University of Pennsylvania Clinical Trial Shows ‘Big Barker’ Therapeutic Mattress is Reducing Pain in Large Breed Dogs

The Pennsylvania-Born Story Of A Dog Bed Proven To Help Big Dogs Live Big Lives.

Though it’s not clear from his career choice, or his original 92 lb sidekick Hank, Eric Shannon wasn’t always a dog person. He grew up in the Philadelphia suburbs, crossing the street at the approach of a dog. But at the age of 27, when Eric found his new four-legged best friend Hank, pet ownership turned into a lifelong quest.

It began with his first business, an online e-commerce operation that sold niche products from pet shows around the country to enthusiastic owners. High-end dog beds were prized items, and Eric noticed a number of repeat dog-bed customers. People were reporting their last bed had fallen apart, flattened and turned into a pancake after less than a year. It was something he was noticing with his own dog beds, too.

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With the realization that normal dog beds were just not built to hold 90-pound Labradors night after night, Eric’s big creation, the Big Barker, was born in 2012. In the quest to offer proper support for big-boned dogs, Eric consulted leading veterinarians and brainstormed with one of America’s most talented foam engineers. The result was the proprietary 3-layered OrthoMedicTM blend of high-density foam, calibrated for optimal support distribution.

“There’s a joint crisis happening with our large breed dogs,” says Eric. “Most people don’t know that they come with a specific set of needs. They have a kind of ticking time bomb in their bodies.” 

Osteoarthritis (OA) is the most common joint disease diagnosed by veterinarians, and it affects more than 80% of dogs over the age of 8 in certain large breeds. The condition comes from daily wear and tear on healthy bone cartilage, the result of normal activity or unsupported rest, which leaves joint-bone connections inflamed. With no cure-all on the market, owners are often stuck between a rock and a hard place — expensive medications, ongoing rehab, invasive surgeries, or in some cases, end-of-life scenarios.

In 2016, Big Barker donated some beds to PennVet Working Dog Center, a national research and development center for police and service dogs. Months later, Eric got a request from UPenn’s veterinary hospital, asking if Big Barker could provide beds for recovering patients in their Emergency Room. Eric, of course, was happy to help, and ended up providing Big Barkers for the entire hospital.

With Big Barker beds in their neurology, surgical oncology, and ICU departments, the doctors at UPenn were confident that the beds produced tangible results. They believed a study could quantify the benefits the patients were experiencing, and validate the idea that a quality mattress could have a life changing impact on dogs with joint issues, reducing pain and restoring mobility. Most OA studies focus on medical or surgical interventions; the idea that a therapeutic mattress could be a preventative approach was a groundbreaking insight.

In an open-label study completed in 2020, a statistically significant number of dogs came on location to test a Big Barker mattress for 28 days. The dogs were at least 70 lbs, three years of age or older, each with a confirmed diagnosis of osteoarthritis. Early in the study, owners began reporting life-changing benefits.

The owners reported improvements in their dog’s gait, joint pain, joint function, and overall quality of life throughout the duration of the study. UPenn’s data confirmed their observations. Activity monitors were placed on the dogs’ collars, to track their night-time movement and assess restlessness, pain, and quality of recovery. Over the course of the study, more than half of the dogs showed at least a 13% reduction in movement through the night. 25% experienced a 33% improvement in night-time restlessness.

Experts at UPenn evaluated the dogs using clinically validated assessment tools such as the Canine Orthopedic Index and Canine Brief Pain Inventory. The data proved the bed offered more than just a restful sleep. After only four weeks of sleeping on a Big Barker bed, the data showed the following improvement to the mean scores:

  • 19.9% improvement to the mean Pain Score, which measures the frequency and severity of a dog’s pain, as well as the level of distress the pain causes the dog. 
  • 21.6% improvement to in Pain Severity 
  • 17.6% improvement in Joint Function
  • 12.5% improvement in Joint Stiffness
  • 9.6% improvement in Gait, and 
  • 15.1% improvement in Quality of Life after only five weeks of sleeping on a Big Barker bed.
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The Big Barker mattress is engineered, tested, and now proven to help large dogs live more active lives. Veterinarians, trainers, and clinicians have all declared this data to be extremely valuable within their professions. 

“Arthritis really is the most widespread quality-of-life problem for big dogs.” says Eric. “Nobody wants their dog to be sore or in pain as they age, so we’re thrilled that we’re able to offer a low cost, long lasting, clinically validated tool that people can use to help their dogs enjoy interacting with their loved ones and the world around them for as long as possible.” 

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