Pheromone Therapy for Dogs and Cats–What’s the Evidence?

Behavioral problems, especially fear and aggression in dogs and elimination in the house in both dogs and cats, are a major reason for people to give up or euthanize their pets, so they represent a serious medical condition. There are many methods of treating such disorders with behavioral modification, and medications can sometimes be helpful, though our understand of which medications might help for which problems in which patients is very poor. However, the sad truth is that we have very limited success in alleviating many of these problems.

In the face of serious medical problems for which there are not strikingly effective scientific therapies, more questionable methods can become widely used. Some, like Bach flower essences, such as Rescue Remedy, or homeopathic treatments are clearly useless nonsense. Others are plausible scientifically, but not really shown to work in definitive ways. One such treatment is the use of pheromones.

Pheromones are chemicals animals produce that can affect the behavior of other members of the same species. They are believed to be common and important in coordinating social behavior in animals, especially mammals. The role, if any, that they play in human behavior is less clear, though they may be involved in the synchronizing of menstrual cycles in women living together. In any case, it is clearly reasonable that such substances might have an impact on the behavior of dogs and cats and so might be useful in managing behavior problems. Notice all the “mights” in that statement? The devil, of course, is in the details

It has become quite common for veterinarians to recommend use of synthetic pheromone analogs, that is chemicals made to be structurally  natural pheromones, to help treat behavioral problems. The most common products are Feliway, and analogue of the facial pheromone cats leave behind on furniture and people the rub their faces against, and DAP, short for Dog Appeasing Pheromones, a pheromone nursing mothers release which is believed to calm puppies. These are sold with dramatic claims of efficacy for a wide range of conditions, but of course the claims of folks selling the product have to be viewed as perhaps less objective than other forms of evidence.

In the most recent issue of the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, a systematic review was published which evaluated the research evidence for the use of these products.

Frank,D. Beauchamp,G. Palestrini,C. Systematic review of the use of pheromones for treatment of undesirable behavior in cats and dogs. J.Am.Vet.Med.Assoc., 2010, 236, 12, 1308-1316.

The purpose of a systematic review is to evaluate all the published data on the basis of quality, and then evaluate the results of studies that meet a reasonable minimum quality. In this review, studies were excluded that did not meet minimum quality standards or that were conducted by researchers working for the company selling the product under study. This left a total of 14 studies, 7 in cats and 7 in dogs.

In general, as is too often the case in veterinary medicine, the methodological quality of the studies overall was lower than expected in human medicine, with no studies reaching the highest standards. But as the authors wisely note, imperfect information is better than no information, so we must make our judgments based on the best available evidence even if it is prone to errors that better studies would avoid.  I will spare you the interesting but complex details of the various study designs and their strengths and weaknesses, though reading the full review is recommended for anyone interested. Having read through the full report, I am convinced that unlike others I have reviewed, the conclusions of the authors of this systematic review are supported by the methods and results they detail elsewhere in the paper.

Of the 7 cat studies, none provided convincing evidence of a benefit. Some decrease in urine spraying occurred in some cats, but the significance of this was muddied by failure to follow up on cats which dropped out of studies, which were probably cats who didn’t improve with the treatment, and other methodological flaws in the studies reviewed. Pheromone therapy also was not clearly of benefit in cats with interstitial cystitis (a condition in which irritation in the bladder causes symptoms much like those of a bladder infection). The pheromone also did not seem beneficial in calming cats in the hospital or facilitating the stressful process of placing IV catheters in hospitalized cats.

In dogs, one study found some evidence that pheromone therapy might reduce anxiety in puppies during training. Other than that, no convincing evidence of benefit was found for anxiety associated with veterinary care, anxiety in shelter dogs, or barking and elimination indoors by recently adopted dogs.

The limitations in the quality of the evidence mean we cannot definitively declare that pheromone therapy doesn’t work. What we can say is that based on the best evidence to date, it does not appear to have a benefit. Further study is certainly reasonable, but as always I question the wisdom and the ethics of widespread sale and use of products which, despite years of testing, don’t seem to have much evidence that they work. These products appear harmless, and if clients wish to spend money rolling the dice on a treatment that is not well supported by the limited clinical research available that is certainly up to them. But when veterinarians recommend such products, it does tend to convey the impression that they are legitimate, validated therapies, and I think we do a disservice to our clients if we make such recommendations without a clear statement of the limitations in the evidence. Thanks to this paper, it is now easier to make such a statement.

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55 Responses to Pheromone Therapy for Dogs and Cats–What’s the Evidence?

  1. v.t. says:

    It would be interesting to see the studies you are referring to.

