All species of mammals use pheromones to communicate with others of their kind. They do so by releasing a chemical signal which targets the olfactory organs in those of the same species. We see this in our daily lives with our own pets.
Dogs and cats use pheromones to alert one another of an array of emotions such as fear, anger, aggression, calmness, relaxation, and affection. When we see our cats casually rubbing the side of their face along the corner of the wall or couch, they are actually releasing a pheromone from their cheek gland to let us, and any cats nearby, know that they are at ease and feel safe.
The most common pheromone among dogs is that which is released by a nursing mother through her mammary glands to her puppies, causing a general sense of safety, calmness, and wellbeing. This pheromone continues to have a calming effect even for adult dogs. Veterinary and animal behavior experts have found a way to synthetically replicate these pheromones from cats and dogs so as to be utilized at home and in veterinary offices, including ours, to help maintain a sense of calm and safety for patients.
Coming to the vet can be a stressful experience for all involved, especially when our pets are prone to fearfulness or become anxious when exposed to new environments. Dogs can exhibit signs of fear, anxiety, and stress in a number of ways, from whining and shivering to fearful aggression and oftentimes over-energy.
However it may outwardly manifest, our goal is to help reduce this anxiety so that you and your dog may have the most pleasant experience possible during their visit. To do so, East Bend Animal Hospital utilizes a product called Adaptil which is sprayed on bandannas and placed around your dog’s neck and which mimics the pheromone nursing dogs emit called DAP (Dog-Appeasing Pheromone) or less commonly, apasine.
Many studies have been done to assess any change in anxiety in dogs when exposed to DAP. In one study, a diverse selection of dogs were placed in a hospitalization setting to study the effects of fear, anxiety, and stress in these dogs who were predisposed to separation anxiety.
Over the course of several months, one group of dogs was exposed to DAP that was diffused into the air while the control group was exposed to a diffuser with a placebo. The study showed significantly lower levels of fear, anxiety, and stress as well as reduced adverse behavior in the dogs exposed to the DAP.
For our feline family members, fear and stress may be difficult to distinguish but often come across as aggression, fleeing, hiding, or freezing. Here at East Bend Animal Hospital, we utilize a synthetic pheromone product called Feliway which we spray on blankets that are draped over the cat’s crate, allowing the cat a sense of safety from the covering while exposing them to the calming scent of the Feliway. We also utilize diffusers throughout the clinic which disperse the pheromone into the air.
In one controlled setting experiment for the synthetic feline pheromone, a cat displaying aggressive fear was exposed to Feliway on a towel and a veterinary technician’s hands, and within one minute of exposure, the cat was no longer growling or attempting to fight and remained calm and amenable for the rest of her appointment.
Though we employ many different tools in accordance with our Fear Free certification, one of the most instrumental is the use of these synthetic pheromones. The safety and wellbeing of our patients is our top priority and for this reason we have integrated the Fear Free protocol and use of pheromones into our practice.
There are many different aspects to being Fear Free including educational certification for all employees, gentle approach, calming music, and use of treats, along with the use of Adaptil and Feliway products. The pheromone’s ability to help immediately soothe and calm our patients on a natural and instinctive level allows us the ability to fulfill necessary procedures while keeping both you and your pet comfortable.
Written by: Harriet Burquist
- “18.” Feline Behavioral Health and Welfare, by Ilona Rodan and Sarah Heath, Elsevier, 2016, pp. 239–241.
- “Adaptil for Dogs and Puppies.” Adaptil, www.adaptil.com/us.
- “Dog Appeasing Pheromone.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 10 Apr. 2020, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dog_appeasing_pheromone#cite_note-Pageat2003-1.
- “Feliway for Cats.” Feliway, www.feliway.com/us.
- Kim, Young-Mee, et al. “Efficacy of Dog-Appeasing Pheromone (DAP) for Ameliorating Separation-Related Behavioral Signs in Hospitalized Dogs.” The Canadian Veterinary Journal = La Revue Veterinaire Canadienne, Canadian Veterinary Medical Association, Apr. 2010, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2839826/.
- Texas Tech University. “Laboratory of Animal Behavior, Physiology and Welfare.” TTU, www.depts.ttu.edu/animalwelfare/Research/Pheromones/dog.php.
- WBS: The Veterinary Clinics Small Animal Practice, “Current research in canine and feline pheromones”https://www.sciencedirect.com/sdfe/pdf/download/eid/1-s2.0-S0195561602001286/firs t-page-pdf