Key Points Owning a dog can be stressful and a dog owner’s stress can be detected by their dog. A dog owner’s stress can be reduced by a calm d...
ThunderShirt for Dogs: Wrap Your Dog Up in Tranquility
The ThunderShirt for dogs is the best calming wrap on the market.
The Thundershirt for dogs is backed by science.
There are alternatives to the ThunderShirt, including DIY options.
The thunder rolls and the lightning strikes.
Your poor pup is under the bed. Yikes!
You’re frazzled and stressed, don’t know what to do,
But the ThunderShirt for dogs comes to the rescue!
This may be a cute little rhyme, but a thunderstorm is often a truly scary event for dogs. They don’t understand the flashes and loud noises, and that alone is frightening. A ThunderShirt for dogs provides comfort when events occur like loud storms or boisterous fireworks displays.
If you’ve never heard of a ThunderShirt, read on to find out what it is, how it works, and if it is suitable for your dog. If it’s not, you’ll also discover alternatives that work instead.
What Is a ThunderShirt?
ThunderShirt is a specific brand name, but it is a type of calming wrap -- sometimes referred to as a jacket, vest, or shirt -- for dogs who struggle with anxiety.
It wraps and fits snugly around the dog’s midsection to provide comfort and lessen their stress levels when experiencing different types of anxiety-inducing triggers. The shirt is recommended for use during thunderstorms, fireworks, separation anxiety, travel, and vet visits.
The ThunderShirt comes in a wide array of colors, styles, and sizes.
The ThunderShirt is available in seven different colors, including red, pink, blue, and an orange and camo combo.
It comes in three various styles: classic, sport, and polo. The classic and polo are made from a polyester, spandex, and rayon blend, while the sport style is made from 100 percent polyester. Even though each is made from different materials, they all work equally well. The jacket also comes with a patch-like device meant to house specially-formulated pheromones or essential oils to provide an added calming source.
It’s available in seven different sizes for dogs from under eight pounds to dogs over 110 pounds. If your dog is on the border between two different weight classes, they recommend choosing the smaller of the two, unless you choose the polo style which already runs small.
The company also offers custom embroidery for an extra cost.
Since the jacket is most effective when it fits snuggly, it should not hang loosely on your dog. There are velcro straps that allow for a little wiggle room to achieve the best fit.
If the included fitting instructions and diagrams are not clear, the ThunderShirt website provides an instructional video to demonstrate how to fit your dog with the garment.
The key to the effectiveness of the ThunderShirt is the sizing. Based on the sizing chart from the website, chest measurements are provided as well, so in addition to checking their weight, measure your dog’s chest to make sure you’re getting the right fit for them.
How Do ThunderShirts Work?
You may wonder how simply putting a vest on your dog does anything to calm them -- especially if you've witnessed firsthand how out-of-control anxiety and triggers can cause a dog to act. It’s truly heartbreaking since you can’t comfort them with words or explain that a thunderstorm is nothing to be scared of.
Believe it or not, though, there is some science and studies behind the design of this special shirt.
Science Behind the Shirt
The ThunderShirt gives a hug-like feel as it wraps around your dog and stays there securely with velcro straps. This tight hug-like feel signals to your dog that everything is going to be just fine. Rather than a brief hug, this jacket remains in place for an extended period to give your dog a long-lasting feeling of security.
Veterinary Centers of America Hospitals explains, “When worn properly, anxiety wraps distribute pressure over the back and sides of the dog’s chest, serving as a calming ‘hug.’ Scientifically, gentle pressure releases chemicals called endorphins that promote a sense of well-being. That [is] why stroking a dog firmly and slowly calms him down while a quick pat on the head gets him more excited.”
Much like some humans find great relief in weighted blankets, the ThunderShirt provides the same sort of sensory respite for your pup.
Studies Behind the Shirt
While there are no rigorous studies on the effectiveness of the Thundershirt, according to VetHelpDirect the ThunderShirt is impactful. They conducted a study with the intention of learning whether wearing a ThunderShirt would reduce symptoms of anxiety specifically in cases of thunderstorms.
The study found that “89% of the owners found it to be at least partially effective and reported an improvement in their dog’s behavior.” It's important to note, however, that only 18 dogs participated in the research.
In a 2017 study by Fish et al., the team examined the effect of wearing a telemetry jacket -- similar in design to a ThunderShirt -- on behavioral and physiologic reactions in dogs.
In their experiments, the researchers found that “dogs that wore a telemetry vest had an 8% lower heart rate than dogs that did not wear a vest. This observation is similar to that seen in dogs with an anxiety disorder treated with a commercially available wrap (ThunderShirt).”
There were several limitations in this study. First, they used only Labrador retrievers. Second, the study only observed the subjects’ responses to a sound stimulus (thunderstorms). Lastly, the tests were short (nine minutes). These limitations can't prove that the shirt works for longer periods for different kinds of dogs or stimuli, but it is overall compelling information.
The studies show a significant improvement in a dog’s behavior and lowered heart rates when faced with the anxiety produced by noise. A similar result is achieved when faced with different sources of anxiety, as well.
