Pheromone therapy, or 'pheromonatherapy', is a great way of managing some common stress-related behavioural disorders in dogs and cats, without the need for drugs and their associated side-effects. It can also be used as an important add-on in the treatment of more complex behavioural problems by vets or behaviourists. So how does it work? This article explains what pheromones are, which products are available and how they may be used to help your pet.
What are pheromones?
Pheromones are chemical substances used for communication between individuals of the same species. They are detected by the vomeronasal organ, which is part of the olfaction system (the same system that detects smell). They trigger a specific action or event, such as a change in the emotional state of the animal.
What are the important pheromones in dogs and cats?
An important pheromone in dogs is 'dog appeasing pheromone', which is produced in the sebaceous (or oil-producing) glands of the mammary chains of the nursing female. It appears to calm and reassure (or appease) the puppies.Cats release a number of pheromones when they use their face for marking. The most important are the F3 and F4 fractions:
- The F3 fraction is deposited by the cat throughout its environment by rubbing its face against objects to mark out boundaries. This appears to provide emotional stability for the cat, perhaps because it helps to distinguish familiar from unfamiliar objects. The absence of the pheromone seems to make the cat more anxious.
- The F4 fraction is used for marking other animals, or people, with which the cat feels comfortable ('allomarking'). Typically you will see this amongst cats which live together. Occasionally a cat may even mark a dog, if they are good friends! Usually your cat will mark you, too, once he/she has got to know you.
What pheromone products are available for dogs and what are their uses?
CEVA Animal Health produce a product called Adaptil (formerly known as DAP), which is a synthetic version of dog appeasing pheromone. It is useful not only for puppies, but also for adult dogs. It may be used to help the dog adapt to stressful situations better. Examples of such situations include separation, weaning, transport and firework displays. It can also be used to help puppies during the socialisation period, to decrease their apprehensiveness in unfamiliar situations and environments. There are three different formulations available:
- A spray may be used when you wish to apply Adaptil to a specific location or object - for example, when you are getting your dog used to a crate or car. It can also be sprayed directly onto bedding - good for helping a new puppy settle in. It should be applied about 15 minutes in advance and for continued effectiveness should be re-sprayed every 1 to 2 hours. It doesn't normally leave a stain, but always test on a small area first!
- A plug-in diffuser is suitable for dogs under long-term stress within the home e.g. those suffering from separation anxiety. It delivers pheromone over an area of approximately 60m2 (about 650 square feet), and it is recommended that you have at least one diffuser per floor in your house. The product is effective for approximately 4 weeks and it is possible to buy refills for the diffuser. Air-conditioning may affect the effectiveness of the pheromone. There is often a slight burning smell in the first 24 hours of use, but after this you won't normally detect anything. However, if you have asthma and are particularly sensitive then it is best to consult your GP prior to use.
- Collars containing Adaptil are available in a range of sizes. These are particularly useful for dogs encountering stressful situations on their walks and can be helpful for puppies during the socialisation period. The effects last for approximately 4 weeks so, depending on the use, you may need to renew the collar. The collar should not be allowed to get wet as this will render it less effective or the duration of action will be shortened.
What pheromone products are available for cats and what are their uses?
Two products are available, called Feliway and Felifriend. Again, these are produced by CEVA Animal Health. Feliway is a synthetic version of the F3 fraction of the feline facial pheromone, whilst Felifriend represents the F4 fraction.Feliway can be used in the control of stress/anxiety, urine marking and vertical scratching. It can also be used when introducing cats into new situations where stress is anticipated - for example, moving to a new home, visiting a veterinary practice, travelling in the car or introduction of a new pet/baby to the home. By reducing stress, you may see your cat's appetite, social interactions or play increase. Feliway is available in two formulations:
- A spray may be used on specific locations which the cat is marking by scratching or spraying with urine. (Cats do this when something is stressing them, in order to feel safer and more secure in their environment). Patience is required, as this must be done for at least a month in order to be effective. As with Adaptil in dogs, the spray can also be used on bedding or in carriers to ease the stress associated with confinement, car travel or a new environment.
- A Feliway plug-in diffuser is available and works in a similar manner to the Adaptil diffuser for dogs. It is used to reduce anxiety caused either by changes in the existing home or by movement to a new house.
Felifriend is available as a spray and is applied to the hands prior to handling a cat. It may be used by new owners or other unfamiliar people to reassure the cat and decrease aggression towards them. It works in the vast majority of cases, but there have been a few reports of increased aggression. In these cases this tends to be directed towards people who have previously been targeted, and whom the cat would normally avoid.
Where may I purchase these products?
The products are available widely from veterinary practices, pet supermarkets and online companies.For further information on Adaptil, visit http://www.adaptil.co.uk/For further information on Feliway, visit http://www.feliway.co.uk/