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Anxiety and phobias in dogs are real problems. One common cause of anxiety is thunderstorms. As soon as many dogs hear thunderstorms rumbling in the distance they race to the nearest closet or under the bed, panting, drooling, shaking and whining all the way. Fireworks are also another source of stress, making dogs cower behind furniture, knocking over plants and lamps in an effort to escape the next big BOOM.
How do you comfort dogs with this kind of anxiety?
In the past, medication was a very popular option. Several drugs on the market are prescribed for these types of fears, the most commonly used drug being Acepromazine. Other examples of dog anti-anxiety medications include clomipramine (Clomicalm®), fluoxetine (Prozac®) or amitriptyline (Elavil®).
It can work but generally, medication is the last resort for treating dog anxiety.
Most veterinarians prefer to treat these anxiety problems non-pharmacologically if possible.
Some pet parents prefer to not used drugs and look for other options. Desensitization training is popular but requires a lot of work on the owner’s part. It is also not effective immediately, and many owners look for something faster. When that happens many turn to products designed to give their dog a “therapeutic hug.” The two biggest names on the market are the Anxiety Wrap™ and the Thundershirt™. They are actively recommended by veterinarians, dog trainers and canine behaviorists worldwide as an alternative to drugs.
What are the Anxiety Wrap/Thundershirt™?
Both the Anxiety Wrap and Thundershirt™ are made of lightweight, breathable material which uses maintained pressure and acupressure to relieve stress and lessen fears and anxieties in dogs.
The products fit over your dog’s head and envelopes your dog lightly but securely. It basically gives the dog a “therapeutic hug.” Most dogs find it easy to move in one of these items, and it is easy to get one on and off.
Both the Anxiety Wrap and the Thundershirt™ have been featured in magazines and on TV in programs such as The Today Show and Animal Planet’s “It’s Me or The Dog.” If you’ve seen any of these shows, you may have noticed the behavior of the dogs after the wrap has been placed on them. Typically, the dog seems much more relaxed and might even go back to playing once the owner leaves.
How is the Thundershirt or Anxiety Wrap Used?
The product is used by placing on your dog prior to a stressful event if possible. It can also be used during the event but is more effective when you dog isn’t already agitated or fearful.
These products are marketed for thunderstorm-related anxiety but can also help with other fears and phobias including:
- Fireworks fears
- Dogs fearful of nail clipping
- Excessive barking
- Constant jumping
- Travel phobias
- Nervous foster dogs or rescued dogs
- Separation anxiety
A Vet’s Review of the Anxiety Wrap and the Thundershirt™
We tested both products and found that in general, they do work. In my experience it does not work on EVERY dog but it works on enough that I recommend trying it. It is a great option to drug therapy for those it does work on.
The Anxiety Wrap was the first technology of its type and already has a 12-year history of effective calming of dogs’ with anxious behaviors. In one study, the Anxiety Wrap was found “89% effective…A safe and effective treatment for canine thunderstorm phobia” (Clinical research study conducted by Dr. Nicholas Dodman and Nicole Cottam MS, ACAAB, Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, Massachusetts).
Tips on Buying the Anxiety Wrap and the Thundershirt™
- Get the right size! It is extremely important for you to purchase the correct size that fits your dog and not to guess on the sizing. There are at least 11 sizes in some styles and you will need the one that is going to fit, not too loose but able to give your dog the comfort necessary while still being effective. I believe the best way to do this is to follow the company’s measuring instructions or to take your dog in to a store that sells the products and have them fit your dog.
- Read the literature. Both products come with information on anxiety and how the item is used. Please make sure you read it so you get the most out of the product.
- Use the online help. I love the fact that the Anxiety Wrap has free online support and a treatment program from professional dog trainer and Wrap inventor Susan Sharpe. She helps you create a positive reinforcement treatment program to correctly help your pet that makes the product much more effective.
Testimonials on the Anxiety Wrap and the Thundershirt™
“I have recommended the Anxiety Wrap with much success in my practice of veterinary behavioral medicine. The balanced and specific support it provides has helped reduce fears and phobias associated with thunderstorms and other stressful event in many of my patients.” Dr. Herron, Behavioral Medicine Clinic, Department of Veterinary Clinical Sciences, The Ohio State University
“…Tini is definitely relaxed. We had a GREAT night last night even with all the lightning and thunder…slept right through! As far as I’m concerned your product is a miracle!!!” Robin Mapps, Columbia City, IN
“..ordered the Wrap several months ago for my elderly friend’s Boston Terrier to help during thunderstorms. While the dog is not completely calm during storms, we have been able to eliminate the 6 mg.(!!) of Valium we had been using without much success. Thank you so much. Our veterinarians have started recommending it citing our success.” Sue, USA
Tracie Hotchner, pet expert and author of The Dog Bible and The Cat Bible as well as the host of weekly radio shows on Sirius/XM, WLIU, and WOR710, recently experienced how The Anxiety Wrap works first-hand:
“One not-so-fine day one of my very own dogs, Scooby Doo, woke up and was suddenly thunderstorm-phobic. When the thunderstorm rolled in, Scooby came over to me trembling and panting and then he tried to squeeze underneath my desk. He’s over 100 lbs. so there is not room for him and my legs under there! I slipped him into the Anxiety Wrap. The Anxiety Wrap had not been on his body five minutes when Scooby Doo was a changed man – and I was a true believer! Happy ending: Scooby Doo slides into his Anxiety Wrap at the least sign of a noisy storm and is a braver boy.”
In my opinion, either of these wraps (the Anxiety Wrap and the Thundershirt™) are effective enough to warrant trying them on your dog. They do not work for every dog but there is a good chance they can really help.