical skill from the outside by how neat your closure is, your clients’ opinion of your clinical skill is largely shaped by the superficial aspects of their experience at your hospital. You may be practicing excellent medicine, but a smelly waiting room or an unkempt storefront can leave a client with a poor impression of the practice no matter how good the medical care was that you provided to their pet.


The physical appearance of your practice, both outside and within, is the first impression that a client will get of your practice. Before you ever have a chance to get into the exam room with them and form a relationship, the appearance of your storefront, your waiting room, and your exam rooms has already written the first chapter of their internal narrative about your practice. Above all else cleanliness is key! It is a challenge to keep a vet hospital clean throughout the day, especially at a busy hospital, but it is well worth the effort. Clients (rightfully) expect a hospital to be clean and hygienic.

The storefront: Be mindful of chipping paint, disrepair, overgrown landscaping or weeds, cracked pavement, and pet waste around the premises. If you don’t own your real estate, talk to your landlord about investing into a few simple things, like new paint and neat landscaping.

The waiting room: Ensure that the waiting area is clean, wear-and-tear damage is repaired in a timely manner, and consider adding touches like plants (be mindful of toxins – no lilies in vet hospitals!) or other warm decorations. Avoid too much clutter of retail items (toys, treats, non-prescription food) that undermine your value statement of being a medical facility – these low-margin items do little to help your bottom line and add visual clutter to your waiting area.

Exam rooms: Clean, clean, clean! A client should never be put into an exam room that is still dirty from the previous patient. There are few things that will undermine a client’s trust in your hospital faster than waiting in a dirty exam room.

Smells Unpleasant odors are more difficult to control in a veterinary hospital but not impossible, and a smelly waiting room or exam rooms can ruin an otherwise good visit for a client. Just as clients have an expectation of how clean a hospital should look, they have similar expectations about how it should smell.

  1. Get to messes as quickly as possible before the odor can spread. Having clear protocols and delegation of this duty (pun not intended) will ensure that messes get cleaned promptly.

  2. Physical barriers slow the spread of odors. Keeping doors closed where practical between treatment and boarding areas and any client-facing areas can reduce the flow of bad smells out to where clients are waiting.

  3. Consider adding filtration systems to your HVAC or having portable filters/fans in client-facing areas.

General beautification

  1. Clean and consistent uniforms send a message of professionalism and competency to clients. Ideally staff uniforms should provide clients with some visual hint at the role/level of a staff member. Having extra uniforms available to staff members on site means that they’ll be able to swap out of scrubs that get soiled by the inevitable messes that come along with providing medical care to animals.

  2. Create a warm and inviting waiting room, including providing light snacks and beverages (keep toxins in mind: chocolate and grapes/raisins aren’t a good choice in a vet hospital!) for clients while they wait. If the scale of your practice justifies the expense, adding a greeter to your waiting room who can attend to client needs and calm/console anxious clients can be a hospitality home run.

  3. Keep in mind that your patients are animals, but your clients are people so you’re in a client services industry whether you like it or not! “The customer is always right” does NOT apply to matters of medicine and you shouldn’t put an unreasonable client ahead of your staff, but being aware of client wants and needs are a critical part of running a successful veterinary practice. How your hospital looks and smells makes the first impression on clients and, if that impression goes well, sets your staff up for success in their client interactions.


AVP provides guidance to our practice partners on operational excellence and how to take their practice growth to the next level. If you’re interested in learning more about how a partnership with AVP could be the right fit for you and your practice please reach out to us at to find out more.

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