The Adventures of Loki and Leila: My Cat Is Too Fat for a Thundershirt

Eventually, I fitted the body of the Thundershirt, too, at which point hilarity ensued. Loki, par for the course with collars, promptly flopped onto the floor and died.

Dec 27, 2013 at 1:00pm | Leave a comment

I've had readers asking me for an update on the adventures of Loki and Leila, and I'm pleased to report that we have a bit of a doozy for you this time around, at least in terms of sheer hilarity. It all began with a Thundershirt.

I'd been considering the Thundershirt for Cats for about a year, after numerous people had recommended it on the basis of their experiences with both cats and dogs. The gentle pressure of the Thundershirt is supposed to help ease anxiety; think of it as nature's lorazepam. I thought it might possibly work for Loki and/or Leila to get them feeling a little calmer, and the Thundershirt folks kindly sent me a sample to try. 

I started out with Loki. Since he sits on my desk while I work, I casually left the Thundershirt around for him to smell and get used to it. I draped it on him until he became accustomed to the weight, and then I attached the neck velcro very loosely so he was wearing a little Thundershirt cape -- since Loki is a sensitive soul (and resolutely refuses to be collared), I wanted to ease him into it so the garment wouldn't end up upsetting him more than it helped. 

Eventually, I fitted the body of the Thundershirt, too, at which point hilarity ensued. Loki, par for the course with collars, promptly flopped onto the floor and died. 

In the metaphorical sense, I mean. He sprawled out on his side in a catatonic state until I took it off. This is not actually unexpected; not only for Loki, but for other cats, apparently, since the guidelines specifically mention the "freeze and flop" possibility. So I backed off, went through the acclimation process again, and we did several rounds of "Really, no, the Thundershirt won't kill you" "Oh wait I guess it will" before he finally grudgingly allowed me to put it on him with minimum relative fuss, and he even swaggered around the house a bit. 

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The problem that became readily apparent almost as soon as he actually started getting mobile in the Thundershirt was that he was, quite simply, too fat for a Thundershirt. Keep in mind that this was the large size, intended for cats 13 pounds and up, but Loki is a rotund (portly? solid?) 20ish pounds, and the Thundershirt was just not big enough to fully contain that much awesome. 

It didn't restrict his respiration, but it did look like a My Little Pony shirt on a bodybuilder. 

Additionally, when I tried letting him into the living room to see if the Thundershirt changed the way he interacted with Leila, it in no way shape or form impeded his mission to race after her until she climbed up on top of the refrigerator to glare. If I actually gave Leila attention while Loki was in the living room wearing his Thundershirt, he practically keeled over from jealousy. 

OK, I thought. Maybe Leila's a better candidate. 

I washed the Thundershirt so Leila wouldn't have to deal with Loki's smell, and went through the entire acclimation process with her next. At first, it went really well. She was a little confused about it initially, but when I actually put the Thundershirt on, she purred happily to herself and stumbled drunkenly around the living room for a little while as she got used to the pressure. 

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I left it on for half an hour or so, keeping an eye on her, and then took it off. We repeated the process a few times as she got comfortable with it over the coming days, and I may have gotten a little overconfident, because I had a few friends over, and I triumphantly explained how readily Leila took to the Thundershirt. 

"She loves it!" I declared, petting Leila, who was happily purring in my lap, secure in the knowledge that Loki was hiding under the bed to avoid my house guests. 

They expressed skepticism, and I felt the need to demonstrate. Which is when this happened:

So we were back to the drawing board. I spent another few days getting Leila used to the Thundershirt, until she had finally decided that it was not, perhaps, the enemy after all, and then I tried letting Loki into the living room with her while she was wearing it, in hopes that it would calm her enough that she wouldn't go into defensive posturing, so that Loki, in turn, would stop freaking out and attacking her. 

What happened, of course, was that Leila made an admirable attempt at imitating a block of frozen meatloaf, and Loki promptly attacked her. 

Experiments with the Thundershirt continue, but I suspect it's not a good fit for us. Maybe if I'd started using it sooner, before they became entrenched in their pattern of hiss-attack-hiss-hide on top of the fridge, they would have taken to it more readily. That doesn't mean I don't think the Thundershirt is useful: I have ample firsthand testimony from people who have found that it works wonders with anxious pets, but I think in this particularly instance of multicat hostility dynamics, the Thundershirt never really stood a chance. 

Luckily, there's always lorazepam. 

For me and for Leila.