    As for veterinarian recommendations, I suspect they are recommending based mostly on clients’ anecdotal experience, rather than product representation. Add to that, the very high-priced product that when found in the veterinary clinic, are marked up considerably, making it cost-prohibitive. The product sold in retail stores is high-priced as it is, for the very small amount of product that must be used on a consistent, repeat basis for effectiveness, as claimed by the manufacturer.

    I’ve seen many vets claim Feliway works in the clinical setting, but I don’t know how they can measure effectiveness when cats in general hide their anxiety, pain and stress anyway. I wonder if the cat would react the same if they were released in a timely manner and did as well at home (as is usually the case when the condition/recovery can be managed at home). Then there will always be the cat(s) who surprise you with resiliency despite the stress or condition so it is difficult to truly gauge effectiveness of the product.

    Purely anecdotal of course: I have a cat who started urinating in odd places, did the health workup and rule-outs, investigated the environment, and several other things involving behavioral modification. I decided to give Feliway a shot. In the course of two months of using the products as the manufacturer recommends, there was absolutely no improvement beyond the first week. (the manufacturer recommends up to 3 months of continued, consistent use). I will continue to the 3rd month but just to say I did, I do not expect improvement from the product, rather I expect improvement from my diligence in working with the cat in behavioral conditioning.

    So, perhaps it’s just my cat who doesn’t respond to Feliway. Yet, I have a multi-cat household and none of the other cats have responded favorably or unfavorably either. Perhaps no cat responds to the product.

    There are literally thousands of testimonials and reviews on the net in favor of the product, but of course, all anecdotal. I recently heard somewhere that the “active”, “essential oil” ingredient is valerian (or maybe it was lavender, I can’t recall which). Either way, it’s pricey and I believe totally ineffective. My personal experiment with Feliway failed miserably.

  2. What branch of government is regulating Feliway? I cannot find any FDA or USDA claim along with their all natural anecdotal ones. I also cannot find a cheap knock off competitor. When what you sell does not need to work it should be easy for the competition to make a similar product that does not work.

  3. skeptvet says:

    VT,

    I haven’t been very impressed with Feliway myslef, having suggested it to owners in the past with a “who knows?” level of endorsement. If you’re interested in reviewing the specific studies, they are listed in the references section of the original paper.

  4. skeptvet says:

    Art,

    I haven’t been able to find any regulatory information on these products either. EPA regulates pheromones used in pest control, and this (http://apvma.gov.au/publications/gazette/2007/10/gazette_2007-10-07_page_15.pdf) is the approval for use granted by the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority, which sounds like a hybrid of the EPA and FDA’s CVM.

    I would guess it’s under EPA jurisdiction, but I’m still looking.

  5. v.t. says:

    There seems to be some confusion for classification, I assume it would fall under aromatherapy, and according to the FDA, anything actually applied to the body would be regulated by the FD&C Act (for example, perfume). Since Feliway and DAP are not applied to the body, neither are they drugs or cosmetics.

    Since it is not applied to the body as would a pesticide containing an essential oil or solvents etc, I assume it is not regulated by the EPA.

    So far, I could only find on the FDA’s website regarding aromatherapy:

    http://www.fda.gov/Cosmetics/ProductandIngredientSafety/ProductInformation/ucm127054.htm

    Should the CPSC regulate it because one product is a plug-in device and another product is a pump spray?

  6. v.t. says:

    Art, maybe they already have competitors, in essential oil marketers. Pet owners are using essential oils in various ways for behavior problems in pets. (in diffusers, in collars, even directly on the pets’ fur – despite the dangers and no evidence of effectiveness).

  7. would be interested in seeing what if any country has good consumer protection regulations that keep it from being sold. OZ?

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  9. Lucy says:

    Hello,

    If anyone would like a copy of the 35 peer reviewed published papers looking at the practical application and efficacy of the pheromone products (DAP and Feliway) and / or an overall summary giving the exact stats please e-mail lucy.brett@ceva.com or visit feliway.co.uk or dayfordogs.co.uk.

    Alternatively, I am happy to answer and questions you have if you would like to send me an e-mail.

    Lucy Brett
    CEVA Animal Health

  10. skeptvet says:

    Sure, I would love copies of those papers. Of course, the systematic review discussed in this post looked at the 14 papers that met minimum standards of methodologic quality and concluded that the evidence was weak, so I’m not sure how they missed what you seem to feel is definitive proof of the value of your product. But as I did with a recent study of DAP, I am happy to look at the papers in detail and see if they support your company’s claims. Please e-mail them to skeptvet@skeptvet.com.

    Thanks.

  11. skeptvet says:

    Lucy,

    I’m still waiting for the evidence you offered to provide.

  12. PricklyPear says:

    I’m skeptical, myself, but note that she provided her email address as means of contact — she may not return to this page to notice your request. As of yet, her non-response isn’t as fishy as it might appear.