Every dog is unique and responds to stimuli in different ways, so even if studies show that a certain product works for many dogs in a particular situation, that doesn’t guarantee it will work for your dog.
The best way to test the effectiveness of this shirt is to give it a go with your dog. Trial and error FTW!
Take Into Consideration
Even though there isn’t much scientific research to back up the claims that it definitively works, there are a lot of positive testimonials and some proof in favor of the ThunderShirt. Recognize, though, that there are several points to consider before purchasing.
If your dog is larger than 110 pounds or under eight pounds, then you may have to look for another option. Looking at other brands on Amazon, none have sizes larger than ThunderShirt. ThunderShirt offers a 100 percent satisfaction guarantee, so it's returnable within 60 days if it doesn’t work or fit right.
To desensitize the noise of the velcro, press it together and pull it apart at various times without putting on the shirt, and give your dog a treat at the same time. Dogs eventually get used to the sound and there isn't a reaction when you go to put it on them or take it off.
If your dog is experiencing anxiety, the possibility of alleviating that makes looking into the ThunderShirt worth it. If nothing else, the shirt is not going to harm your pet in any way.
Frequently Asked Questions About the ThunderShirt
As with most innovative inventions on the market, there are a lot of things to wonder and speculate about. Below are some of the most common FAQs when it comes to the ThunderShirt.
Does Every Dog Respond Well to the ThunderShirt?
This is a subjective question, of course. Since every dog is different, the answer truly depends on your dog’s temperament, demeanor, and what they are used to or comfortable with.
If your dog is accustomed to wearing a harness when going for a walk, the transition to wearing a calming wrap is much easier, but there are still some challenges. The amount of body coverage from the ThunderShirt is larger than a harness; the harness uses thinner, nylon straps, and usually has buckles to secure it, as opposed to the velcro used on a ThunderShirt. The material is different as well, offering a much different feel against their skin.
Overall, it is likely that the ThunderShirt ends up being more comfortable than a regular harness, making it a welcomed alternative.
Is the ThunderShirt Safe?
As far as safety is concerned, always talk to your vet before trying any new products or methods that bring up any hesitation or questions.
In some cases, a calming wrap isn’t going to eliminate the problem, so never jump to conclusions and assume the cause of your dog’s behaviors.
It is always better to err on the side of caution and request a complete diagnosis of their issues from a medical professional. After an examination, your vet may find that the cause of your dog’s anxiety is related to a medical condition rather than environmental factors.
Take note of the materials the shirt is made from to see if your pet has any known problems with them. If any irritation or allergic reactions occur, remove the vest immediately and contact your vet. It's also worth contacting the company.
Your dog may experience discomfort if you fit the garment too loosely or get a size that’s too big. The ThunderShirt is meant to fit snuggly, so a loose fit could cause too much movement of the shirt against the fur and skin which leads to rubbing, irritation, and potentially raw skin.
How Long Can the ThunderShirt Be Worn?
In ThunderShirt’s “Frequently Asked Questions” section, they recommend leaving the ThunderShirt on for only an hour or two when first trying it out to make sure it fits right and is not irritating your pet. The company claims that problems are rare, but they do occur.
After your dog is used to wearing it, the company claims you can leave it on for extended periods but they still recommend removing it a couple of times during the day. It has to come off at some point to get washed anyway, and it is machine-washable.
During warmer times of the year and/or if your dog spends a lot of time outside, the shirt might be too hot, causing excessive sweating, and making it very uncomfortable. Experiencing some relief from anxiety in exchange for being hot and uncomfortable isn’t a good trade-off.
As mentioned, polyester and spandex are not very breathable materials. This is another important reason to leave the shirt on for only short amounts of time during warm weather. Again, you want your dog to be free from anxiety, but not at the cost of a heat stroke. The classic and polo styles are blended with rayon, which is a lighter and more breathable material, so these styles might be a little more comfortable for summer.
How Much Does the ThunderShirt Cost?
Going into 2023, a ThunderShirt size large is $49.95 on their website, but a Mellow Shirt in the same size is only $28.99 on Amazon. Mellow Shirt advertises over 80% success rate, free shipping, and free returns on Amazon.
In the article from Veterinary Centers of America Hospitals, they don’t specifically recommend a certain brand but they do list a few calming wrap options including The Original Anxiety Wrap, ThunderShirt, Mellow Shirt, Surgi-Snuggly, and Calm Coat.
In many “best of" lists -- BestReviews, Insider, retrievist.akc -- the ThunderShirt comes out as the clear winner, but Mellow Shirt and others appear on those lists as well.
Alternatives To the ThunderShirt
If your dog simply refuses to wear a ThunderShirt, it’s not a good idea to force the issue. They can harm themselves while trying to get it off, causing more anxiety than the jacket is meant to alleviate. Likewise, your dog may be in desperate need of relief, and you simply cannot afford the ThunderShirt. If this is the case, there are other ways to calm their nerves.
DIY Calming Wrap
If you have an immediate need for a calming wrap or don’t have the resources to spend on one, there are ways to create your own using items you may already have in your home.
This video from Top Dog Tips shows how to make your own DIY dog anxiety wrap using a roll of bandaging tape. Utilize the same method using a long scarf if you need a solution in a hurry and don’t have a bandage roll.
