Category Archives: Anxiety/Phobias


(Anxiety wrap)
By Dr. Karen Burgess 


Brand name

  • ThunderShirt

What is ThunderShirt used for?
ThunderShirt is used to help alleviate stress or tension in dogs and cats.  Originally designed for dogs with thunderstorm anxiety, recently owners have seen improvement in a variety of stressful situations with the use of a ThunderShirt.

How does ThunderShirt work?
Temple Grandin, a reknowned animal science expert has over the years used her own experiences with autism to research behavior in animals.  Through this and other research it has been shown that pressure can have a calming effect on both people and animals.  This concept was used in the development of the ThunderShirt and its “hugging” design.

What conditions is ThunderShirt used for?
ThunderShirt use is appropriate for any situation that elicits fear or anxiety in a pet.  While the ThunderShirt may not help 100%, the goal is to see if there is any noticeable improvement.

How long can my pet wear the ThunderShirt?
It is safe to use the ThunderShirt for extended periods of time but is best to use it for more limited timeframes/times directly associated with problematic behavior.

How do I determine the right size of ThunderShirt for my pet?
Use a tape measure to determine the size of your pet around the chest cavity just behind the elbows.  Use chart below to help determine appropriate sizing.

How do I put the ThunderShirt on my pet?
Put the ThunderShirt on your pet’s back, then take the ShortFlap under the chest.  Next wrap the LongFlap under the chest and secure it snugly to the ShortFlap.  Take the TopFlap and wrap it down securing it onto the LongFlap.  Adjust as needed for snug fit.  Finally wrap the ChestStraps around the dog’s front and secure.

How do I wash my ThunderShirt?
Wash ThunderShirt in a regular wash cycle with cold water and laundry detergent.  Do not dry in machine, hang only.

Is ThunderShirt guaranteed?
ThunderShirt as a company provides a 45 day money back guarantee for its product.  If purchased through our hospital and returned the company then donates the product to a local shelter.  A no risk endeavor with a win-win return policy.

What other concerns may there be with ThunderShirt?
Take care that the straps on the stomach area do not abrade the prepuce on male dogs.  With initial use, remove jacket after shorter time periods to look for signs of irritation.




Chest Size



9″ – 13″

up to 7 lbs


13″ – 17″

8 – 14 lbs


17″ – 21″

15 – 25 lbs


21″ – 25″

26 – 40 lbs


25″ – 30″

41 – 64 lbs


30″ – 37″

65 – 110 lbs

XXLarge (Camo only)

37″ – 50″

Over 110 lbs




Photo Credit: <a href=””>katerha</a> via <a href=””>Compfight</a> <a href=””>cc</a>

Alprazolam (Xanax)

(Anti-Anxiety, Tranquilizer)
By Dr. Karen Burgess

Brand name and formulations

  • Xanax and generic
  • Tablets, Oral solution

What is alprazolam used for?
Alprazolam is used for the treatment of anxiety disorders.  It can also be used to assist with sedation, as a muscle relaxant, and as a tranquilizer.  Alprazolam is often used in treating panic disorders in pets.

What is alprazolam?
Alprazolam is a benzodiazepine similar to diazepam (valium) that acts in the brain to cause relaxation, anti-anxiety, and at times sedating effects.  Dependency is not considered a major concern in pets with the use of alprazolam.  Care should be taken in storing alprazolam as there is human abuse potential.

How is alprazolam given and what if a dose is missed?
Alprazolam is typically prescribed to be used on an as needed basis and is known for its ability to deal with immediate situations of anxiety (ex. Fourth of July, thunderstorms).  The maximum benefit from alprazolam is seen one to two hours after administration and the effects are short lived (four hours).

What side effects are associated with alprazolam?
Alprazolam may cause excessive sedation, abnormal gait (walking as if drunk, unstable on feet), and increased appetite.  Cats may become more irritable with the use of alprazolam.  Care should be taken using alprazolam in cats with liver value elevations.  Pets should be monitored initially as disinhibition may occur (alprazolam may allow for previously unseen aggression to demonstrate itself).

What drugs should not be given with alprazolam?
Do not give antacids within two hours of using alprazolam as absorption can be affected.  Use with caution in conjunction with other medications that cause central nervous system depression.  Drugs that are metabolized by the liver may delay alprazolam’s breakdown and lead to increased sedation.  Digoxin dosing may require adjustment while using alprazolam.

What follow up is necessary with alprazolam use?
Dosing may need to be adjusted based on results.

Anxiety, Canine

Recommendations for Pets with Anxiety
By Dr. Karen Burgess


Punishment for destructive behavior:
Do not use verbal or physical punishments in response to destructive behavior.  Punishment has many side effects and often makes anxiety worse.  If he/she is being destructive prior to your return home, he/she will not be able to associate this behavior with the punishment. Punishing when you get home might also increase anxiety, as your pet will feel conflict over wanting you to return but may associate your returns with being punished. At this point you are not using punishment in response to your pet’s destructive behavior so this statement is here for informational purposes.