  13. skeptvet says:

    Yes, well that exchange took place a couple of years ago, so it’s moot at this point. As far as I know, published results of studies providing additional support have not appeared in that time.

  14. v.t. says:

    Well, the studies I’ve seen (by CEVA) are mostly anecdotal at best, and in clinical settings, much like I described earlier. There’s no control, so who knows.

    My experiment failed. Not only did the plug-in and spray pump fail, but the plugins leak, leaving residue on the walls (not to mention the danger of a moist, leaking plugin in a wall outlet), and the pump spray leaves a nasty odor, despite the manufacturer’s claim it is odorless. Add to that the cost, extremely high for little product that ultimately did nothing. The behavioral training, altering litterbox placement, however, worked like a charm.

  15. Lori says:

    I was a skeptic when the vet told me about the DAP collar. However, I have had wonderful results with it. I hadn’t slept for several nights, because my new puppy kept attacking my other dog and cats throught the night. I put the DAP collar on him, and it was a miracle! Within minutes, he calmed down. That evening, I slept the entire night! It felt like the first time my child slept the whole night through!

    My dog was also fearful of anyone other than me. Now, with the collar, he goes up to people for a pat on the head. I sometimes feel like there are tranquilizers in the DAP collar drugging him!

    I have no connection with the company, but if your dog has issues similar to mine, give the collar a try. What do you have to lose other than a few bucks?

  16. v.t. says:

    These companies claim that “dog appeasing pheromones” are produced by lactating females, and give pups a sense of calm, security etc – and they claim that all pups and adult dogs can benefit from the product.

    But, what is in these “synthetic” products?

    Sentry’s Calming Collar, for example, has this:
    lavender chamomile fragrance
    Pheromones: 6.00%. Inert Ingredients: 94.0%.

    DAP Pheromone Collar:
    Dog Appeasing Pheromone: 2.5%. Inert ingredients: 97.5%

    I was not aware a lactating female dog naturally smelled of lavender and/or chamomile. Or that a cat’s natural facial pheromones smelled of valerian.

    Both companies report there are no toxicities or side effects from use of their products (everything is natural, you know), but ingestion, resulting gastrointestinal effects and eye damage are possible. However, how would a consumer know that when they are denied full disclosure of ingredients? Likewise, “inert ingredients” are usually always proprietary and not required to be disclosed, making it difficult for any of us to determine the safety of ANY ingredients (the EPA and flea/tick products are a fine example of this).

    IMO, manufacturers are toying with aromatherapy and essential oils and calling it medically therapeutic (termed “pheromonatherapy”), and they can do it with little regulation. We already know that essential oils are not without risks to pets as well as to humans, and I believe aromatherapy is a big grey area, or, big black void in vet med. I’ve looked at the original patent for Feliway, and while it looks like a harmless concoction of fatty acids or their derivatives, we just don’t know for certain, or what has transpired with the product over the course of years. Today’s products are immersed largely in ethanol and oils, and likely, the final creation mimics essential oils.

    Effectiveness for their claims?
    Not so much.

  17. v.t. says:

    Temporarily technically challenged…

    Effectiveness for their claims, not so much:
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20550445

  18. Mali says:

    Thank you for this post! Our new vet recommended the feliway plug-in today. As we just relocated to Portland, I’m sure I’ll be referencing a lot on your blog going forward. I’m sure many of the science based clinics also have a bit of the woo dabbled in to appease everyone (and make a bit o’cash).

  19. skeptvet says:

    Glad you found it useful.

  20. Peter Apps says:

    While hard evidence on efficacy would be good to see, the claims for the “pheromone” products would be more convincing if there was some plausible mechanism for their effects. For example, it is very difficult to understand how introducing the smell of another cat’s facial glands into a home is likely to reduce anxiety or house soiling in the resident cat.

  21. Tom Merritt says:

    Two things here I’d like to say.

    1st- a bit of clarification for everyone about pheromones. I think the media and bad commercials are to blame for a misconception that most have. Pheromones are a chemical structure that has a specific chemical reaction– think lock and key– it doesn’t have a “scent” like you would think, but it is more like a how a banana has a specific flavour. You would never confuse a banana with a brussel sprout. Also, the majority of people in this world cannot tell one banana from another. Hence why pheromones, synthetic or natural, make almost no difference where they come from. They cause a specific reaction in the body of what ever species they are designed for. Thus why Feliway or DAP can work if you know it’s intended purpose.

    2nd- In general these products are being marketed VERY wrong and not for their intended purpose. I say this from my own experience and use of Feliway. My background and work is in research science and I’m highly skeptical of most claims. I worked for a while in my Masters with insect pheromones for different purposes [nothing commercial, just research and experimentation to understand]. So when I had [and still have] spraying problems with our cats, I doubted Feliway would work, but needed to try something new.

