For those of us who have anxious, nervous pets, it can be heart-breaking to watch them struggle with their fears and phobias – and we often search far and wide for anything that can help. In recent years, pheromone therapy has become a popular method for dealing with anxiety in pets, with great success in many cases.
What are pheromones and how do they work?
Pheromones are produced by a huge variety of species throughout the animal kingdom and can be thought of as a type of hormone. Pheromones are released by the animal into its environment and can therefore affect the behaviour of receiving animals as well. They are usually released from glands on the animal’s body, such as those around the face or in the footpads, those in the sweat glands, especially on the abdomen, and also from the animal’s anal sacs.
Pheromones play a crucial role in the survival of many animals, from insects to mammals, and come in many forms, carrying out a variety of functions. For example, some pheromones help with sexual identification, marking territory, producing warnings to other animals and even with familiarisation and attachment.
Pheromones in our pets…
While our pet dogs and cats may have become domesticated and lead lives very different to those of their wild ancestors, they still use pheromones to communicate and their behaviour is still influenced by these natural chemicals.
In cats, for example, three types of pheromones have been studied and these are used in alarm warning, territorial marking and in familiarisation with others of the same species.
In dogs, the pheromone that has been studied the most extensively is the Dog Appeasing Pheromone. This pheromone is normally produced by bitches within 3 to 5 days after they have given birth to their puppies; it is secreted by the skin around their mammary glands and helps to create a strong bond between the newborn puppies and their mother.
Adult dogs will also release a similar hormone from glands around ears. It is often released by pack leaders to help the rest of the dogs in the pack form a strong attachment to the leaders and therefore encourage a cohesive pack.
How can Pheromone Therapy help my pet dog or cat?
Vets have developed a synthetic version of the Dog Appeasing Pheromone (D.A.P.) and this has now been widely used to help in the treatment and management of anxiety disorders and fears as well as helping puppies and rescue dogs settle into their new homes. In fact, research shows that D.A.P. can be 70% effective if used in the right way.
D.A.P. has been found to be particularly effective for managing inappropriate or destructive behaviour associated with fear, anxiety, stress or phobias. For example, dogs that are fearful of fireworks can spend their time pacing, hiding, trembling and howling. However, when D.A.P. is released into the dog’s environment via the plug-in diffuser, it mimics the pheromones released by a lactating female dog and replicates a signal of comfort, in many cases leading to a complete change in behaviour.
In cats, the synthetic pheromone produced is called Feliway and is very successful in dealing with a range of cat behavioural problems, such as spraying, fighting, excessive vocalisation and generally assimilating a new cat or kitten into a household or helping the resident cat settle into a new property.
Using Pheromone Therapy
Pheromone Therapy is not a quick fix solution to problems – it is a high level product which requires a consultation first to see if pheromone therapy is suitable for your situation. If the answer is yes, then professional assessment and diagnosis is required to establish an effective treatment programme.
Pheromone Therapy has been very popular with pet owners because of the ease of use and the fact that there are no known side-effects. However, remember that it can only be used indoors and needs to be used for at least a month to start with – changes will usually be noticed within 14 days and things will continue to improve over the first month. In some cases, use may need to be ongoing to maintain a stress-free state and this can lead to significant cost. Finally, pheromones while powerful are not 100% effective and the best results are gained from using them in combination with other therapies.