Shades of Grey

From Premature Aging to Destructive Behavior, Pet Stress is a Serious Issue that Needs to be Combated.

Click here to read the full article as featured in Pet Age Magazine.

Anxiety is too often an insidious side effect of our turbo-charged worlds and fast-paced personal lives. However, people aren’t the only ones who experience this feeling associated with fear, nervousness and unease.

According to PetMD, anxiety is the anticipation of future dangers from unknown or imagined origins that result in bodily reactions, known as physiologic reactions, associated with fear. Studies show that more than 30 percent of dogs in the U.S. suffer from some form of anxiety.

The causes of anxiety vary and can include summer storms, Fourth of July fireworks or even just being left alone. Regardless of the origins, the results can manifest themselves in easily visible ways in pets.

A study published in Applied Animal Behaviour Science in December 2016 demonstrated that anxiety was associated with premature muzzle grayness in dogs between 1 and 4 years of age. Four hundred dogs were studied, and not only did it find that fear of noise, unfamiliar animals and people were significant for premature graying, but female dogs were more likely to present premature muzzle graying than male dogs.

“Essentially, the results indicate that for each standard deviation increase in the measured trait, either anxiety or impulsiveness, the odds of being in a higher rating category of muzzle grayness increase 40 to 60 percent,” Thomas Smith, one of the co-authors of the study, told CNN in December 2016.

Veterinarians and animal behaviorists say canine pet anxiety falls into three categories: noise anxiety, separation anxiety and social anxiety. And while there are no official numbers for how many pets are affected by anxiety, the estimates are high, according to Phil Blizzard, founder of ThunderWorks.

Blizzard created his company in 2009 to provide innovative solutions for some of the most common challenges faced by pet owners. He shared his company’s research during an information seminar on pet anxiety that was hosted by Pet Age in October.

“We’ve done some extensive surveys [starting in 2011] of well over 3,500 dogs and cats and their pet owners,” said Blizzard, speaking to an audience of retailers and distributors. “It’s easily over 30 percent for dogs and 25 percent for cats, excluding noise and vet visits. For noise anxiety, if you talk to a lot of the experts out there, the belief is that probably every dog and cat out there has a fear response to thunder and fireworks, it’s just at what level does it register.”

Dogs that suffer from anxiety display a host of symptoms, such as barking, pacing, panting, trembling, excessive licking, hiding, climbing onto the pet owner or trying to escape via doors or windows. They also may exhibit destructive or aggressive behaviors in the home or around people.

Dogs that suffer from separation anxiety may incessantly bark, destroy property or injure themselves when left alone in the house. Dogs that suffer from social anxiety, which can occur when the pets do not receive early socialization, may become fearful of people and their surroundings, resulting in aggressive behaviors. Dogs often interpret loud noises as a danger or threat and react in a certain way, no matter how often they have been exposed to the noise.

“Unhappy pets make unhappy humans in a lot of different ways,” Blizzard explained. “Our survey showed that there was about $250 million in property damage every year caused by anxiety problems.”


Dogs that experience anxiety may display their stress in very different ways. Some symptoms, like panting, trembling or tail tucking, are subtle and can be missed or dismissed easily because they are normal in other circumstances. Other more noticeable symptoms include aggression or excessive barking.

Pet owners may mistake such symptoms as their pet acting out due to boredom or other behavioral issues. However, if these symptoms occur in common situations, including a thunderstorm or when pet owners leave the house, it could be an indication that the pet is responding to feelings of anxiousness or stress.

Some of the less obvious symptoms of anxiety manifest as a slight change in behavior. The following symptoms occasionally go unnoticed by pet owners because they are not disruptive.

Extreme Licking/Chewing: Anxious dogs may compulsively lick or $250M The amount of property damage caused annually by pets suffering from anxiety issues
chew at their fur.

Hiding/Seeking Solitude: Some dogs want to be alone when they experience anxiety. They may hide out of fear or move away from people and other pets. Seeking Comfort: Anxious dogs might seek more attention or affection. They may jump into the lap of a pet owner or require more attention.

Trembling/Panting: Dogs that tremble, pant or act generally nervous may be experiencing anxiety. While panting after exercise is normal, panting during a loud fireworks display is often a sign of anxiety. There are additional symptoms of anxiety that are difficult to miss. Depending on the cause of the anxiety, the following behaviors may only
appear when the pets are triggered by their phobia.

Aggression: Anxious dogs can become suddenly aggressive, even to their pet owners. Anxious dogs may suddenly snap, growl or show other signs of aggression. Attempting to Escape: Dogs that feel trapped or enclosed may start digging or running. Enclosing a dog in a crate may worsen its anxiety in this situation.

Destruction: A common symptom of anxiety is destructive behavior, often damaging furniture or other household objects that a pet normally does not chew, scratch or shred.