    Feliway failed to do anything with the spraying/urinating problem [heck we still have it]. But it did do something. It returned our 3 cats to their original friendly behaviour before we had our son 18 months ago. One of our cats we had barely seen once he had been born. Within 12 hours of the Feliway being plugged in, she was out and about. And within a few days was back to her normal self- even with a screaming, constantly chasing toddler — and the other 2 were even more friendly and active than before Feliway. I thought I was just “thinking” this effect. But I let the Feliway run dry and did not replace it for over 2 weeks. And the disappearing acts began again. I replaced the Feliway and now back to as before. I’m now sold.

    Again this is not saying it will work with everyone’s cat(s) because it is going to be a specific reaction that may not be the root of the problem you are facing– but it sure did change ours. All that said, it seems useless for spraying/urine– but they will keep marketing it as such, which is a shame. This pheromone obviously has no relation to that behaviour and will cause more frustration than good reaction for the people who buy it to fix that problem. Someone needs to just do a proper study on what it really is doing [that said I’m assuming no one has].

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  25. Bianca says:

    I know this post is old but I just wanted to comment for anyone considering Feliway. My husband and I just got a small kitten (we already have an eight-year-old cat). On the first day, the older cat was a mess (snarling, hissing, hiding, the works). I started researching for anything that could help and found reviews for Feliway online. I, too, was very skeptical as it seems that Feliway either works or doesn’t for certain cats. We still bought one – albeit overpriced – diffuser for our bedroom and plugged it in for a few hours. To be completely honest, I have noticed a huge difference in a short amount of time. My older girl is still a little angry and hisses occasionally, but she doesn’t hide at all and can be in the same room with the new kitten. We had them both up on the bed today, which was amazing to see. I definitely wouldn’t leave them alone together but the changes have been quite impressive. Of course, it won’t work for every cat but it really helped us out.

  26. Kane Wheatley says:

    Hi Skeptvet – now it’s 2015, has any further study been conducted on Feliway that you are aware of? could you please post a direct link to your original paper so as I can review the original study.

    Many Thanks, Kane

  27. skeptvet says:

    As always, while I’m glad things are going better for your pets, unfortunately this sort of anecdote doesn’t help much in deciding whether or not the product actually works. There are lots of reasons why things can change when we do something that have nothing to do with what we actually did. Here are some examples to consider:

    Medical Miracles: Should We Believe?

    Testimonials Lie

    Alternative medicine and placebo effects in pets

    Placebo effects in epileptic dogs

    Medical Practices Once Widely Accepted that Proved Ineffective or Harmful when Studied Scientifically

  28. skeptvet says:

    The most recent review of the evidence I see is this one from last year:
    Hewson, C. Evidence-based approaches to reducing in-patient stress – Part 2: Synthetic pheromone preparations.Veterinary Nursing Journal2014 29 6 204-206

    Abstract
    This article is the second of three that examine why hospitalisation is stressful, and why and how to reduce that stress. In it, I review the evidence for using synthetic pheromone preparations to relieve in-patient stress. I conclude that there is no robust, published evidence to support such use, and that environmental enrichment is a more logical approach.

    The review cited in the original post is in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, and that is not an open access journal, so access is limited to subscribers. You might be able to fin a copy in a local public or university library online or in the stacks.

  29. v.t. says:

    Bianca,

    For what it’s worth, in my experience, proper introductions between cats works far better than Feliway 🙂 Such as supervision, tincture of time, and your engagement in ensuring safety and harmony between the cats.

    That said, if the Feliway actually worked for you, glad to hear.

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  34. Art malernee Dvm says:

    I want to the local veterinary county meeting last night to get some required by law CE. While finishing my meal I listened to the local veterinarian, boarded in behavior , promote pheromone therapy she said was promoted by the studies. I was able to google skeptvet/phermone and show others at the table otherwise. Those not able to see my iPhone left the meeting thinking the best evidence supports pheromone therapy. Veterinarians would be better off not attending required by law meetings if our boarded specialist use these meeting to promote unproven medical care in the market place. The government lets these products to be sold without proof they work and require veterinarians to get CE. When you end up with those selling unproven medical care paying for the CE. What good does that CE do?

  35. Art malernee Dvm says:

    Thank you for this post! Our new vet recommended the feliway plug-in today. >>>

    From the meeting last night I heard there are now two pheromone plugins. Since they are promoted as different pheromones the behaviorist said you could plug both of them in at the office.

  36. v.t. says:

    Wow, Art, that had to hurt. Wonder if the behaviorist also might have had a little affiliation with the product being promoted?

