How does the Thundershirt for cats work?

Thundershirt for cats
Mickey in a Thundershirt.
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The manufacturers of the Thundershirt claim that it works in the same way swaddling a baby works. I am not sure that this is true. The Thundershirt works for cats and dogs. I believe that the reason why it works for a lot of dogs may be different to the reason why it works for a lot of cats. I get the impression, by the way, that the product was created initially for dogs.

I am making the point by the way that its effectiveness will vary. It may vary quite a lot for cats because this product does not calm cats so much as zap them. It has a similar effect to a drug on many cats. There is a definite alteration to the mental state of the cat. The cat can look bemused and a bit confused. Cats stumble sometimes at least initially but they get used to it somewhat. Also cats can become slightly more affectionate. I think that is a fair observation.

They can lose their athleticism. They may flop off the bed rather than elegantly jump off and so on. It can affect coordination. This indicates that this is not so much a calming effect but an alteration to the mental state of the cat. For dogs it may have a calming effect but I have not observed dogs in Thundershirts.

All those things said, I like the product when used under certain circumstances because it can be very helpful.

But what is happening? How does it work? The pressure from the Thundershirt appears not to trigger the same emotional response as for babies in swaddling. Swaddling of babies is meant to replicate the feeling the baby had when in the womb. This is reassuring; hence the calming effect.

Putting pressure on a cat with a close fitting harness zaps the cat as mentioned. It can semi-immobilize a cat. I see a cat behaving as if on a tranquilliser. A possible reason why this happens is because the cat feels to a certain extent that he/she is being carried by her mother by the scruff of the neck. We know that this activity immobilizes cats. It is designed to do so as it allows the mother to transport her kittens to a new den unhindered by a struggling baby.

Therefore I would suggest that the Thundershirt works by replicating to a certain extent (i.e. not completely) the process whereby mothers immobilise their young when transporting them in their mouths by biting gently down on the scruff of the kitten’s neck.

How can the Thundershirt achieve this? I believe that it is a combination of the collar of the product pressing down on the rear of the neck and the pressure of the Thundershirt on the torso which tweaks the cat’s nervous system in such as way that the cat receives a similar signal as when being grabbed by the scruff of the neck.

An alternative theory is that we know that cats love boxes. They like to squeeze inside boxes. This puts pressure on their body where it is in contact with the walls of the box. This reassures them. The reassurance and calming effect may originate in the close – almost pressed together – contact very young kittens have with their mother and litter mates. It is feeling which is a throwback to when they were newborns.

This theory is more consistent with how the Thundershirt works for dogs too. For me, the bottom line is that something fundamental happens to the cat’s mental processes beyond simply feeling reassured in the same way cat owners reassure their cats with stroking for example.

Do you have a theory? Have you read about how this product works other than from the manufacturer?

1 thought on “How does the Thundershirt for cats work?”

  1. The Thundershirt was created for dogs – they like to huddle together for comfort. Cats like to hide, not huddle, but many companies assume that what sells for dogs can sell for cats too, because either they or the owners don’t understand that cats and dogs have fundamentally different ways of coping with stress. One species is highly social when stressed, the other is usually more self-sufficient.

    When Sappho had abdominal surgery she needed a pressure bandage on the incision (she managed to split the stitches). The pressure bandage made her subdues and pretty miserable because she had lost her agility and flexibility. She was unwilling to move.

    Most cats don’t like to be hugged tight (there are exceptions of course). The Thundershirt is a hug they can’t wriggle out of so they go into “freeze” mode. Freezing is an alternative to fight or flight – it’s an attempt to stay concealed until the danger has gone. I’ve always advised people to give their cat a darkened hiding place, not a Thundershirt. At the first signs of a storm, Cindy always hid in the wardrobe. As soon as I saw this, I phoned mum to get her washing in! Cindy always detected the atmospheric electrical changes well before the storm broke.


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