February-March is usually our rainy season in Los Angeles and with that comes the occasional thunderstorm. It can be miserable for everyone and stressful for your pet. But I'm happy to report that there are a few drug-free ways to combat that particular anxiety and many others like separation anxiety and travel anxiety. Did you know that petting, hugs, massage, and even meditation cause a boost in oxytocin, the happy cuddle hormone in humans and pets? If we leave the meditation to the humans, we see that physical contact is a wonderful drug-free alternative to anyone's anxiety.
Here's an interesting excerpt about oxytocin from PBS NOVA's Dogs Decoded:
Unfortunately, pet owners can't be with their pet all the time to help the dog or cat calm down and that's where ThunderWorks' ThunderShirt and others like it come in. They created ThunderShirt for Dogs based on Temple Gardin's "hug machine," a device she invented to counter her autism and sensory overload. These ThunderShirts hug your dog or cat and that in turn produces calmness, not unlike the swaddling effect. Given that research show hugs and petting result in a boost of oxytocin for dogs and dog owners, I think we can safely assume that these coats re-produce the chemical effect of a hug. But cats will be different. Aren't they always? Their results are mixed for cats in this anecdotal review (tl; dr: yep, cats are finicky).
ThunderShirts claim their coats provide an 80% improvement on dogs and cats.
NBC 4 did a review on the product and the results were pretty dramatic:
Here are a few different "thunder shirts" from American Kennel Club, The Original Anxiety Wrap, Contech and of course from ThunderShirt. All are designed to simulate a hug and produce a calming effect.
In the video below, Cesar Milan explains when to put on the anxiety coat and how to help your dog associate good things with the coat. Milan suggests introducing the shirt or coat to your dog or cat on happy days, so a good association is established. Have your dog or cat wear the shirt for a short time at first, but increase that time so your dog or cat can become accustomed to wearing the shirt for the duration of a thunderstorm or other anxiety-filled event.
For cats that "Freeze and Flop" after you strap them into the coat, give them time to realize that they can do everything in the shirt that they did before. And of course associate the coat with good things. A treat maybe. But before you invest in an expensive cat coat, make sure that your cat tolerates a cheap, but snug shirt. No sense in buying something you just have to return.
Cesar says the Thundershirt works by forcing the pet to slow down his panting, which in turn forces the pet's brain to calm down. He adds that this is what humans do in meditation. I assume here he means the slow deep breathing of meditation brings about a calm state. Well that makes a lot of sense to me and I certainly want to be at least as calm as the dogs in my care. I should meditate.
The Chopra Center has an in-depth article on the many and varied benefits of even short meditation, one of which is an oxytocin boost. Wow.
I often don't notice that I'm stressed until it dawns on me that my stomach muscles have been tense for a long time. And while I'm not "panting," I am taking shallow breathes thanks to my tense stomach muscles. To my mind, this means that my stress is causing my shallow breathing, which in turn is starving my body of oxygen it should be getting. Less oxygen means that my brain is not getting all the resources it needs and that in turn would cause more stress as I struggle to get things done on fewer resources. Like many people, I am pro-active about getting exercise and putting the right foods and the right vitamins in my body, but I have never given anything thought to putting the right amount of oxygen in my body. And now that I think about it, this makes perfect sense: more is better. More calm, more oxygen, more oxytocin, more resources, more energy equals the power to do more things.
Sure I could probably make my own Thundershirts, but meditation has so many benefits that I would be a fool not to give it a try.
But meditation is hard...or so I thought so.
I couldn't get into meditation in the past until I attended Cedar Sinai Hospital's A Journey to Wellness seminar for cancer patients. I went through breast cancer last year, so this seminar was free for me.
Well, now. I'm going to take a break and maybe meditate some more!
I hope you and your pets find a happy anxiety-reducing treatment to take the stress out of your day. Who knows? Maybe you'll succeed in teaching your pet to meditate. ;D Until then, try petting, hugging, massaging to ease your pet's fears and anxiety. If that fails to do the trick, try a ThunderShirt or something like it before you turn to your Veterinarian for anti-anxiety medication. Now it's your turn to de-stress. Listen to the Singing Bowls and meditate. Take slow deep breathes and relax. I think you'll be amazed at how you feel. : D Let me know your results!
Meditation makes you more creative
Certain meditation techniques can promote creative thinking. This is the outcome of a study by cognitive psychologists.