Clicker training:
Training with a clicker is a very effective and fun way to teach Piper new tasks. After your pet has been introduced to the clicker and associates its unique sound with the presentation of food, it becomes a conditioned reinforcer. This means the click sound advises that a reward is coming. It is also an event marker, meaning that it clearly and immediately tells your pet which behavior is being rewarded. The goal in using clicker training during relaxation and response substitution exercises is to allow you to clearly and consistently communicate to your pet which behaviors are desired. An excellent resource for using clicker training for obedience exercises (and tricks) is and “Clicking with Your Dog” by Peggy Tillman.

Departure counter-conditioning:
Give your dog a delectable food treat or food stuffed toy that will take a number of minutes to consume at departure. The intention of this exercise is to distract him/her from your departure and allow them to associate owner departures with a pleasant event. Use these treats or toys only upon departing and remove them when you return home. Kong toys are great to use for this exercise and many recipes for Kong stuffing can be found at

  • Modify your departure and greeting routine
    Ignore your dog for 30 minutes prior to departure.   Feeding, walks, and elimination should occur before this period. When you return, you may allow Piper to go outdoors to eliminate, but only give attention when he/she is calm and quiet. These exercises are meant to prevent inadvertent reinforcement of anxious behaviors.
  • Change the predictive value of departure cues
    Make a list of activities that you perform prior to leaving your home which signals that you are leaving and makes him/her more anxious (signs of anxiety may include panting, pacing, or following).  Perform these activities at times when you have no intention of leaving (repeat 2-4 times daily until he/she does not respond to your cues with anxious behaviors). You may notice that, at first, they will show increased anxiety when you do these things, but, over time, the anxiety will decrease as he/she can no longer use these cues as reliable indicators of your departure.

Indoor relaxation exercises:
Begin training your pet to assume a calm, relaxed behavior on a specific mat or bed during gradually increasing periods of separation. Use the clicker followed by delectable food treats as positive reinforcement for appropriate behavior. Begin by asking for a relaxed down-stay (such as down with head on paws) for increasing lengths of time before giving a reward. The goal is to reward not only the down behavior, but also relaxed body postures. Build up to about 10-15 seconds between the cue and the reward. Once you can do this, take one step back and immediately return to your dog and reward.

Repeat this step several times until he/she is relaxed. Then take two steps back, three steps back, etc until you can leave the room. Return to your pet each time before giving a reward. Repeat each step several times until he/she is relaxed before moving on to the next step. When you can leave the room, gradually increase the time you are gone before returning and rewarding. Repeat these sessions several times per day.

For further information regarding anxiety in pets, please contact Healthy Paws Animal Hospital to schedule an appointment with Dr Burgess.


Thunderstorm/Noise Phobia

Thunderstorm/Firework Anxiety
By Dr. Karen Burgess

Crash, Bang, Boom!  Thunderstorm Season is Here!!  With spring and summer sunshine come thunderstorms.  These downpours not only affect our lives, but are also devastating for pets that have noise phobias.  Dogs that have anxiety during storms may also have problems with other loud noises such as fireworks, gunshots, or loud vehicles (ex. trash trucks).  This is not just a dog being silly but a major behavioral issue when a pet becomes destructive or harms themselves or others.  So let’s look at the basics for thunderstorm phobia…

Who:     Dogs of any sex, age, or breed (including mixed breeds).  A dog may develop this phobia as an adult and it will often get worse rather than better on its own.

What/When/Where:    Clinical signs may be as mild as pacing, difficulty settling down, or panting.  Some dogs destroy rooms, soil in the house, or even jump through windows.  It has been suggested that dogs actually detect the barometric and electrical changes in the air prior to the actual storm.  This may explain why some dogs display symptoms several hours prior to an actual storm or thunder.

Why:     It is unknown what causes noise phobia.  There is a link between thunderstorm phobia and separation anxiety.  Dogs with storm phobia are more likely to also experience separation anxiety (although vice versa is not true).

How do we help these dogs?

  • Safe place-whether this be a crate, under the bed, or a specific room, it is important that the dog has free access to this area.  Watch to see where the dog tries to go when they are frightened.  Other considerations are a room in the interior of the home with no windows, covering the crate with a blanket, or playing a fan or music in the room to help block out storm noise
  • Owner behavior-it is very important that owners not unintentionally reinforce a dog’s fear of storms.  Petting, soothing, or giving treats to a pet that is acting fearful may be interpreted as a reward for the behavior.  The best thing for an owner to do is to go about business as usual and not acknowledge their pet’s anxious behavior at all
  • Distraction -try preoccupying the pet with an activity they enjoy, playing fetch, Kong toy, or a favorite toy.  If the dog is trained on a regular basis you can also practice sit, stay, down, and come with appropriate rewards to try and get their mind off of their anxiety
  • Behavior modification-for some dogs playing audio tapes of thunder at gradually increasing volumes can help desensitize them to the noise when a real storm comes.
  • Medication-the dog appeasing pheremone or DAP diffuser is a relatively new product that owners can obtain over the counter.  It is plugged into an outlet and secretes a scent that is soothing to dogs.  This has not been shown to be 100% effective, but many people claim success and it is in no way harmful to the pet.  Many people want sedatives for their dogs during storms.  These must be used with caution since they may make the dog sleepy but not take away their anxiety in the least bit.  Clomicalm (clomipramine) and Xanax (alprazolam) have been shown statistically to help with thunderstorm anxiety.