Pheromones for fractious cats or behavioral problems: do they work?
There are many things that can stress your cat out: moving to a new home, a trip to the vet, the addition of a new family member or a stray cat around the house. Many of us don’t like to treat our cats with prescription drugs because they can have unwanted behavioral and physiological side effects. Pheromones, alone or in combination with behavior modification therapy, can be the answer.
What are Pheromones?
Pheromones are produced by the glands located around your cat’s mouth, chin, forehead and cheeks. Pheromones are perceived by your cat through her vomeronasal organ, which is located between the nose and the mouth. Pheromones are used by cats to communicate amongst each other and to mark territory by rubbing their faces against furniture, objects, people and each other. Commercially manufactured pheromones are of the “calming type” and are designed to relax your cat. They come in many forms including diffusers (e.g. scented plug-ins), wipes, sprays and collars.
When and how to use Pheromones.
- For the exceptionally fractious cat who does not appreciate going into the cat carrier or traveling, you may want to wipe the inside of the carrier with a pheromone wipe. You can go one step further and spray a blanket or towel with a pheromone spray and then line the bottom of the carrier with the treated blanket/towel.
- In addition to stressful vet visits, issues within the home are often treated with the use of pheromone products. For example, if your stressed cat is becoming aggressive toward you because there is another cat outside, keep the shades closed, use a pheromone diffuser in the areas you cat frequents (perhaps near the window or door through which your cat can see the outside cat) and introduce your cat to a pheromone collar.
- Other uses for pheromones are to reduce scratching, spraying and aggression issues between cats in the same house; general anxiety; stress; and to comfort older, skittish or sick cats.
Do Pheromones work?
In a study sponsored by the largest manufacturer of pheromone products, the manufacturer claimed a success rate of 90% of cases in which the targeted behavior was scratching and spraying. Note that this success rate was only for situations where the cat was expressing these behaviors on vertical surfaces such as walls and doors. No such luck for spraying on beds or couches.
As with any other remedies we use for stress, pheromones work for some cats and not for others. Are they worth a try? Probably and there are no downsides to trying. If you find the pheromones work, you have just found a natural solution for your cat without the use of pharmaceuticals. If they don’t work you may want to talk to your vet as the behavioral issue may have other underlying medical causes and requires the intervention of a vet. If you do go to your vet, you may also ask for samples of pheromone products as well as for ideas for other natural stress reducers.
There are other interesting options related to pheromone use. There are some companies that make sprays and diffusers containing essential oils that simulate pheromones. Often marketed as “calming oils” they claim to have similar effects to pheromones. Make sure that any essential oil product you use with your cat is specifically designed for felines as essential oils are generally toxic http://onpets.com/remedies-for-feline-asthma/ to cats. Some such products are even targeted directly at marking behavior. Unfortunately, there are no large studies available, that we know of, regarding the efficacy of these oils.
One of the primary benefits of these natural products – other than affecting the troublesome behavior – is that they are not a pharmaceuticals and they have no side effects. If you do decide to try pheromones, give them time to work and consider combining them with other treatment options and behavioral modification methods.