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News and Information about Dogs, Cats, and Pet Products

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You know how it is after you’ve been sleeping for a few hours – you normally wake up by degrees. That’s what happened to me a couple years ago in the wee hours of the morning. It was the middle of April, but I’d been dreaming that I was wearing a very itchy, fuzzy winter hat. In my first few moments of actual consciousness, I heard the distant rumble of thunder. As my gradually-opening eyes revealed dim flashes of lightning as well, I realized there was a quivering pile of panting pet fur sitting on my forehead. “Grant,” I mumbled to our trembling Shih-Tzu mix. Maneuvering around his curly tail, I reached over to check the time and my hand sloshed into a panicked puddle of drool on my pillow. Grant’s, not mine. That’s when I knew we needed a solution.

Like most dogs, Grant’s hearing is very sensitive – and that makes him extra-petrified of springtime thunderstorms, summer fireworks, and sudden loud noises all year long. After the “Lake Grant Incident,” as it’s come to be known at my house, we took Grant to the Two Bostons Downtown Naperville store to try on his very own ThunderShirt. From the moment we began using it, we knew it was one of the smartest pet investments we’d ever made. And believe me: when it came to Grant’s thunder-terrors, we’d tried nearly everything.

If you’ve ever witnessed a full-on pet panic attack, you know that trying to soothe your kitty or canine verbally can be futile. Sedating drugs can be problematic too, because they can lull your pet into a state of half-awareness. But the ThunderShirt works like a snuggly, full-body hug. To humans of all ages, of course, a hug can be very reassuring. I’ve done work with autistic and Downs Syndrome kids; and just as with infants, experts recommend swaddling as a proven calming aid. The Thundershirt demonstrates that this very same principle actually applies to our dogs and cats as well. In fact these days, we call Grant’s ThunderShirt his “Huggie Shirt.”

Studies show that the ThunderShirt has an impressive 80% success rate among pets experiencing anxiety or stress. The first time we put it on Grant (he’s on the right in the photos below), he flopped down on the carpet and began snoring away in the middle of a near-monsoon. The rest of us snuck off to the kitchen for a quiet little high-five Snoopy dance, while the lights above us flickered uncertainly.

Thundershirt_Montage

The ThunderShirt is a lightweight, machine-washable spandex and Velcro wrap that works by exerting gentle, constant pressure all around your pet’s rib cage. It takes just seconds to put on, but it provides direct feedback to your pet’s brain — like a little whisper that says “shhh, stop panting.” Once this rapid-breathing impulse is calmed, respiration begins to ease back to normal and the body relaxes as well. With most pets, a visible difference can be seen in minutes.

The ThunderShirt also works with our pup Maizy, who weathers thunderstorms like a champ but tends to get anxious around new people. It’s great for cats as well — an extremely effective, affordable, drug-free solution for any situation that provokes pet stress. To see the ThunderShirt in action and help your furry friend get fitted properly, just visit any of our Two Bostons stores! Ask us about other drug-free anxiety aids, as well.

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At Halloween, many pets experience an increase in stress, and no wonder. Visitors ring the doorbell at unexpected times throughout the evening. Parties and get-togethers bring strangers in and out of the house at random intervals. Scary movies on AMC Fearfest include booming, startling sound effects. But if you think about it, these types of factors are in play all year long. Thunder, fireworks, neighborhood barbeques, motorcycles, marching bands, birthday parties – to a pet with an extra-keen sense of hearing (like our dog Grant), any one of these elements can provoke a disabling anxiety attack. Fortunately, there are solutions available that don’t require harsh sedatives.

ThunderShirt
Remember when you were a little kid, and you got really upset over something, and Mom or Dad would give you a great big hug? To humans of all ages, hugs can be very calming and reassuring — in fact, experts highly recommend swaddling as an effective calming aid for infants and even certain young children. But did you know that this very same principle can actually apply to your dog or cat?

Pet parents who have witnessed an anxiety attack know exactly what happens – your pet pants, and drools, and shakes uncontrollably, sometimes trying to crawl into or underneath or behind things in a panicked attempt to flee the scene. If you’ve ever tried to calm an animal in the midst of a full-on anxiety attack, you know how futile it can be. Often they won’t even respond to your familiar voice. In these kinds of cases, the ThunderShirt works like a big, snug hug.

ThunderShirt Swaddling Approach

Ever wonder why doctors recommend swaddling to calm a fussy baby? The same principle applies to the ThunderShirt (which maybe they should consider re-naming “WonderShirt”)!

Not exactly, of course, but the idea is pretty close. In our house we call Grant’s ThunderShirt his “Huggie Shirt” (as in “Hey Grant, let’s get your Huggie Shirt on!”) and he’ll run right over to it. The ThunderShirt uses the same principle as swaddling an infant or hugging a crying child. Its effects can be dramatic – the first time we put it on Grant, he flopped down on the carpet and dozed off in the middle of a bad storm (while the rest of us did a quiet little happy-dance). In fact, studies show that the ThunderShirt has an 80% success rate among pets experiencing a range of stressful situations.

So what is it? It’s a lightweight, machine-washable spandex and Velcro wrap that’s extremely quick and easy to put on. It works by exerting a gentle but constant pressure all around your dog’s rib cage. Many anxiety experts believe that this pressure helps release stress-relieving hormones like endorphins, but it also provides direct feedback to your pet’s brain. With Grant, we’ve found that hyperventilating turns into its own a vicious cycle – once he starts panting rapidly, he can’t stop, and that makes him even more agitated. The ThunderShirt helps calm this rapid-breathing feedback loop; and as breathing eases back to normal, your pet gradually calms down as well. It’s one of the smartest pet investments we ever made.

ThunderShirt Fitting

Once you purchase a properly-fitted ThunderShirt, it’s extremely easy to put on. Our dog Grant runs right over to his like it’s some kind of prize. Which, in a way, it is.

 

Happy Traveler
That brings us to Maizy, our sweet puppy mill dog. Maizy is generally fine with loud or sudden noises – it’s people and situations that provoke her anxiety. Being around strangers, going to the groomer or kennel, taking an unfamiliar car trip – all of these things can get Maizy pretty freaked out. So for her, we use Happy Traveler products from Ark Naturals. These are all-natural, non-habit forming, calming botanical remedies designed by a holistic veterinarian, and formulated specifically for dogs and cats. They’re similar to Bach Rescue Remedy (which we’ve also used with great success). But the thing we especially like about Happy Traveler is that it comes in both capsule form and a super-handy chewable form as well. Maizy LOVES the taste of these little chews, and sees them as her “treats.” So right off the bat, they make any situation seem less stressful – after all, she’s getting something yummy! But this treat also happens to calm her throughout the experience – it doesn’t knock her out like a sedative, it just gently mellows her general mood.

When dealing with an anxious pet at Halloween or any time of year, I should add one thing that we’ve been told by Narnia, the amazing pet behavior school in Plainfield, IL. When pets begin to seem anxious, Narnia reminds us pet parents that it’s important to act as calm, matter-of-fact, and unruffled as we can. Often we want to run to our furry friends, scoop them up to cuddle them, tell them how sweet and good they are. According to Narnia, though, making a “big deal” with our pets when they begin to show signs of stress often reinforces the very behaviors we’re trying to calm and re-shape. This advice has helped us tremendously!

To see the ThunderShirt in action, help your dog get fitted properly, or learn more about wonderful Ark Naturals products, just visit any of our Two Bostons stores!