Thundershirts and Body Wraps Help Your Pet’s Health and Behavior

Penny A. Watkins-Zdrojewski
© October 2014

“Is that a ThunderShirt?”
“Yes, it is.”
“Does that really work?”
“Yes.  It can really help dogs and cats who are afraid of thunder and loud noises.  It can help with a lot of other fears and concerns, too.”

I’ve had this conversation many times.

Most people think the Thundershirt is just for fear of thunderstorms, a reasonable assumption based on the product’s name.  It can actually help with many more situations in which pets may feel fear or anxiety, such as car rides, vet visits, and people coming into your home.  I’ve even found that it helps my dog Murphy when his arthritis is flaring up, and have used it for a variety of physical concerns.

The Thundershirt is very similar to the Body Wraps we use as a key component Tellington TTouch Training®.  Body Wraps are simple elastic bandages, wrapped around different parts of the body to apply very light, steady pressure.  Using these has proved very helpful for improving a host of behavior and health concerns, from noise phobia to increased mobility.

MY WONDERFUL RECENT EXPERIENCE

So how do Body Wraps and Thundershirts work, and how can we know how it feels?  In August, I had an incredible personal experience with Body Wraps, while attending an advanced training for Tellington TTouch® practitioners in British Columbia.  This special training that combined work with dogs, horses, and humans was a great opportunity to understand more about our similarities and how Body Wraps and other TTouch® work have much the same effect on all of us.

I’ve had two injuries to my left leg in the past 5 years.  Physical therapy has helped a lot, but my balance and gait are still not as good as I’d like.  Challenges with certain activities undermine my confidence, and occasional discomfort and pain can affect my mood.

Instructor Robyn Hood, sister to TTouch® founder Linda Tellington-Jones, has worked with Body Wraps since they were first used on horses decades ago.  Robyn is a genius with the wraps, and literally wrote the book – authoring the series “All Wrapped Up,” for horses, for dogs and cats, and for humans.  She outfitted me with a wrap to address my concerns.  She started with a full body wrap, using several 3” wide elastic bandages that went from both shoulders to torso and hips, then down the legs.  After a few minutes, she made a couple of adjustments to the wrap, and the results were nothing short of amazing.  My balance improved, I was standing straighter, and my gait was smooth and even.  Equally important, my confidence was greatly boosted; I did not feel the need to carefully watch where I was placing my feet and could walk with ease.


Wearing a Full Body Wrap helped with balance, gait and confidence.  Robyn uses lovely colors!

The next day, all of the participants were treated to a demonstration and experience of the Sure Foot™ and Fit Trail, systems developed by Wendy Murdoch, a training participant, equine expert, and Feldenkrais Practitioner.  The Fit Trail involves stepping onto a series of therapy devices, from foam pads to knobbly domes and more.  The goal is to establish balance in challenging situations.  Remember seeing a toddler learn to stand and walk?  Or remember when you learned to ride a bike?  To be successful, we had to find our balance point with each and every new challenge.


Wendy Murdoch (left) and Robyn Hood.
Photo by Indra McMorran


The Fit Trail.  Foam therapy devices are laid out to first challenge, then establish physical balance.
Photo by Indra McMorran

My first pass through the Fit Trail wasn’t a complete failure, but let’s say I’m glad no one will be sharing it on YouTube!


I’m in the pink blouse.  The foam pads on which I’m standing aren’t too difficult.  But notice how I’m thinking hard about how to successfully step onto the blue half-spheres that come next!
Photo by Indra McMorran

After seeing me struggle, Robyn wrapped me in the same configuration as the previous day, to see how that would influence my abilities.  The changes were dramatic and awe-inspiring.  My balance and confidence greatly increased and my discomfort and pain decreased significantly.  I stepped from one object to the next with little challenge, barely losing my balance on even the most difficult objects.   Other participants were amazed, and I got a lot of questions about how it felt.  This was a great opportunity for both me and them:  I was able explore and explain how I was affected; they were able to get descriptive, verbal, concrete feedback – communication we have to interpret when working with animals.

My second try, wearing a full body wrap.
The soft foam slopes were somewhat challenging during my first try, While standing on them this time, Wendy Murdoch tests my balance, and there is no problem!
Photo by Indra McMorran

HOW IT WORKS

So, what did I actually experience?  How were my physical, mental, and emotional processes influenced, giving me such a positive experience?  Because the sensory input and nervous systems of dogs, cats and humans are very similar, my experience and the ways in which I was influenced are basically the same.

First, wearing the Body Wraps created specific body awareness – the gentle, steady pressure called my mind’s attention to parts of my body that I may have forgotten, neglected, or consciously tuned out.  Second, they created sensory input – hundreds of nerve endings were gently stimulated, enhancing communication between my brain and body.  The awareness and communication stimulate the mind and body’s ability to restore balance and promote healing.  Third, they provided a sense of comfort, much like what a baby experiences with swaddling.  TTouch® Practitioner Julie Moss summarizes by stating, “TTouch is really good at filling in gaps where there are proprioceptive deficits (lack of awareness and communication between parts of the body).”