The method in the video relies on a self-adhesive bandage, so if you use a scarf, leave enough of the scarf’s length at the beginning of the wrap and then tie it together with the other end when you’re finished.
ThunderWorks, the parent company of ThunderShirt, also makes the ThunderEase Calming Collar. It is activated by your dog’s body heat and releases the Adaptil formula – a pheromone that mimics a mother when nursing her puppies. Going into 2023, one collar is listed at $19.99 on their website.
The collar is much easier to put on, so it’s a good alternative if you need to use it in a hurry. It has an adjustable strap and a simple buckle to secure it. Also, your dog is likely more used to wearing a collar than a full jacket.
The limitations are that the effects last only four weeks before you need to replace it and it comes in only two sizes -- small, which is suitable for those pups under 14”, and large, which fits 14-24”.
Diffuser and Spray
ThunderWorks also makes the ThunderEase Diffuser Kit and Calming Spray. The diffuser plugs into a wall outlet and releases the pheromone throughout the day. You have the option to choose a 30, 60, or 90-day unit. They also sell refills for the diffuser.
The spray comes in a spritzing bottle and is useful for short periods. The collar, diffuser, and spray all use the same Adaptil formula; they are simply different methods to use for various situations.
Calming Dog Bed
The purpose of a calming dog wrap is to make your dog feel secure. They feel as if they are receiving a constant and reassuring hug. The Calming Cuddle Bed from Calming Dog serves this purpose as well. A calming dog bed is a soft bed made with faux fur so your dog sinks comfortably down into it. It has bolstered sides to wrap around their body to make them feel secure.
Calming Inserts are also available to add to the calming effects of the dog bed. Each dog bed is equipped with a pocket in which the insert fits. The inserts have a valerian oil-based formula with other calming aromatics.
Your dog can’t take the bed with them wherever they go, but if they suffer from separation anxiety, many times they exhibit those stressful behaviors at night. Giving them their calming dog bed makes them feel more at ease during this time.
Calming Supplements and Treats
Different types of ingestible supplements and treats are formulated to calm a dog’s anxiety. Their effectiveness depends on giving them enough time beforehand to get into the dog’s system.
CBD oil works with a dog’s regulatory system to bring them back to a more even-keeled temperament. Hemp oil works similarly but is not quite as potent. Countless customer testimonials attest to the benefits of these supplements which can be given directly by mouth or put into their water, food, or treats. There are also treats made with CBD or hemp in case you don’t want to use the oil itself.
Calming Zen Chews contain natural ingredients like chamomile, L-theanine, and L-tryptophan that induce a subdued state. If you know that there is an event that might cause some anxiety in your dog, give them a treat 15-30 minutes beforehand to allow time for the ingredients to take effect.
Turn the television or radio on at a low volume to mask the sounds of a thunderstorm or fireworks. Consider playing similar recorded sounds beforehand to desensitize your dog to them. Water fountains and other calming sounds, like a rain forest or instrumental music, work as well.
Toys and Puzzles
Sometimes a toy or puzzle is enough to distract your dog from their anxiety. If your dog’s nervous behavior is triggered by loud noises, a toy or puzzle may not be sufficient, but it also works tremendously well in cases of separation anxiety.
Maybe your dog is left alone for long periods. In that case, they may become nervous and exhibit anxiety symptoms including destroying objects and furniture, bathroom accidents in inappropriate places, barking, whining, and trying to escape. These are indications that they have formed a strong attachment to their owners or a particular member of the family.
Leave a toy or puzzle for them while you’re away. It occupies and distracts them from the fact that they are alone. Give it to them right before you leave so that the cues and initial departure won’t be as noticeable. They feel much better by the time they are done playing with the toy or solving the puzzle than if they are focused on the fact that you’re leaving. This teaches them that they can cope with being alone.
There are many different options from plush toys to mind-stimulating puzzles for all kinds of dogs.
Take your dog on a long walk or to the dog park before an event that may induce some anxiety. Play frisbee or fetch with them and give them plenty of exercise. After you get back, they are tired and ready for a nap.
To reinforce this calm state of mind and body, give them one of the supplements or treats listed above and give them a comfort item once they are in their calming dog bed. Whenever the storm or fireworks begin, or you get ready to leave, they are far less likely to have a significant reaction.
The most crucial point is getting them past that initial trigger. Once they manage the noises or cues at the beginning, they become more desensitized to those that follow.
Stay With Your Companion
Try not to leave your dog alone if you know that there is an event that normally causes them anxiety. Even if you must be away, hire a dog sitter if you’re able. Your dog is calmer just having someone near them. By having somebody with your dog, they are far less likely to exhibit those behaviors like bathroom accidents and tearing up furniture.
Calmly Wrapping it Up
ThunderShirt is the best calming dog wrap on the market. Even so, it may not work for every dog. Much like with humans, there is no magical solution to anxiety. You may have to try out several options and see which works best for your dog. The market is full of many different options.
Once you discover what works for your dog, you can take joy in the fact that the storm is over, the clouds have parted, and your calm dog has a bright and sunny demeanor.