Summer is a wonderful time for dogs and humans alike with more hours of daylight, better weather to enjoy walks and time outdoors, and an increase in exercise and quality time. Summer unfortunately carries with it a dark side that is very frightening and even panic inducing to many dogs: thunderstorms and fireworks.
The barometric pressure drops, static electricity, and of course noise associated with thunderstorms combine to terrify many dogs. The constant barrage of fireworks blown off in the evening on and around July 4th are also often terrifying. Here in Florida where I live and practice veterinary medicine, we almost always have a strong thunderstorm every afternoon and fireworks are legal, which makes for a rather prolonged pre and post July 4th nightly fireworks serenade. Summer here can be especially stressful at times for many of our canine kids.
When this invention first came out years ago, all I could think of was how silly it was and how consumers can be duped into buying anything. Over time, however, one credible client after another came in proclaiming that it really helped.
The Thundershirt is a vest that fits snugly with uniform pressure throughout the trunk of a dog. It thereby creates a swaddling type affect on the dog similar to that which a human infant experiences when placed in a swaddle.
With so many success stories, having a Labrador Retriever that suffers severe thunderstorm and noise anxiety, I decided to give a a try (86 pounds of pure panic is not fun for Bernie or his human family). On the directions, it states that the shirt may not work until the fourth or fifth use and to make sure you use it at least this many times before judging the product. For Bernie, I did not see any improvement at first, but clearly saw a marked difference on the fourth use and thereafter.
However, be careful and do not make the mistake of leaving it on all of the time, as it can create a refractory effect where the dog is no longer influenced by the vest. Use it only in anticipation of times of stress, then remove after the stressful element has passed (storm, vet visit, evening of fireworks, etc.).
I cannot say that my Lab and many other dogs that use thunderstorms are completely without stress after its application, but it most certainly take some edge off, often eliminating the need for pharmaceutical sedation. Combined with another canine anti-stress innovation below, it can be especially effective.
One good strategy to maximize the efficacy of the Thundershirt is to spray it down with a soothing pheromone. A pheromone is a hormone that is secreted by animals that goes airborne and is detected by smell.
Lactating female dogs secrete a pheromone during milk let down to calm and soothe her puppies so that they will relax and nurse effectively. The scent is imperceptible to humans. Pharmaceutical company Ceva isolated this pheromone and literally put it in a bottle in a product called Adaptil. It can be used as a spray that lasts for 6-8 hours or a plug in diffuser that constantly covers a 700 square foot area with the scent.
The diffuser can get a bit pricey so I find the best use of Adaptil is to use the spray to spray down the Thundershirt in anticipation of a thunderstorm or an evening of fireworks. I have also seen it work quite well for dogs that experience anxiety for vet visits or travel anxiety in a car or airplane.
Dr. Roger Welton is a practicing veterinarian and highly regarded media personality through a number of topics and platforms. In addition to being passionate about integrative veterinary medicine for which he is a nationally renowned expert, Dr. Welton was also an accomplished college lacrosse player and remains to this day very involved in the sport. He is president of Maybeck Animal Hospital , runs the successful veterinary/animal health blogs Web-DVM and Dr. Roger’s Holistic Veterinary Care, and fulfills his passion for lacrosse through his lacrosse and sport blog, The Creator’s Game.