Excessive Energy: Anxious dogs can display a surge in energy and appear hyperactive.

Excretion: Dogs that are housetrained may urinate or defecate indoors when they are under duress.

Uncontrolled Barking/Howling: One of the most obvious signs of anxiety is excessive noise. If a pet starts to bark because of a loud noise or interruption and cannot be easily calmed, even after the disruption ends, it might be feeling anxiety.

Dogs that experience a variety of symptoms might also start to experience panic attacks, which can last from minutes to hours, potentially involving one or more of the previous symptoms. While such symptoms as excessive energy and destruction of objects can result in self-injury, the mental and physical stress that pets can endure while suffering from anxiety is also taxing and should not go untreated.

Pet owners need to act appropriately when pets are suffering from anxiety. It’s important that a pet is not punished or scolded when it’s having an attack.

Treating anxious pets can be challenging, but veterinarians and animal behaviorists indicate there are certain things pet owners can do to help. The best place to start is to get a diagnosis. Not all destructive behaviors have an anxiety-based cause. Destructive behaviors can be a sign of boredom.

Pets require exercise. The more exercise an animal gets, the less likely it will exhibit destructive behaviors common with separation anxiety. Dog owners should go for long walks with their pet and play games with them to build confidence.

Stressed dogs often lack appropriate mental stimulation, so an increase in training is another option. That can enable a dog’s body to be busy while its mind is relaxed.

Consider homeopathic, herbal and nutritional supplements. Consult a holistic veterinarian for dosage and product recommendations.

Pressure Wraps

Similar to swaddling, applying a gentle pressure to a dog or cat torso is another option, and Debbie Spier, owner of Bark Ave Pet Supplies in Harleysville, Pennsylvania, says she has seen it work firsthand.

“We had a grooming salon in our store, and [our groomer] was grooming a dog, and it was a little Maltese and it was biting her,” Spier recalled. “We got the ThunderShirt and within 15 minutes, my husband’s mouth dropped. It really only took 15 minutes, the dog was licking the groomer and in a calm state of just ‘go ahead, do whatever you want to do.’”

“I think [retailers] have to tell customers [the ThunderShirt] is for any kind of situation that you might have, and I think the guarantee really reassures them,” she added. “We’ve only had maybe one return in 10 years.”

A variety of veterinarians and animal behaviorists believe the ThunderShirt’s gentle, constant pressure releases such calming hormones as endorphins or oxytocin in the animal’s brain to create a calming effect.

In fact, Temple Grandin, a renowned animal behavior expert and autism awareness advocate, was one of the researchers involved in the 2016 study of anxiety’s impact on premature muzzle grayness. She also invented a hug box that applies pressure to calm people, particularly ones on the autism spectrum. In 2014, Grandin found that ThunderShirt effectively reduced the heart rate of dogs with anxiety disorder.

Personal Experience

Blizzard’s company, ThunderWorks, has been providing innovative solutions for some of the most common challenges faced by pet owners since 2009. Blizzard came up with the idea for ThunderShirt when he and his family noticed that their dog, a 50-pound goldendoodle named Dosi, would panic during thunderstorms or when hearing the explosions of live fireworks. Having no luck with medications or behavioral techniques, the Blizzard family received a recommendation from a friend that they attempt to use a wrap, which would swaddle the dog, much like some parents do to calm colicky babies.

Blizzard and his wife, who once worked as an engineer for Ford, took an old T-shirt and put it on Dosi, using packing tape over the fabric to apply pressure to the dog and hold the material in place. The family’s success with Dosi inspired Blizzard to create a prototype of the T-shirt-turned-ThunderShirt. While the design has remained similar to that original model, there have been modifications over time based on style and the size of the dog or cat. The shirts are crafted from a fabric that is a rayon-polyester blend with Spandex to give the product a snug fit.

To launch the startup, Blizzard recalls convincing a few of his entrepreneur poker buddies to invest and join in the company. Blizzard notes his business has worked with veterinarians to develop the product.

“We’ve surveyed a lot of our customers over the years to see what their success rates are, and it’s consistently well over 80 percent,” Blizzard said. “Nothing works for every situation or every pet, but ThunderShirts have amongst the highest success rates in terms of helping to reduce or eliminate the different symptoms that people are dealing with.”

On the topic of a dog having a negative reaction to seeing a ThunderShirt due to the idea that a pet might relate the product to a fear-inducing event, Blizzard says the reality is quite the opposite.

“This [idea of pets having a negative association with a ThunderShirt] was actually a big concern when we started the business—and a big concern for trainers,” Blizzard explained. “If your dog is panicking about an upcoming thunderstorm, and then they see a ThunderShirt, the concern was they would become fearful of the ThunderShirt too. It has not been a problem at all. Surprisingly, it’s been the reverse. I’ve received countless emails from owners who say, ‘I can’t believe it. I didn’t even know a storm was coming and my dog was over pawing at the drawer where I store my ThunderShirt,’ or dogs literally bringing over their ThunderShirt.”