  37. Art malernee dvm says:

    v.t. I stopped seeing salespersons at the office years ago when studies showed doctors who get their information other places make better doctors but when you are at the required by law CE meeting and win the raffle it’s hard not to take home the 50 dollar Shell gasoline card.

  38. Wendalore says:

    Feliway on people

    I keep checking in online to see if anyone is researching Feliway Spray as applied to human cat owners. (Literally)
    (By the way, just above, I see that the two cat pheromone products is mentioned, saying that the two cat pheromones are different from one another.) I’ve seen them online and in my local pet-product store and read the packaging and flyers, and I got the impression that they are the same exact pheromone (copy) and are even made by the same lab/company, whatever it’s called—in Europe (I’m lazily not getting up to look.) The two companies are marketing them differently—different shape diffuser, different package, different hype. But nothing contradictory. Just saying.)

    I am contributing this to this blog not because SkeptVet is going to think it is valuable, because if this isn’t anecdotal, what is!

    I got a beautiful long haired male cat from the local shelter, 3 years old, they said he was from a family who couldn’t keep him b/c they were moving to a place that didn’t allow animals. Very frustrating lack of information. He was still recovering from his neutering surgery, (the day before) and I think still on pain meds. He seemed pretty mellow, so home with me he came, meowing all the way. (Haven’t had my OWN cat before. Took care of a cat last year that I’d known for a long time, who was so sweet and loving that I fell in love. She loved to be stroked for plenty of time so that we could exchange love, she would purr, and we would be happy. Her preferred place to hang out was my bed. This is to show you that I can have a loving relationship with cats.)

    Now, when I got my new cat home, he was so scared, he didn’t come out from under the furniture for a few days. But he was a gentleman always with his litter box and his scratching! Little by little he’d come out and explore just a little more. That included sitting beside me and flopping down beside me to sleep with his body touching my leg.
    But no lap sitting (he’s very long, didn’t fit well…but, who knows) and very little stroking. Maybe four strokes and he’d jerk his head back suddenly, saying. “That’s it!” If I didn’t heed, he’d scratch or bite, pretty gently, but not pleasantly, of course.
    I was reading everything I could find, and heard of Feliway and how it works. BTW, I didn’t read in this, SkeptiVet’s blog—that it is supposed to work for spraying b/c spraying is supposedly a sign that the cat feels threatened, especially in that area of the house. Sometimes it would turn out that there was an outside cat wandering around outside the window under which the cat was spraying. The application of Feliway spray to the wall was supposed to give the cat the feeling that “This is okay here, it’s safe, home-sweet-home, don’t worry.” and the cat would stop spraying. Then there are the diffusers which basically work supposedly to make the cat feel relaxed and happy. The woman with the new baby and the people with the new cat are examples of that. The presence of Feliway means “Safe, Home, I-remember-Mama, etc.” If there was a separate problem with that woman’s litterbox, e.g. if she didn’t scoop it out very often, of course the Feliway would not fix that. (But if they are misusing the litter box because they are stressed, that’s when it would work.) This is why the studies have to be scientific and controlled, as everyone was saying. I did note on this thread, to my disappointment, no one talked about the theories behind why Feliway is supposed to work. That would have been appropriate for a discussion such as this, I think.

