Pheromone Therapy: How Can Synthetic Pheromones Calm an Anxious Pet?

What Are Pheromones?

Do you remember in the movie Shrek when Donkey says to Shrek "Oh, come on, Shrek, wake up and smell the pheromones!"?  Well, Donkey was right, pheromones do play an important role in animal behavior!


Pheromones, a word that stems from the Greek word "pherein" (to carry) and "hormone," are naturally occuring, biologically-active chemicals that influence animal behavior.  These chemicals have a wide variety of functions and have been found to be produced by a number of species from insects to humans. For example, a nursing mother dog emits pheromones from her skin and when the puppies nurse they detect the pheromones which help them relax and therefore nurse better. The pheromones act on the brain of the puppy, which is what is meant by "biologically active." Pheromones assist in reproduction, feeding, social interactions and maternal-neonatal bonding in mammals. Pheromones work within a species, in other words, cat pheromones won't work on a dog.

Dogs emit pheromones from a number of special glands and receive them in a particular organ, the vomeronasal organ, also called the Jacobson organ, which is located in the roof of the mouth.   Cats also have scent glands on particular places of their faces and bodies that emit pheromones.  When a cat rubs his head against you, he is marking you with his scent.  His scent blended with yours becomes like an indentification marker and reminder that you are part of his special group.




How Can Synthetic Pheromones Calm an Anxious Pet?

So now that we know how important natural pheromones are to cat and dog behavior, how can synthetic pheromones be used to help them?

 In the past decade, synthetic versions of dog and cat pheromones have been making their way into consumer products. D.A.P. (dog-appeasing pheromone) sprays and collars mimic the puppy-pleasing compound emitted by a mother dog. Because it is believed that dogs tend to remember smells through adulthood, French veterinarian Patrick Pageat considered the use of pheromones helpful to ease anxiety and stress even in adult dogs. Feliway, one of the cat synthetic pheromone sprays, mimics a cat’s F3 facial pheromones, which cats deposit when they rub their cheeks against surfaces, marking the areas as being safe.  Pheromone products for cats have been recommended to help with marking or urinary spraying and aggression problems especially between cats in the same home. Sprays for dogs have been recommended for a variety of anxiety-related problems ranging from fear of loud noises and thunderstorms, fear of traveling and other situational fears. Other uses include problem behaviors such as destructiveness, excessive barking, house soiling and separation anxiety.

Here at North Elm, we have found pheromones useful for nervous patients.  "Feliway can calm your cat during its veterinary visits and is also helpful for nervous boarding cats," says North Elm's Dr. Claudia Sims.  In fact, at North Elm we have started using diffusers of Feliway in the cat waiting area and exam rooms.  North Elm also uses Adaptil, the pheromone spray for dogs, on bandanas for nervous dogs. 



How Do You Know If Your Pet Is Stressed?

Symptoms of stress in cats may include:
  • Social tension, aggression or bullying in multiple cat households
  • Inappropriate elimination (urinating or defecating outside the litter box)
  • Vertical scratching or spraying
  • Hiding
In dogs, stress may be exhibited by:
  • Barking
  • Whimpering
  • House soiling
  • Salivation
  • Panting


These behaviors may be caused by a number of factors including: changes in the household (such as moving, remodeling or the arrival of a new baby), traveling or boarding, separation from owners, and unfamiliar or frightening noises, like fireworks. And, unfortunately for some dogs and cats, visits to the vet can also be stressful, which is why we are trying approaches like the use of pheromones to make your pet's visit more pleasant.

Want to learn more?

If you think pheromones might be helpful for your pet at home, or would like to learn more about how we use them at North Elm, please give us a call of bring it up at your next appointment!



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