Expanded Line

According to Blizzard, ThunderWorks has sold millions of ThunderShirts and has products available in over 8,000 brickand-mortar stores. The business has expanded its line of products, as well, now offering a variety of leashes, calming sprays and essential oils.

ThunderEase: ThunderEase replicates feline and canine pheromones, safely providing a sense of comfort and security during a variety of stressful occasions and situations. A drugfree and veterinary-recommended solution, the pheromones are over 90 percent effective in treating many behaviors, including uneasiness in a new environment, fear of loud noises like thunder or fireworks, urine spraying and scratching, stresses caused by change, tension between cats, anxiety during veterinary visits or boarding.

ThunderSnap: Designed to make putting on a leash as quick, easy and convenient as possible, ThunderSnap uses powerful magnets and a strong steel ball-bearing latch mechanism to easily and securely connect to a standard dog collar or harness. Tested to hold more than 500 pounds of pull force, the leash is produced to hold even the strongest-pulling pet.

Dial-a-Distance: Retractable leashes are great for giving a dog more exercise and freedom on walks, but a momentary distraction might result in a dog lunging into danger before the pet owner can engage the manual brake. Dial-a-Distance is designed to eliminate those risks, allowing pet owners to enjoy a walk with their dog. Within the maximum length that the pet owner selects, Dial-a-Distance works like other retractable leashes. It extends and retracts as the dog moves, while allowing the owner to use the manual brake when needed. When a dog reaches the maximum selected length, from 0 to 15 feet, Dial-a-Distance automatically brakes.

As part of the ThunderWorks Gives Back program, the company regularly donates ThunderShirts to rescue organizations and shelters to help them manage anxiety issues of the animals in their care, including those displaced from the recent natural disasters in Texas, Florida and California. Donation recipients include ASPCA, RedRover, Search Dog Foundation, Save-A-Pet, Hero Dogs and many more. ThunderWorks also donates thousands of ThunderShirts each year to shelters and rescues before the Independence Day holiday.

“Shelters and rescue groups are constantly managing dogs and cats with anxiety problems,” Blizzard stated. “Many pets are given up due to these difficult problems, so to help out where we can, we’ve been donating whenever possible.”

Comments 9

    1. Post

      Cheryl, we do have several calming products for cats as well! Both ThunderShirt and ThunderEase Pheromones are available and come with our 45 day money-back guarantee!

  1. My dog has separation anxiety. She barks the entire time, I have a monitor so I can hear her. I have a thunder coat that I use for fire works etc. it helps some. when I am going to leave her home alone for awhile should I put the thunder coat on right before leaving her or a couple of hours before. I’ve tried medicating her w a low dose RX. Vet is recommending increasing the dosage.

    1. Post

      We usually recommend putting the ThunderShirt on at least a little while before you start getting ready to leave, so your pup doesn’t form an associating with the ThunderShirt and leaving. Separation anxiety is one of the most common uses for ThunderShirts, and they’re fine to leave on all day while you’re away. For severe cases of anxiety we recommend combining the ThunderShirt and our ThunderEase Pheromones to provide more calming.

  2. My 1 1/2 year old boxer has separation anxiety, he will take rugs,shoes (whatever he can get through the doggie door ) outside and destroy them. Even while we are home he chews on my plants outside and sticks all the time and the toys I buy within a week he has destroyed it. Can your product help?

    1. Post

      Both ThunderShirt and ThunderEase Pheromones are great for soothing separation anxiety! Since your dog has freedom to roam inside or out and tends to be a chewer, we would recommend one of the ThunderEase collars. ThunderShirt would also be a great option, and with a little time spent getting used to wearing it while supervised most dogs will become comfortable without trying to chew it off – many even love wearing it!

  3. Our 18 month old pup is terrified riding in a car. He no longer will ride in the truck, and is now showing signs of stress riding in the car. He has never had a bad experience in either vehicle. He pants heavily, shakes, and paces back and forth across the back seat. We are desperate for help. We want to be able to take him everywhere we go.

    1. Post


      Many pets develop new anxieties as they age, and it’s not at all uncommon for dogs to become overstimulated by the sights and sounds of driving in a car. We have several products that are great for travel anxiety – ThunderShirt, ThunderEase Pheromones, and even the ThunderCap is a great option to help your pup on car rides! Each works differently, so we’d recommend exploring each and seeing which sounds right for you. All of our products come with our 45 day money-back guarantee as well.