    So, to continue on with my anecdote, I decided to experiment with putting a little Feliway on my own body. My cat was now beginning to own the house—loved his cat trees, his scratching posts, his hiding places, his fishing pole toys and daily play sessions, and his solo-play furry mice, the (empty) bathtub, gazing out the warm-weather windows, and continued to be a gentleman with this litterbox and never went outside it (yet) (although was making more of a mess of litter outside the box while burying. Tall cat.) He’d stay home alone while I went out, and hang out with me when I was home. Following me around. Liking to be brushed. Meowing for food, and for play. Liking play much better than petting. I still got my four strokes and then the head jerks back. Stop now. And when he rubs on my legs, I feel his fur, not his body. He doesn’t BUNT! He doesn’t spread his pheromones to me.
    So I’m thinking—did I get a cat so I could be its servant? Food and play, and someplace to sleep. Well, it’s not that bad BUT…
    What if *I* were WEARING Feliway??
    So I experimented with many aspects of this.
    Here are some observations.
    • Using very very very little Feliway is important. Also Feliway can last a long time on your skin and clothes.
    • When I am wearing Feliway on my solar plexus, or stomach, with clothing over the area, he will flop down next to me on my bed and stay there for hours.
    • When I am not wearing Feliway, he will lie down on my bed near me, but not touching me.
    • When I wearing Feliway on my arms, legs, feet, neck, and torso and am up-and-about, he wants to play with my fingers, hands, feet especially in socks, knees, elbows, arms. Even try to capture my stocking feet as I step over him. And I never have allowed physical play. He will also lie down touching me.
    • When I am not wearing Feliway, he is not interested in playing with my extremities.
    • My interpretation of this is that the Feliway mimics the atmosphere of his kittenhood—coming from his mother’s face, when the scent was a mandate to play with his fellow kittens—learning and practicing hunting techniques, exchanging warmth and connection. Kittens use their teeth and claws, gently, when they play. That’s what my guy would always start to do. Gentle as it was, it could break the skin, though. It also makes him feel more comfortable with me—but does not lead to his accepting petting. It’s coming along, getting a tiny bit better, but I’m not sure the Feliway helps.
    What could have happened to my boy? I think he may not have gotten socialized with humans during thoew important weeks when he was a kitten. So now he’s the beautiful princess (prince) in the glass case. We have companionship, but not heart love.
    • Other Feliway evidence. When he is on my bed and the Feliway bottle has been recently used, even though now placed on a high shelf in a box with a loose cover, he will stare up at that shelf. He wants to get up there and tries, but there is no way he can. And when I am wearing Feliway in a certain spot on my body, he will stare and it and sniff it. I haven’t followed through with more experimentation with that, because I was so hoping it would work. But I don’t think I’m getting what I need, if when I’m wearing Feliway he senses me as another cat that he wants to play rough with!! That’s not my thing!
    • The Feliway diffuser. I’ve had that plugged in since I’ve been using the spray. Almost a couple of months now. I have no “control” regarding whether it’s made a difference.
    I did love watching him warm up little by little, taking ownership of new parts of the house day by day, after I plugged it in. but that could have happened anyway. I’ll tell you one thing, though. *I* love the smell of it! They say it doesn’t smell and so maybe what I’m smelling is one of the inert ingredients getting vaporized. But I love it and it makes me happy!! I have always had a nose 3 times as sensitive as everyone else’s, and it has not diminished as much as my hearing in my old age!
    •There may be no use for Feliway in getting cold cats to warm up to their owners, but I wonder if they are researching it. That’s why I was reading this thread.
    • PS, maybe his owners were not really moving to a place that wouldn’t accept cats. Maybe they were tired of not being able to pat him. He is so gorgeous—light salmon (“orange”) and white color, with faint tabby markings, incredibly silky fur, HUGE tail with LONG fur, big green eyes, symmetrical features, and VERY long body and legs.
    So lovely in his glass case.

    And remember—I know this is an anecdote. But someone might find it interesting.

  39. Dave Thomas says:

    Hello,

    We breed and train Border Collies, and take our efforts to produce balanced, healthy animals seriously. We do not entertain non-certified “animal experts” for either health or training services.

    Obviously, this is anecdotal evidence, but we have been working with a number of credentialed behaviorists (one of whom is Sue Kapla Ph.D, Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist) on an issue with a male in our breeding program. He is alpha-domininant, non aggressive, which is to say he asserts himself when conditions arise such as over excitment of the pack in his territory, but is not agressive to other dogs or humans out side his territory. He is shown regularly and is exceptionally well behaved in stressful environments where there are lots of dogs in close quarters. His primary issue manifests itself as an overcontrolling behavior to our other male, to the extent of fighting. Border Collies typically have a high prey drive, and will fight for handler preference.

    We train with the typical behavior modification techniques (NILF, positive reinforcement, etc), but his dominance over the other male was unabated. One behaviorist suggested a pheremone collar. I will not say which brand, so as to avoid tainting this post, but it is one with a higher concentration of DAP than others. The change was quick (less than an hour), and remarkable. When found to be in close or restrictive quarters with the other male, the dominant male would growl, and escalate his behavior rapidly. In situations of overexcitement (a new dog next door setting off the other male) we could count on having to intervene in a biting event by forcefully separating him from the more submissive male. These events would occurr on a regular basis (growling), and on a weekly basis (fighting/biting). In the two months that we have used the pheremone collar, there has been no incident of fighting, and few incidents of growling. Other behaviors which have diminished, and which are directly related are high alert indicators (ears up, tense jaws, dilated pupils, stiff posture) when there is disorder or excitement in the pack.

    Take it for what it’s worth, but what was a very troubling and stubborn issue, is now at very tolerable levels within our household, and considering our dogs spend significant time time in our house and unrestrained, that is well worth the ~$20 per month we spend on this product.

    Cheers,

    Dave Thomas

  40. Katherine Catino says:

    I think a lot of people who are skeptics are missing the point. This is no different than any drug or medication designed for humans or animals. There are always too many variables to work the same consistently. Why be a nay sayer because there is inconsistent results. For goodness sakes. It is another option available. Should Tylenol be gotten away with because it works better on me than my sister? I for one am grateful for options available.

