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You probably know dog parents like my friend Ellen who used a ThunderShirt—with great success—to soothe her nervous Keeshond during thunderstorms and neighborhood fireworks. Now it turns out that a cat ThunderShirt is available for our feline friends—and some cats just love them.
For Ferris Bueller, a badly abused Norwegian Forest cat, a ThunderShirt was a true lifesaver. He’d failed three foster placements before my friend Sarah got him and fitted him with a ThunderShirt. The wrap enabled her to address his anxiety issues and even train him to walk on leash.
“The gentle compression literally affects his nerves and he is less manic,” Sarah says. “I can ask Ferris if he wants his jacket and he’ll drop down and let me put it on him. It is worth every penny!”
Not all cats take to it, though. Another friend reports that her cat just wanted out of the pressure wrap. “He’d prefer me to be in it with him,” she concluded.
At our house, we deal with feline anxiety over loud noises (contractors, storms, and seasonal fireworks) by making sure the cats are secure in the house and have access to cozy hiding places and an extra litter box. But maybe this year, I’ll try an anxiety wrap on the famously skittish Mr. Tippy.
Let’s find out more about them.
How Cat ThunderShirts and Anxiety Wraps Work
The ThunderShirt (which looks like a vest) is a pressure wrap that calms anxious pets. If your cat likes to be held and comforted, they’re likely to get reassurance from wearing it. You can use it in just about any situation where your cat is likely to feel anxious: to calm your cat before putting them in a carrier, when a storm is approaching, or fireworks are going to happen.
The ThunderShirt was invented by engineer Phil Blizzard, whose goldendoodle, Dosi, was frightened by storms. A friend suggested swaddling the dog the way people swaddle babies for comfort. So one night, with a storm approaching, Blizzard and his wife used a t-shirt and duct tape to fashion a comforting wrap for Dosi. It was a success. The pup, who usually shivered and hid during a storm, settled down. Fast forward a few years: Blizzard and a group of his friends formed the company that would produce the ThunderShirt.
A study in the Journal of Veterinary Behavior, conducted by a group that included animal scientist Temple Grandin, concluded, essentially, that it works for some dogs, and “can be used with behavior modification programming and medication as an adjunct treatment option to assist dogs diagnosed with anxiety disorder to reduce heart rate.”
Can a Cat ThunderShirt Calm Your Kitty?
Cat ThunderShirts came on the market a few years ago due to demand: some cat owners were buying the smallest sizes offered for dogs. It wraps snugly around the cat’s torso, providing a sensation of light, constant pressure.
To talk your cat into wearing the vest, don’t wait until the fireworks start. The ThunderShirt manual advises an incremental introduction. Let your cat get used to seeing the vest on a bed or the ground. Maybe place a small treat on the folded vest, creating a positive association. Once your cat is familiar with the vest, try putting it on them according to instructions and leave it on for a few minutes. If all goes well, the cat will soon able to wear it long enough to weather a storm or the 4th of July.
Blizzard told Forbes magazine that a cat’s reaction to wearing the ThunderShirt is often to lay down immediately. “Most cats will kind of stand there and slump on to their side,” he said. “Cat owners posted videos.”
Not to worry, they’re just getting adjusted, according to the ThunderWorks online FAQ. Give them some time and encourage them to move. “Most cats quickly learn that they can still move freely.”
Online reviews of the ThunderShirt are, like the ones from my friends, either strongly positive or strongly negative. For some cats, a pressure wrap makes a stressful situation worse. For other cats (and their grateful owners) it brings blissful relief.
If, like me, you want to try and reduce your feline housemates’ 4th of July stress, read on for cat ThunderShirt details and additional anxiety-relieving options:
The cat-sized ThunderShirt is marketed as effective for more than 80% of cats. In addition to helping your cat stay calm during storms, fireworks, and other stressful situations, it can help control inappropriate scratching, marking, and meowing. The cat ThunderShirt comes in three sizes. Size up if your cat falls between two sizes.
Small (less than 9 pounds)
Medium (9 to 13 pounds)
Large (more than 13 pounds)
More Tools for Relieving Cat Anxiety
What if a wrap doesn’t work? Some felines, especially those who’d resist wearing any other clothing or harnesses, just don’t take to the cat ThunderShirt. However, there are a few other options to try and relieve cat anxiety.
If a ThunderShirt doesn’t work, try:
- Distraction: When the anxiety is caused by noise (such as a thunderstorm or fireworks), you can create a cocoon of safety and distraction. Drawing the curtains, turning on a fan, playing soft music, or turning the television on low can all help. Provide your cat with a safe place to retreat, with a cat bed and favorite toys—and a litter box nearby.
- Pheromone-based therapy: Many cat owners swear by pheromone sprays like Feliway to reduce anxiety and stress. It’s available as a refillable diffuser and as a spray or wipes. The people who make the ThunderShirt make a similar product, ThunderEase for Cats.
- Medicine: An over-the-counter medication for feline anxiety is Bach Rescue Remedy, a homeopathic solution of herbs. And when all else fails, do ask your veterinarian about anti-anxiety medications.