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Inventor Phil Blizzard Reveals ThunderShirt's Secrets to Relieving Pet Anxiety

This article originally appeared on Dr. Mahaney’s Pet-Lebrity News column on as Inventor Phil Blizzard Reveals ThunderShirt's Secrets to Relieving Pet Anxiety.

Pet anxiety around holiday celebrations is certainly a topic about which I feel passionate as a veterinarian (see petMD’s The Daily Vet: Top 5 Summertime Pet Safety Tips).

After all, many health concerns can arise in our canine and feline companions suffering from anxious behaviors associated with travel, confinement, fireworks, thunderstorms, and other circumstances. Dogs and cats can vocalize, inappropriately urinate and defecate, salivate profusely, and even cause self-harm while destroying or ingesting household materials while attempting to escape anxiety-provoking environments. It's always best for pet owners to be proactive in minimizing their companion animals’ stress and anxiety instead of dealing with the consequences.

As July 4th and other summer celebratory events are upon us, I felt the topic of stress and anxiety reduction in our pets was a vital one. Therefore, it was very fortuitous for me to get the opportunity to interview Phil Blizzard, the insightful inventor of the Thundershirt.

One thing I really like about the ThunderShirt is the fact that it fits well with the basic tenants of my veterinary practice, including striving to “first, do no harm” (Primum non nocere, from The Hippocratic Oath). Putting a ThunderShirt on anxiety-prone cats or dogs certainly will not harm them as compared to the various traumas incurred during an anxious episode or the potential side effects associated with psychopharmaceuticals used to sedate or quell anxiety (Alprazolam, Acepromazine, etc.).

Staying Calm

Here are my questions for Blizzard:

1. What motivated you to come up with the concept for ThunderShirt?

Blizzard indicates that the ThunderShirt concept grew out of a personal necessity, as his own dog, a 14 year old Goldendoodle weighing approximately 50 pounds, is extremely fearful of thunderstorms. Blizzard tried trainers, medication, and behavior modification, but nothing was sufficiently working. A friend of the family recommended a swaddling technique like one would do with an infant, which inspired Blizzard’s initial concept for the ThunderShirt.

2. What is the greatest success story that you know of involving the use of a ThunderShirt?

Blizzard reports the most moving story he’s heard about ThunderShirt’s benefits occurred in a North Carolina dog having such severe thunderstorm anxiety that he would have seizures requiring his owner to be home in order to provide a dose of anticonvulsant (anti-seizure) medication. The owner’s lifestyle was severely compromised by the need to be present to provide anticonvulsant drugs so his dog wouldn't have potential life-threatening seizures.

Within a few weeks of regular thunder shirt use, the dog no longer needed to be medicated around the time of a thunderstorm. Sounds like a successful and desirable outcome for all involved parties.

3. Do you hear about ThunderShirt being useful for cats as well as dogs?

The answer was an emphatic yes, as many cat owners are using it around one of what is commonly a significant anxiety-provoking event: a trip to the veterinarian’s office.

Blizzard indicates “greater than 50% of cats have difficulty going to vet”, but ThunderShirt helps cats “freeze and flop, be calmer, and have lower heart rates.”

Sounds good to me, as working with behaviorally challenging felines (like on Animal Planet’s My Cat From Hell) to provide a physical examination and sample (blood, urine, etc.) collection for diagnostic testing can be exceedingly challenging.

4. How do you suggest acclimating a dog that may not be so keen on having fabric applied to his body to the ThunderShirt?

Blizzard recommends “using ThunderShirt for the first time in environment that’s not already stressful” and “introducing ThunderShirt slowly while providing treats.”

Of course, there are a few instances where the dog rejects the ThunderShirt. After all, no system can be 100% fail proof.

5. Do veterinarians that are board certified in behavior (diplomats of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists) recommend ThunderShirt?

Yes, such specialty veterinarians have embraced and recommend ThunderShirt, including Barbara Sherman, MS, PhD, DVM, a veterinary behaviorist at NC State University College of Veterinary Medicine.

Although in Southern California we very infrequently experience thunderstorms, I've seen the ThunderShirt benefits my patients that are anxious during the blustery Santa Ana Winds and the few days we get torrential downpours in the winter. I'm definitely going to consider ThunderShirt’s use for my anxious feline patients’ trips to the veterinarian.

Thank yous go out to Blizzard and his creative concept to help pets safely live better quality lives.

Do you use Thundershirt?


I was not paid by Thunder Shirt nor did I receive any product to write this article. I merely had the chance to interview Phil Blizzard and felt the message of reducing pet anxiety and stress was important for my Pet-Lebrity News column. Photo via Thundershirt website.

Thank you for reading this article. Your questions and comments are completely welcome (I’ll respond).
Please feel free to communicate with me through Twitter (@PatrickMahaney) and follow my adventures in veterinary medicine by liking Patrick Mahaney: Veterinarian Acupuncture Pain Management for Your Pets on Facebook.
Copyright of this article (2014) is owned by Dr Patrick Mahaney, Veterinarian and Certified Veterinary Acupuncturist. Republishing any portion of this article must first be authorized by Dr Patrick Mahaney. Requests for republishing must be approved by Dr Patrick Mahaney and received in written format

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