  41. skeptvet says:

    So you think science is useless because we can never say with certainty that anything won’t work for at least somebody somewhere? That sort of ignores the tremendous improvements in health and longevity, not to mention technology, that we have achieved by using science to discard things that don’t work. With your logic, we should still be using bloodletting for every illness because lots of people thought it worked for them. The point is that science works better than “try it and see,”, and I think you’re the one missing it.

  42. v.t. says:

    Katherine,

    Feliway isn’t a drug or medication (and it’s also virtually unregulated). Until CEVA produces a useful study on effectiveness for the claims, they are essentially relying on consumer anecdotes to sell their products. Anecdotes are not data.

    I’m still bewildered that only a tiny fraction of the ingredient list in Feliway is a synthetic pheromone – what is the other 97% of inert ingredients? (my guess is essential oil in carrier oil) – a very expensive essential oil at that.)

  43. Julia says:

    Bach Pet Rescue Remedy helped my cat through a period of grieving for her companion.

  44. suzie says:

    I’ve begun to notice that some people on dog forums are recommending using DAP collars as a means of subduing puppies who are ‘being a nuisance’ to them and an older pet due to their high activity levels and nipping, rather than providing suitable play interaction, training, supervision etc

    Whilst if I had a highly anxious, stressed pet I might give this product a go whilst working with the animal to deal with the problem, I feel very uncomfortable about this idea of using one to attempt to zonk out a puppy who is merely exhibiting normal behaviours. Even if these collars do work in this situation, that puppy still needs some training in good manners to help prevent the prospect of it getting dumped out at a later stage.

  45. Ada says:

    I have used Rescue Remedy for years both personally and for cats, dogs and horses. For the sake of arguement, let’s pretend that it only works on humans via the power of suggestion. But there is no way to suggest to an animal that they should calm down after having some RR spritzed on their gums or rubbed onto their ears. We used to have a psycho cat that would just beat the snot out of the other cats on a regular basis. I would rub RR on the inside of her ears and over her nose so she would have to lick it off. With in minutes she was sitting calmly next to a cat she was just harrassing and purr. It blew my mind every time. When one of my horses doesn’t want to remain calm for the farrier I spritz RR on his gums. Within minutes, he stands calmly without a problem. How do you explain that? Or how well it works for babies? It is not nonsense. Just because you have no personal knowledge of it, don’t make sweeping comments about it because you really do not know what you are talking about. Not surprised you think homeopathic remedies are nonsense, too…Big pharma isn’t the only answer. And, of course, I feel obliged to state that I have no financial interest in RR…

  46. skeptvet says:

    And yet, people believe things have effects in animals that clearly don’t all the time. Placebo effects work by proxy in veterinary medicine, where we see what we want or expect to see in our animal companions. What amazes me is that people are so ready to give up on science and medical research, despite how dramatically it has improved our lives, rather than accept the possibility that they might be wrong in what they think they see happening.

    As for “Big Pharma,” this has nothing to do with this. Pheromones are chemical compounds isolated in a lab and sold by large companies, so they are as much a commercial product as any pharmaceutical. And homeopathic remedies are produced by large commercial firms like Boiron, which is no different from a pharmaceutical company. The myth that these things are somehow more reliable because no one makes money from them is truly a myth.

  47. Ada says:

    Hmmmm, so let me see if I understand…Apparently psycho cat decided to not attack other cats only once I used Rescue Remedy on her because she was doing what I expected of her? Well, then why did scolding, extra attention or water spritzing not change her behavior? She knew what was and was not expected/acceptable then, too. Your “theory” doesn’t make any sense.

    And I did not suggest turning away from science, but I would suggest NOT turning away from alternative treatments just because you don’t think they work and especially because you have no first hand knowledge of their effectiveness and do not appear to want to consider those options.

    Lastly, I find it fascinating that you do not show any information on your site regarding your name, your practice’s name, your education, etc. Why the anonymity? That certainly makes me skeptical about what I have read on here.

    And that concludes all the time I am going to waste on this humorous little website and topic!

  48. skeptvet says:

    1. My point is simply that you can find an anecdote like yours to show absolutely anything works. People are just as certain they have seen miraculous effects from homeopathy, astrology, and ritual sacrifice as you are you have seen rescue remedy work. And yet for all the thousands of years we relied on stories like this to make judgments about medical therapies, we were never able to significantly improve our health and longevity to even a tiny fraction of the degree we have achieved in less than 200 years using science. The scientific approach clearly works better, but it requires admitting that our individual observations might be mistaken, which you obviously aren’t willing to consider.

