What are pheromones and how can they help cats and dogs? - Dr. Marty Becker


What are pheromones and how can they help cats and dogs?

Wednesday, Jul 21st, 2021 | By Dr. Marty Becker

I frequently recommend pheromones for cats and dogs. When a reader wrote with a question about pheromones, I asked my daughter, Fear Free Head Trainer Mikkel Becker, to explain.

Q: What are pheromones, and how do they affect dogs and cats?

A: Pheromones are chemical signals that allow members within a species to communicate emotions to one another. They are delivered through glands located in various areas of the body, such as the head and cheeks, paw pads and skin. Urine and feces can also carry pheromones.

Dogs and cats process these chemical communications with their vomeronasal organ, sort of a second “nose” that is located on the roof of a dog or cat’s mouth. It sends pheromone signals directly to the brain’s emotional center, where they create an emotional response in the animals who receive them.

Those emotional messages can range from calm, happiness and relaxation to alarm or danger. They also send information about mating, territorial and social status. Alarm signals can remain active for hours, even if the animal who delivered them is long gone. That makes it especially important for places such as veterinary clinics or grooming shops to eliminate the presence of anxiety-inducing pheromones with appropriate cleansers that eliminate not only the odors from urine or feces but also the pheromones emitted when a frightened or anxious animal eliminates or urine-marks in the space.

Synthetic pheromones that signal calm contentment — such as Adaptil for dogs and Feliway for cats — are available in the form of sprays, diffusers, wipes and collars. They can be used not only at veterinary clinics or businesses frequented by many animals, but also in the home. Because dogs receive dog signals and cats receive cat signals, using both at the same time doesn’t send mixed messages. Published clinical evidence of their effectiveness is mixed, but they aren’t harmful, and it can’t hurt to give them a try.

There’s more in Pet Connection, the weekly nationally syndicated pet feature I co-write with Kim Campbell Thornton and my daughter, trainer Mikkel Becker.