By Diana Bocco
Chemical communication through pheromones was probably the first form of communication to evolve in animals, says Dr. Valarie Tynes, DVM, President of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists and a Veterinary Services Specialist with Ceva Animal Health in Lenexa, Kansas. “Pheromones have evolved over thousands of years to enable animals to communicate within their species and between species,” Dr. Tynes says.
Using synthetic calming pheromones for cats and dogs can help comfort an animal by sending reassuring messages. “In any situation creating anxiety, pheromones can help to reduce the stress felt by pets,” explains Dr. Tynes. “These situations can include things like changes in the home, learning new things, or discomfort or conflict with other pets in the home.”
What Exactly Are Calming Pheromones for Cats and Dogs?
Pheromones are odorless and colorless chemical signals that are species-specific, according to Dr. Tynes. This means products created for use with cats will not work on dogs and vice versa. “Each type of pheromone sends a specific comforting message to the pet, such as ‘you are safe here’ or ‘you belong here,’” Dr. Tynes says.
Calming dog and cat pheromones come in a number of formats, including plug-in diffusers, collars, sprays and wet wipes. Adaptil diffusers for dogs and Feliway diffusers for cats are well-known options. When you plug the diffuser into the wall, it warms up the solution and allows it to disperse and permeate the room with calming cat or dog pheromones.
“Feliway Multicat and Adaptil for dogs replicate appeasing pheromones produced by nursing females which create a sense of belonging to newborn puppies and kittens,” Dr. Tynes explains. “Marking pheromones such as those found in Feliway Classic … duplicate those left by the animal and others of that species in the wild to send a message the location is safe.”
Both the Feliway Classic spray and diffuser contain a synthetic copy of one of the feline facial pheromones. “Cats leave behind facial pheromones when they rub their heads against objects in their environment,” explains rehabilitation specialist Dr. Trisha East, DVM.
What Can Dog and Cat Pheromones Really Do?
There are many things about our modern lifestyle that conflict with our pets’ natural and instinctive needs. In those situations, Dr. Tynes says that dog and cat pheromones can help to provide a sense of safety and well-being.
Any pet in a state of fear or anxiety is not in a state where it can learn or where it is likely to make behavioral choices that are desirable to humans, says Dr. Tynes. “When in a relaxed, emotionally balanced state, animals are better able to learn to perform acceptable behaviors and are more able to make choices to perform those behaviors that humans may prefer.”
Using Pheromones for Dogs vs. Pheromones for Cats
Dogs and cats can benefit from the use of calming pheromones in different ways. For example, calming pheromones can help dogs who have a difficult time with loud noises, especially in the case of thunderstorms and fireworks, where noises come together with flashes and bursts of lights that are frightening to dogs. “Some dogs also are often confused and upset by being left at home for long periods while their family is at school and work, causing separation anxiety or separation distress,” Dr. Tynes explains. “Pheromones help the dog feel safe and can prevent unwanted behaviors like whining, crying, pacing and being destructive when the pet is alone in the house.”
In cats, calming pheromones are also useful for making them feel safe and secure, either when alone or in the presence of other cats. “Conflict between cats is very concerning because once friction has escalated, those relationships are not easily repaired,” Dr. Tynes says. “Using Feliway [Multicat] when adopting an additional cat may help the relationship begin well.”
Dog and Cat Pheromones Aren't a Magical Solution
While calming pheromones may help with many issues in both dogs and cats, they don’t work for every potential issue or behavioral problem your pet might be experiencing. For example, pheromones will not treat underlying medical issues, says Dr. Tynes.
Dr. East agrees and adds that dog and cat pheromones may not work well in moderate to severe cases of anxiety. “They can be used in conjunction with a behavioral modification plan and other medical treatments your veterinarian recommends,” Dr. East says. “It is important to always discuss behavioral concerns with your pet’s veterinarian, who in some cases, may refer you to a veterinary behaviorist.” More powerful anti-anxiety medications for cats are available by prescription.
How to Use Calming Pheromones
Calming pheromones for cats and dogs come in different formats. Plug-in diffusers are great for use in the home, but if you want similar benefits when you’re traveling with your pet, you will need to use collars, sprays or wipes. Collars come in sizes for puppies and adult dogs, and Dr. Tynes says that they should be changed each month.
Dr. Tynes recommends calming pheromone wipes or sprays when transporting your pets, going on trips to the vet or when you’re on vacation. For cats, “Apply the spray to a blanket, bandana or even your own clothing about 10 minutes before you introduce the cat to the carrier or in the car,” Dr. Tynes says. “After administration, the pheromone will be present for approximately four hours.”
A Few Things to Keep in Mind
Because cat and dog pheromones do not require absorption into the bloodstream nor metabolism by the animal to have an effect, they are very safe for animals of any age, regardless of state of health, and are safe to use with any other medication that an animal may be receiving, says Dr. Tynes. However, dog and cat pheromones should not be seen as the magic solution for behavior problems. “Pheromones don’t ‘fail to work,’ but they may simply be insufficient alone to completely resolve a problem,” Dr. Tynes says.
“An appropriate behavior modification program including positive reinforcement for appropriate behavior and desensitization along with counter-conditioning to help the pet get over its fears or anxiety regarding certain situations will also be necessary,” Dr. Tynes adds.
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