    2. “because you have no first hand knowledge of their effectiveness and do not appear to want to consider those options.” I have considered them, and if you read my blog you will see that I accept, reject, or remain uncommitted on each individually based on the strength of the evidence. Personal experience isn’t necessary, or even very good, in deciding what works. I haven’t tried bloodletting or astrology, but I feel I can make a sound, fair judgment on their effectiveness based on the evidence, and the same is true for other medical interventions. Being open-minded doesn’t mean simply believing what others tell you or what you think you see. It means being willing to consider the evidence for claims others make. If you do so, and the evidence clearly shows those claims are false, then it is not closed-minded to decide they are false, it is simply making a decision based on the facts.

    3. “I find it fascinating that you do not show any information on your site regarding your name, your practice’s name, your education, etc.” It may be fascinating, but it’s not actually true. All of my credentials are available on the site if you look for them. The issue, however, is what difference do they make? If I’m a highly educated and experienced vet, do you suddenly agree with me? If I’m a dedicated pet owner with no medical training, am I automatically wrong? It’s a mistake to judge an argument solely on the basis of the perceived credentials of the person making it. Sure, people have more knowledge in their area of professional expertise than in areas where they are not formally trained, so we do have to take such expertise into account. But of all the alternative medicine proponents who have claimed to doubt me because I am supposedly anonymous or not a vet, not a single one has ever found my arguments more convincing when they find out who I am and what my training is. And plenty simply switch from arguing I’m wrong because I’m not a vet to arguing I’m wrong because I’m a vet who practices science-based medicine rather than alternative medicine. So I doubt you really care about my background, I think you’re just looking for excuses to dismiss what I say because you don’t agree with it.

  49. Rachel says:

    I approached the pet pheromone products with a huge amount of skepticism. There really is no proven evidence and the “scientific” claims made by the companies seem highly suspect. But, I tried one of the pheromone collars with a “it can’t hurt” approach, expecting to see no difference. We have a cat who gets sick in the car. After just 5 minutes on the road she starts to drool uncontrollably (I have never seen her drool in any other situation), after long car trips her long chest fur is soaked, dripping, matted, there is literally a puddle at her feet and dehydration is a serious concern. If she has eaten recently before the car trip she may also have an uncontrolled bowel movement. But outside the car she has never once peed or pooped outside her litterbox – it’s definitely just a car reaction.

    With the collar on, there is no drooling, and she doesn’t defecate in her carrier. Needless to say, I was really surprised. After a few repetitions of this over a period of a couple of years, I thought maybe she had just grown out of her car sickness (she was about 5 years old the first time we started using the collar), and we tried a car trip without the collar – she immediately started drooling copiously again. Needless to say, we went back to using the collar – and again the drooling & other symptoms vanished. With the collar she curls up and naps for most of the trip, and there are no physical symptoms of distress.

    So, I still don’t understand the mechanisms, I’m still dubious of both the theory and science behind the product, and I agree the scientific evidence is crap – but I can’t imagine how such a pronounced effect as we experienced could just be placebo. I highly doubt my stress levels/behaviours are substantially different with vs without the collar – we travel with another cat as well as a dog, across borders with stressful customs & immigration situations, and let me assure you the drooly cat is not anywhere close to my list of top stressors when we travel (the 60-pound dog is usually far more stressful, as he tends to bark – extremely loudly – any time the car makes a turn or is passed by another car. And by the way, we tried the dog pheromone collar on the dog and it had 0 effect on is barking). The cat’s physical symptoms are not just a behaviour that my imagination could be accidentally ignoring or inventing.

    So, I now cautiously recommend these products to friends with a “the science is dubious, it may or may not work for your pet, but it had an undeniably positive effect for our cat, so it can’t hurt to try if you’re at the end of your rope and have tried other behavioural interventions.”

    Obviously, this is just another anecdote, and as I’m fond of reminding people in general, anecdotes do not make data. I do not believe in homeopathy or most alternative “medicine.” But for whatever reason, the pheromone collar worked for our cat, for which I am very glad.

    *Before anyone asks why we keep insisting on putting a carsick cat in the car – let me just say that it’s not just because we are thoughtless monster owners. Sometimes the cat has to be driven to the vet for annual vaccinations and checkups. We have also moved 4 times in the past 4 years for professional reasons, and re-homing the cat would have been more cruel than subjecting her to a long car ride. On another occasion, we were going to a cottage for a month – two long car rides seemed preferable to leaving her for a month, and she loved being at the cottage.

  50. skeptvet says:

    Yes, it’s always tough to balance the apparently dramatic results of individual anecdotes against the results of controlled research. I agree there is little risk, and the evidence isn’t by any means solid enough to completely rule out the possibility of an effect on some cats in situations, unlike homeopathy and similar examples. Thanks for the comment.

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