Do your pets behave differently when there’s a thunderstorm coming? Does your pet cower or hide during holiday fireworks displays? If you answered yes to either of these, you’re not alone. Millions of pets experience episodes of anxiety related to loud or unexpected noises. Many pet owners have also heard about Thunder Jackets and how they can help during anxiety episodes.
Sound phobias are common in dogs and cats and are based on each animal’s self-protective instinct. So when a storm is approaching, or loud booms suddenly issue from the sky, your pets’ instincts tell them to take shelter. But often this instinctive response results in prolonged periods of anxiety for your pet—and for you. Let’s look at how sound phobia manifests in dogs, and how thunder garments can help reduce stress for your pet.
Sound phobia in dogs
Dogs are equipped with an array of survival instincts designed to keep them safe. Among these is an inherent fear of loud noises, such as those associated with a thunderstorm. Our pets are more tuned-in to subtle weather changes than we are, and their senses are far more sensitive than ours. Not only can our dogs hear thunder approaching from a greater distance than we can, but they can also sense small changes in barometric pressure and ozone levels. This means that your pet may begin to show signs of anxiety even before you sense a storm’s approach. Fireworks create a separate problem, especially given the number of people who begin celebrating July 4th a bit early. For dogs, fireworks are random, unexpected events and can be quite chaotic, especially for animals with sound phobia.
How anxiety manifests in dogs
Your pet may exhibit an array of symptoms related to anxiety. These include:
• Shivering, trembling
• Panting, rapid breathing
• Excessive salivation, drooling
• Loss of appetite
Over the long term, anxiety can result in behavioral issues, such as over-grooming, digestive issues, and destructive tendencies. Severe anxiety attacks can be dangerous for dogs, especially if they are not confined to the house. Outdoor pets have been known to scale fences to escape loud noises, putting them at risk of becoming lost or struck by traffic.
Evolution of the thunder jacket
Scientists have long searched for effective ways to treat anxiety, both in animals and humans. Scientist Temple Grandin studied how gentle compression could reduce anxiety in cattle before slaughter. She found that a gentle squeeze or “hug” could calm the animals and make processing more humane. But Temple’s work had greater implications—she found that “hugging” could reduce stress in humans with certain types of autism. Temple’s “Hug Box” went on to have far-reaching implications, and it is this concept that evolved into today’s thunder jackets.
Do thunder jackets really work?
A compression garment provides a gentle hugging sensation and thus encourages the release of calming chemicals called endorphins into the bloodstream. Endorphins are neuropeptides. These peptide hormones make us (and our pets) feel safe and their release has a calming effect, especially during episodes of anxiety. The success of compression garments has been largely anecdotal, with pet owners reporting that their animals exhibit fewer stress symptoms when wearing the garment.
Here are a few tips you can try to boost the effectiveness of pressure garments on your pet:
• Choose the proper size for your pet. A compression garment should be snug enough to give your pet a gentle but firm “hug”. It should allow uninhibited breathing and freedom of movement.
• Try the garment on your pet during pleasant times. One way to acclimate your pet to a new garment is to put it on your animal when there are no negative or stressful stimuli. This will teach your pet not to fear the garment.
• Be with your pet. You are among your pet’s greatest sources of comfort, so your support during a stressful period is important. Stroke your animal gently, as the physical contact can help calm your animal. Your pet will also draw from your calm mood and may de-stress a bit.
• Create a soothing environment. Choose a spot where your pet feels safe and create a comfy “hideout” where they can retreat in the event of a storm or fireworks. Include some favorite blankets, toys, etc. to make your pet feel secure.
• Remember, your pet may take time to recover. Some dogs take longer for their moods to rebound after an anxiety episode. Give your pet time to readjust. Chances are they’ll leave their hiding spot when they feel calmer.
How long can you keep a thunder jacket on a dog?
If needed, your dog can wear his or her Thunder Jacket all day long. It's not bad for your pet. However, it is advised to remove them for about 10 minutes every 1 to 2 hours in order to avoid irritation. If you notice any annoyance or irritation at all, it is suggested that you remove the jacket and try again another time.
We hope you find these tips useful. Check your local pet supply stores or shop online for a compression garment that suits your pet. Have questions—ask your vet!
Cecily Kellogg is a pet lover who definitely has crazy cat lady leanings. Her pets are all shelter rescues, including the dog, who is scared of the cats. She spent eight years working as a Veterinary Technician before becoming a writer. Today she writes all over the web, including here at Figo.