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Posted on 01-29-2013

I see so many clients that often ask me “is there anything I can do to relieve my pet’s stress?” In the past, we would recommend trying to place them in a calm space w/ music or TV as background sound or entertainment to divert their sensitivities to thunder or fireworks or even prescribe anti-anxiety medications like Xanax to reduce their feelings of panic.

Now, in patients with moderate stress or panic we are recommending the Thundershirt. It is an innovative way to help reduce your pet’s feelings of fear by applying gentle pressure to your pet constantly so they feel a sense of relief from their anxiety. Children with autism suffer greatly with anxiety and pressure shirts have been proven to help reduce these feelings significantly. Babies do much better if swaddled and tend to calm themselves much faster. The Thundershirt is based on the same premise that a constant touch/pressure will help self soothe your cat or dog.

My personal experience with the Thundershirt with my own pets has been a good one. I have a 7 yr. old Weimaraner named Quincey that gets highly agitated and anxious when he feels a storm coming or hears those bottle rocket fireworks which seem to be a crowd favorite in our neighborhood even at random times of the year. He will start to pace and whine and that sets off my German Shorthair Pointer Burndadebt to become insecure and then she attacks him and bites his ears. It is absolute chaos not to mention a bloody mess when the thunder rolls in or the fireworks soar at our house. I decided to try out both my dogs in the shirt. I ordered it online. Very easy and it arrived quickly. 

Now for the fun part…trying to figure out how to put the thing on. I will tell you that it was quite humorous to watch my husband and I try to stick this thing together. The Velcro is really strong so once it is in place it stays in place! We got exhausted from trying to get Quincey to sit still while Burnadebt ran around the room poking fun at him. So, recommendation #1 apply shirt in a quiet space without your other pets or children around. It will reduce everyone’s stress. I feel like a pro now and I can get that shirt on fast as lightning but it definitely took reading the instructions a few times to finally figure it out.

I put the shirt on both my dogs when it storms, we are having guests over, I want them to be quiet because my child is sleeping or he starts his five o’clock witching hour of non- stop screaming, the lawn company is coming to cut the grass, the cable guy is in the house, during fireworks, when they come with me to work, and when it is cold outside. I no longer have to rush home to give Quincey his Xanax like I had to in the past. Also, if I see the weather is changing prior to leaving the house I just put them in their shirts and so far no destroyed furniture or traumatized ears and I have been using it for greater than a year.

Our first experience upon washing was that when the shirt was not pet rolled, the Velcro not secured and when placed in a general load of towels it becomes the largest cotton ball you have ever seen and once the hair and fabric fibers get attached to the Velcro it is almost impossible to get it all unstuck. Needless to say we had to purchase another one. Lesson learned!

Some helpful hints regarding the care of your pet’s thundershirt:

• Before washing the shirt lay it out on a table & use a pet roller over the Velcro & stretch material to remove hair

• Put the shirt back together w/ Velcro attached where it normally attaches when worn and slip into a delicates bag

• Never wash it with another Thundershirt or worse yet anything cotton or delicate

• Hang it to dry

One other use to note is that at Oliver Animal Hospital we have been using the shirt with many of our post-surgery cases. It is soothing and calming for our patients in recovery to feel swaddled in the shirt and also it helps to provide gentle pressure over surgical sites that have might swell once the patient gets up and moving. This gentle pressure helps reduce the formation of seromas (pocketing of fluid that can form at surgery sites if the patient moves too much or the site is dependently located on the body like the belly area). We have used it quite a few times and been very impressed with our patient’s recovery. In fact, one patient recently who had surgery to remove a malignant mass on his chest came in for suture removal and he wanted to have the shirt put back on as soon as the sutures were out. He felt safer in his shirt while at the vet. We have not tested the shirt on a cat yet but plan to in the near future.

Not all pets will get the same benefit from the shirt and it cannot be left on pets that are left outside in temperatures where they are predisposed to heat stroke but it is worth a try in your home if you have a pet with similar stresses like my Quincey.

You can check out their website at http://www.thundershirt.com/ I have seen the Thundershirt recently at Bed, Bath and Beyond for all sizes $39.95 and you can use your 20% off coupon as well lowering the price even further.

Dr. Kate Oliver

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