  4. I am really looking forward to the arrival of Blue’s Thundershirt to see if my little girl will get some benefit out of it. I am already amazed at wht getting Thunderease has managed to do in 72 hours that no on and nothing else has done in 3 years. Blue was approximately 3+ weeks old when the over crowded puppy mills she was born at in the Sacramento area was raided. She and two siblings were the survivors of a litter with an absentee mother and there were never any records or explanation of how three 3 week old puppies were without a mother. She was transport with most of the dogs from that site to the local shelter here as it is a no kill shelter and they wanted the dogs going somewhere that they would not be euthanized due to over crowding, they had just been rescued from over crowding and no one wanted they to loose anything else because of another overcrowding situation. She and her brothers were placed in a foster situation as they need nursing and special care due to there age. Her siblings did very well through all this and were doing fine within a few days and happy with tehir change of circumstances. Blue, however, was one pitiful, petrified puppy and that is when we met her. Her foster was a friend of ours and we got to know her that way. We made the decision that we would adopt her as he was familiar and calm with us as were were around a great deal and she had gotten to know us from the relative security, or the amount she would accept, of her foster. She was a sweet hear when calm but it was a sure thing that she was not going to be very adoptable as she was very panicky and it just felt wrong to put her through another huge change in her life when she was just starting to deal with things as they were. While still being fostered she was introduced to our home and other dog and our cats and by the time she was 8 weeks old and ready to be adopted she was as comfortable in our home as with her foster. Her foster delivered her to the shelter on turn in day and she was separated from the others and lodged in the directors office while we completed all the paperwork and got her the heck home! She is a wonderful, adorable, expressive fun, dog and well behaved but the minute anyone comes near the house, be it mail man, delivery person, a neighbor walking along the sidewalk, someone one coming to visit she absolutely freaks out, sometimes to the point where she is so carried away that she will even growl at us, although she is then upset she did it and that just ads to her upset state and her confusion. We have tried the what I believe is the whole list of all the things recommend for a dog that has such panic attacks and nothing has so much as even lessened her state. She is fine on a lead when we leave teh house and is well socialized and enjoys the dog park and shopping trips and we have lately started he in a Agility class, but be sitting at home and someone comes near the property line and we have 65 pounds of panicked dog flying bouncing off of walls. We tried teacher her to come get one of us when she saw something in the hopes that we could slowly reduce the anxiety and to make her a safe spot in the bedroom as a place she could retreat too and feel assured and safe and calm down. She is super smart and so now she sees someone and while barking and shaking and jumping and running she comes running to find me and escorts me back to the door still panic’ed to have me tell her that everything is all right its just someone walking by, then she knows that we have her go to her safe spot and she immediate runs to it, still carrying on but will only stay there about 60 seconds and then is back at the door, up on the couch or coffee table, shaking and barking and whining and beside herself with the fact that she ‘saw someone’. Its even more heartbreaking to leave her home alone because if UPS or FedEx or the USPS comes along while we are out it sets her off. We have watched her by security cam dash about the house looking to report a visitor to someone and then going to her ‘safe spot. For her sake we try to work out leaving her alone to often, either taking her with us or making sure one or the other is home. It makes it hard because most plans we might think of to do something together are sidelined when we get to the “what to do with Blue” part. Once she is assured that the person is either gone or someone she knows she immediately settles down and as fast as it started its over. I was in Petco the other day and saw the display that was set up and asked some of the employees there that know Blue, although not her panicked side and several were very positive about their experiences with their pets and Thunderease. I figured that I did not have much to loose and it was certainly less expensive than personal dog trainers and in home interventions, medication (my vet wet through half a pharmacy trying to find an answer, and quite an assortment of natural remedies and supplement that calm dogs. I really don’t know what I was expecting, but I really did not expect much since nothing else , especially natural answers have done any good. There was no change on the first day but I was not too terribly surprised but I was surprised when on day 2 an Amazon delivery arrived and while she jumped on the back of the couch and barked she did not go flying around the house like a madwoman and when I got to the front door she ran down the hallway to the ‘safe spot’ and stayed. She was still upset but noticeable less so and it was lessened enough that over the barking our commands were getting through, On day three her barking was not as loud or as panicked and she was not whining between barks and while you could tell she was still upset it was a great deal less and later that evening when a friend stopped by while she was taking an after dinner nap she slept through his arrival. This has never happened in her life. We have since watched recordings of her behavior while we are gone, and it obviously hard on her when she is home when we are gone (can say home alone as she is there with a lab/newfie mix and 2 cats), Our security cam tells us that she still is not handling time when we are not around very well so I decided that maybe the Thundershirt would work for he, or at least help, since the Thunderease has diminished her panic attacks greatly. I am really looking forward to swaddling her up and to see what happen and I am a bit excited as it would be wonderful for her to not have to deal with panic attacks every day… be continue!

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