What’s the Deal with Cat Pheromones? What are They Used for and How do They Work?
Veterinarian Reviewed by Dr. Janice Huntingford, DVM on July 22, 2018
Posted in Behavior Management
If you have one or more cats that experience intense bouts of anxiety, you may have taken them to the vet to discuss ways to alleviate that stress. After all, stressed cats are at higher risk for digestive problems, lower immunity and other health issues. They can also be a nightmare to live with.
In all of this discussion, you may have heard your vet suggest cat pheromones as an option for calming down your skittish or down-right terrified pet. At first, they may sound like some kind of medication—really, they are quite the opposite.
Cats have an extraordinary sense of smell and gather a lot of information about their surroundings using their noses. What they’re picking up as they walk around your home are pheromones, either placed by themselves or by another cat in your house.
Pheromones occur in almost every species. Essentially, they are chemicals animals release that communicate with other animals within a particular species. Humans have them, dogs have them, bees have them—and so do cats. An organ at the roof of the mouth called the vomeronasal organ receives these pheromones and triggers a physiological response.
How cats use pheromones
Cats use their natural pheromones to communicate with other cats. For example, female cats in heat produce pheromones that male cats can pick up on from several miles away. Mother cats release pheromones to bond with their kittens and help them locate her if separated.
They also leave pheromones to mark certain surfaces. You might notice your cat rubbing its cheeks along the walls or furniture in your home. Within its cheeks are glands that produce facial pheromones. This facial rubbing is called scent-marking and is said to produce feelings of calm, familiarity and contentment in cats because the cat recognizes the surface as safe or friendly.
Synthetic pheromones can ease anxiety
Thanks to technology, scientists have found a way to recreate synthetic versions of the facial pheromones your cat uses during scent-marking. These synthetic, man-made cat pheromones can be used to calm or relieve stressed cats by marking surfaces as friendly.
Originally, synthetic pheromones were targeted at cats that were marking or spraying around the house or showing generally aggressive behavior. Today, they are more widely used to ease an anxious cat while traveling, being boarded, visiting the vet and more.
Synthetic cat pheromone products come in a variety of forms, such as collars, sprays, wipes and diffusers. Your vet can help you determine which product type will work best for the type of anxious or aggressive behavior you’re trying to curb.
Because cats are generally anxious beings, there are a variety of situations that may be appropriate to use synthetic pheromones in:
- Moving or getting new furniture: Major changes in living space can quickly disrupt your cat’s routine and sour its mood. If you are moving to a new house or replacing old furniture, spraying pheromones on the new objects or diffusing them in the new space can make your cat feel more at home immediately.
- Calming aggression between cats: If two cats in your home don’t get along or have been expressing aggressive behaviors, pheromone collars can sometimes act like a “reset” button for their interactions. The two cats will regard each other as friendly or at least somewhat safe to be around, hopefully mitigating their negative interactions.
- Making travelling easier: Cat carriers are your pet’s worst nightmare—the idea of putting your cat into a carrier to travel or visit the vet might arouse anxiety in even the most confident cat owners. Pheromone sprays or wipes may be able to ease the anxiety your cat feels by making the carrier seem more of a safe space.
- Creating a safe space: If your cat has separation anxiety or is stressed due to changes in its environment or health conditions, you’ll want to create a safe space where it can go relax and recharge. Once you fix up a cozy corner of a spare room, spray pheromones in the area to take the comfort to the next level and encourage your cat to visit the space more.
Do they actually work?
These products seem great, sure, but the real question is whether or not they actually work. Well, studies have been conducted using these types of pheromone products and have concluded that pheromones do work to calm anxious cats in some situations.
Pheromone products may not be as effective when used only on their own, though. They are often best used in conjunction with other types of treatment, such as behavioral therapy, stress-reduction supplements or medications.
If you notice your cat urine marking throughout the home, overgrooming, acting lethargic or depressed, hiding, refusing to eat or otherwise acting distressed, synthetic pheromones may be able to help. Consult your veterinarian for a proper diagnosis of anxiety for your cat and ask if pheromone products can help calm it down.
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Janice Huntingford, DVM, has been in veterinary practice for over 30 years and has founded two veterinary clinics since receiving her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine at the Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph. She has studied extensively in both conventional and holistic modalities. Ask Dr. Jan