Posted: Jan. 27, 2012, 2:20 p.m. EST
Do they work in addressing feline behavior problems?
By Steven Appelbaum
In the last 10 to 12 years, a series of products has come to market that uses pheromones to help eliminate and/or alleviate certain behaviors in both dogs and cats. Retailers who learn a bit about these products—and the behaviors they are designed to address—will be better able to serve their feline-loving customers.
What Are Pheromones Anyway?
Pheromones are chemicals created in the body and used in nonverbal communication between individuals of the same species. Pheromones have been widely studied in insects. For example, a pheromone released by a female silkworm is detectable by a male silkworm from miles away. Pheromones have also been identified in mice, cats and dogs.
Cats are territorial, intelligent, social animals with a highly developed sense of smell. In fact, cats can do more than just smell:they can actually taste some scents. This is due to a special organ on the roof of a cat’s mouth: the Jacobson’s organ. When a cat finds an intriguing scent, she will inhale it by breathing through her mouth and often use the Jacobson's organ to taste what she smells.
Because of this ability, it should come as no surprise that cats use scents, including pheromones, to communicate with others. They can mark territory and communicate threats, feelings of calmness and more.
For example, cats will often rub against each other. In doing so, they are marking each other with familiar scents. Your cat does the same thing to you when she rubs against your leg or rubs her face on you.
They are also depositing pheromone-laden scents when they spray. To a cat, spraying is a natural way of communicating, and they see no difference between a bush and a customer’s expensive sofa. That’s where training comes into play.
Some pheromones cause a cat to feel calm. This is relevant information. What if it were possible to manufacture pheromones that elicited feelings of calmness in cats? Would such a product have applications in addressing behavior? The answer is that it is possible to re-create some pheromones, and these products do have applications in addressing some behavior challenges.
Types of Behaviors
Spraying is often a stress response. Cats brought into new homes can find them frightening and will mark territory as a way of establishing it as their own and to alleviate stress. Cats already living in a home may be stressed when new cats or other animals are brought into their environment to visit or live.
Pheromone products such as Farnam’s Feliway Comfort Zone Feline Behavior Modification Spray can be very effective in addressing these issues by preventing them from occurring in the first place.
They can also be used to stop or curtail already existing marking, as most cats will not urinate where they have deposited calming pheromones. By applying a pheromone spray to objects a cat marks, the behavior will often stop.
However, it is important for clients to understand that pheromone sprays are not panaceas and should be used in conjunction with other training protocols. In the case of multiple-cat households, making sure there are multiple litterboxes and appropriate places cats can climb to escape and get some privacy/peace are critical components in addressing this behavior.
One of the biggest challenges cat owners face is how to transport their cats without stressing them. Most owners use a Vari Kennel or Kennel Cab-type carrier to transport their cats to places such as the veterinarian or groomer.
The problem is that most cats find these destinations quite stressful and quickly associate the carrier with bad tidings. This means they become almost impossible to catch, or they can become aggressive when placed in the carrier.
Some owners find this so difficult that they skip medical treatments and check ups, thus putting a cat’s health in jeopardy. Pheromone sprays like Feliway Spray by Ceva Animal Health can be used to change a cat’s association from negative to positive when it is put in the carrier.
According to Ceva, “Apply the spray directly into the carrier 15 minutes before introducing the cat. One spray in each of the four corners, two sprays on the floor and two sprays on the ceiling” will be sufficient. Reapply before each journey.
Owners can make this even more effective by treating the carrier one to three times per week and placing the cat inside. Then, instead of transporting the cat to a place like a veterinarian or kennel, owners should not take their cats anywhere or take them to a place they associate as being positive.
If owners don’t take their cats anywhere, they should try feeding their cat special treats and after three to five minutes release it. They should work their way up to 10 to 15 minute sessions and try some sessions in the car as well.
Sprays like these can also be used when boarding a cat. Simply recommend that the kennel area at the boarding facility be sprayed according to the product’s directions; as a result, many cats will be far more comfortable in this environment.
Owners should be reminded that these products are not cleaners nor are they medications. They are powerful tools that, when used properly, can be very effective in addressing some difficult behaviors. Owners also need to be careful about applying any sprays to furniture without testing it on a small part first.
Steven Appelbaum is the president of Animal Behavior College, a vocational institution devoted to helping animal lovers succeed in animal careers. Appelbaum has been a professional animal trainer for 30 years. He is the author of the book “The ABC Practical Guide to Dog Training,” and is a freelance writer, lecturer and consultant.
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