Feline pheromones – what are they, and can they help your cat?

Is your cat aggressive, stressed, not confident, or afraid of objects such as cat carriers? If so, cat pheromones may become a helpful tool to regain peace and harmony in your home and to make vet visits less stressful to your cat.

Cat releases feline pheromones by rubbing
Photo by David Joyce, cc

In this article, you will learn what cat pheromones are and how they work. You will also find out how to use a synthetic derivative of feline pheromones to comfort your cat.

What are pheromones?

Let’s start by explaining what pheromones are, in general. Many pet owners who first hear about cat pheromones may wonder if they are drugs. No, they are not drugs; their mechanism of action is as natural as possible.

A correct definition would be that pheromones are a chemical substance that animals (including humans) release in an environment. These substances release a scent and affect the behavior of individuals of the same species.

That is, human pheromones affect humans, cat pheromones affect cats, and bee pheromones affect bees. Most animals have them, and they may serve different purposes, such as sexual, territorial, aggregational, signalment, and others.

For example, when the Pooh Bear attaches himself to a balloon to reach for the honey, all of the bees suddenly attack him. This happens because some of the bees suspect the Pooh is not a rain cloud. They release pheromones to signal their discovery and, instantly, all the other bees pick the scent up and are aware of the intruder.

Not all pheromones are aggressive, though. There are also friendly ones that state, “I was here.”

How do cats use pheromones?

So much about pheromones in general. But what about cats specifically?

Cats have pheromone-producing glands in several parts of their bodies. The most significant ones are on their cheeks and chin, on their paw pads, and in the perianal area.

Pheromones produced by the perianal area, for example, are used to mark territory, and to signal when looking for a mate. Sometimes pheromones send an aggressive message, but sometimes not.

Besides urine marking cats also secrete pheromones from the glands on their paw pads. As they scratch surfaces, cats not only leave visible markings, but they also leave a scent which, for a while, tells other cats who were there. In addition to how long ago the cat left the mark, and, likely, what their mood and intentions were. Scary? Not so much.

Cats deploy their facial pheromones to mark familiar and safe objects

Now we get to the pheromones that can be used in a veterinary field. Those are ones released from the glands at cats’ cheeks and are released by rubbing against something, or someone. Cats use these pheromones for two reasons: to greet other cats, and to scent mark familiar objects.

We’ve once heard a podcast comparing this cat behavior to our own when we visit an unknown place such as a hotel room. We usually tend to make that room familiar by, for example, placing a family photo or our favorite flowers on a cupboard. It’s an accurate comparison.

Maybe you have noticed that when you bring a new object, let’s say a box, home, your cat tries to sniff around it. He then either sprays urine on it (if he’s stressed) or rub against it (if he accepts the new item as harmless). In such way, the cat releases his pheromones and marks the box to indicate, “Yeah, I’ve checked this, and I liked it” or “It’s safe being near it.” Cats love boxes. Your cat is not saying, however, “I own this box.”

How synthetic feline pheromones can modify your cat’s behavior?

It’s the sentence above (“It’s safe being near it”) that makes it possible to modify your cat’s behavior through the use of synthetic feline pheromones.

It turns out the “safe” and “friendly” associations come from one fraction of the pheromones produced by cats’ glands at their cheeks. The good news, it is possible to make an identical substance in a laboratory that is now widely used in the form of sprays, diffusers, and cat collars. They help to calm cats but do not affect humans.

Do they work? Yes, several studies have shown that synthetic cat pheromones can calm cats during veterinary procedures, reduce urine marking and improve stress-related behaviors in other ways.

Use your imagination in applying these synthetic pheromones. If an object causes stress to your cat, you can spray the object with feline pheromones. It will send your cat a message that “This place is safe.”. How can it not be safe if some other cat has marked this object as being so? Although your cat likely does not recognize the pheromones as coming from a “synthetic cat,” his brain will understand that it’s okay to be calm.

When cat pheromones can be useful

Here are a few examples of where you can use the synthetic derivatives of feline pheromones:

  • When you introduce a cat to his new home. When a cat comes to his new home, his stress is extremely high. Create a separate room for him so his experiences are not overwhelming, and plug in a pheromone diffuser. In this case, the whole room will fill with cat-friendly pheromones.
  • To create a stress-free area. Sometimes stressful situations aren’t avoidable. For example, when you repair your room or bringing a baby home, you can create an area for your cat where he can feel safe. Decide which room(s) will be less stressful for your cat to be in, and plug in a diffuser in there. This way, your cat will be more relaxed and will not suffer as much stress. Of course, you should also try to lessen your cat’s stress as much as possible.
  • When a cat is aggressive towards other cats. If your cats at home do not get along well, it is essential to calm the aggressive cat and build up confidence in the pariah cat. It is also important to keep in mind that cat pheromones are not a magic wand; they are an additional tool to use in conjunction with other methods. One common way to address inter-cat aggression is to start over. Separate the cats and introduce them as if they have never met before.
  • When you place your cat in a cat carrier. This is the object cats are afraid of the most. Although just applying pheromones will not be enough to change your cat’s mind completely. However, pheromones are a great addition to all the other things you can do to make your cat love his pet carrier.
  • When you introduce new objects. Your cat won’t always appreciate when you bring a new object home regardless of your intentions. For example, your cat will not say thank you even if the new object, such as a cat tree, is meant to improve his life. In such a case, you can spray the new item with pheromones to let your cat feel he should not stress about it.

Remember, synthetic feline pheromones are not a magic wand that solves all of your problems. Pheromones are a good help that can calm your cat but must be used in addition to other forms of behavior modification. You still must play with and train your cat. You must not forget to enrich the environment and spend more time with your pet in general.