Back in 2010, I reported on a systematic review evaluating the use of pheromones to treat stress or other undesirable behaviors in cats and dogs. Of the 7 studies in cats and 7 in dogs that were of sufficient quality to be reviewed, no convincing benefit was seen in cats, and only one study showed a possible small effect in dogs. In another dog study published later that year, a few of the behaviors measured seemed to be affected by the pheromone, but there wasn’t any compelling evidence of a meaningful benefit. Now, another cat study has been published looking at the effect of a widely available pheromone product on physical and behavioral response to handling stress in cats both at home and in a veterinary hospital.
Conti, LMC. Champion, T. Guberman, UC. et al. Evaluation of environment and a feline facial pheromone analogue on physiologic and behavioral measures in cats. J of Feline Med and Surg. 2015. Epub before print.
This was a quite nicely done study in which 30 cats were evaluated at home and in a veterinary clinic for responses to pheromone (Feliway) or a placebo. Objective measures, such as heart rate, respiratory rate, blood pressure, and so on were taken, as well as more subjective measures, such as struggling. Cats were tested in response to routine handling at home and in the clinic after environmental treatment with either the pheromone or a placebo containing the vehicle (ethanol).
The results were pretty clear. While the clinic environment is generally more stressful than the home (reflected in differences in heart rate and respiratory rate), cats tolerate being handled and restrained in an unfamiliar environment better than in their own home (reflected in behavioral differences). In neither environment did the pheromone make any difference in the cats’ responses compared with placebo. The authors concluded that the pheromone had no influence on the markers of stress evaluated in this study.
Given the consistency of results across a number of studies, it is pretty clear at this point that pheromone products are unlikely to have any beneficial effects for dogs and cats.