REASONS FOR USE

There are countless reasons to use a Body Wrap or a Thundershirt for your pet, and we’ve only scratched the surface of the many benefits.   Just as a Body Wrap helped my mobility, it can help dogs and cats who are mobility-challenged from aging, injury, or surgery.  In addition to mobility concerns, my dog Murphy is also afraid of thunderstorms and fireworks, and his Thundershirt is a great help.  Some of the many reasons you may want to use wraps or a Thundershirt for your pet include:  phobias (noise, strangers, car rides, visits to the vet); nervousness or anxiety; excessive barking or whining; balance or mobility issues; increased speed of recovery from injury or surgery; and enhanced learning with new skills.

GUIDELINES

Here are some guidelines to get started with Body Wraps:

  • Materials: Use an elastic bandage that does not stick to itself.  Self-adhering bandages do not move freely and can cause excessive pressure.  High-quality bandages, like Ace brand, work best; cheap bandages tend to be flimsy and are difficult to apply correctly.  The bandage width depends on the size of your pet, which body part is being wrapped, and how much area you want to influence at once.  If you are wrapping a larger animal or multiple body parts, you will need multiple bandages and may want to tie, pin or Velcro them together.  Bandages with Velcro ends are easier to secure, but you can also tie the ends or use a diaper pin.
  • Introduce Before Putting On: Remember that this is a new experience for your pet, so introduce the wrap before applying it.  Let your pet smell it.  Use it like a platter and place a treat on the wrap so that your pet associates it with something positive.  Rub it lightly on their fur.  Lay across their back for a just a moment, and repeat.
  • Configurations and Pressure: There are no limits to the ways in which a Body Wrap may be applied, and you are encouraged to try different configurations as you learn more about your pet’s responses.  The basic Half Wrap is a good place to start.  See the instructions at the end of this article.  The wrap should fit snugly enough to stay in place and give awareness, but should not be tight or apply excessive pressure.
  • How Long To Wear and Frequency: For the first experience, leave the wrap on for no more than 5 minutes, and remove sooner if your pet seems agitated and is unable to relax after a minute or two.  You can gradually increase to 25 minutes for dogs, 15 minutes for cats.  Between experiences, allow plenty of time for your pet to process the experience and information.  Using the wrap 2-3 days a week will have noticeable effects.  If you can use it every day, the effects will be more rapid.
  • Movement: While Body Wraps and Thundershirts give input and create positive influence in sedentary positions, their effectiveness is increased with light movement.  Any movement increases awareness and brain-body communication.  Purposeful movement provides the greatest benefit.

Ready for a Thundershirt?  Not sure?  Here is some information to help:

  • Availability: Thundershirts can be ordered through Penny at HappyPAWZ, and are available at many pet retailers, online stores, and www.thundershirt.com.
  • Size: For dogs and cats, size is generally determined by weight.  The material is very stretchy and the design allows for a lot of adjustment. If in doubt, buy one size larger.
  • Introduction and Movement are the same as for Body Wraps above.  If you are using the Thundershirt for any type of fear, be sure to introduce it when the fear stimulus is absent, to avoid any negative assocations with it.  For instance if your cat is afraid of storms, introduce it several times when the weather is good.
  • How Long To Wear and Frequency: For the first experience, leave the Thundershirt on for no more than 5 minutes, and remove sooner if your pet seems severely agitated and is unable to relax, as with Body Wraps.  Gradually increase the amount of time.  Once used to the Thundershirt, your pet should be able to wear it as long as needed to help with its fear or other concern.  In warm weather, be conscious of the possibility of overheating.
  • A Tip Before Buying: If you are unsure about whether a Thundershirt may help your pet, try using T-Shirt that fits snugly, but not tightly.  For a small dog or cat, use a newborn’s Onesie or large doll T-Shirt.   To further test the effectiveness, apply the Half Wrap Body Wrap illustrated below.

For additional guidance and help with Body Wraps or Thundershirts, contact Penny at Happy PAWZ.

THE HALF WRAP BODY WRAP

While there is no limit to the ways in which a body wrap may be applied, the basic Half Wrap is a good place to start.  It is a basic figure-8 that begins at the chest and covers the torso.  While illustrated on a dog below, the Half Wrap is applied the same way to a cat.

APPLYING THE HALF WRAP

Start by holding the wrap slightly off-center.  Place this point on your pet’s chest. Cross over the shoulders, under the belly, and up to the back.  Connect the wrap with Velcro, with a pin or tie it, ensuring that the connection does not sit directly on the spine.

VIDEO RESOURCE

TTouch® senior instructor Robyn Hood offers a good explanation of Body Wraps and demonstrates how to apply the quarter wrap on a dog in this YouTube video:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WealtLluDcQ

 MORE PHOTOS


A dog and his guardian enjoying the benefits of his Rugby-striped Thundershirt
Photo by Penny Watkins-Zdrojewski


Applying a Body Wrap to a Labradoodle at a TTouch® Training
Photo by Penny Watkins-Zdrojewski


Penny’s dog Buddy wearing a custom Body Wrap to help with some hip issues.
Photo by Ed Zdrojewski

 

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