Modern-day lives are busy; what with fitting in work and family life and pets and hobbies, it’s no wonder that many people suffer from anxiety or stress. But how about our cats? Do they get stressed out, and if so, do pheromones like Feliway help? We’ve been looking at what we know about this popular remedy.
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Why might my cat be stressed?
Cats are definitely creatures of habit, and like a stable home and routine. This makes them prone to a variety of stressors both at home and out and about.
These are some known causes of anxiety in cats:
- Fireworks, or holiday festivities of any kind
- A new pet in the home
- A new cat or dog in the neighbourhood
- Decorating or DIY in the home
- A new baby, or any new people in the house
- Veterinary visits
- Cattery stays
This is not even an exhaustive list! Some cats are more prone to anxiety than others. But it can be useful to try and predict what might upset your cat, so that you can try to minimise disruption to their routines and comforts.
What signs of stress do cats show?
Cats can be very subtle about any unhappiness – or they can make their displeasure extremely obvious!
Some very overt signs of stress include spraying urine in inappropriate places, scratching at furniture, stairs and walls, grooming themselves so much they develop bald patches, fighting with other pets in the household or becoming grumpy with their owners.
More discrete signs that your cat may be anxious can be that they go off their food a little (or conversely, they can eat more!), hiding away more and interacting with their owners less, and being less active than usual.
You know your own cat best: what may be normal for some may be concerning for others. If you are concerned about your cat’s health or behaviour, it is always recommended to speak to a veterinary surgeon.
What is Feliway?
Feliway is a synthetic cat pheromone, designed to mimic calming scents that make cats feel less anxious and stressed. Pheromones are scent chemicals released by glands over your cat’s body, which give off different messages both to themselves and other cats. All cats know how to ‘understand’ these chemicals.
Pheromones are very important for cat communication, both with other cats but also as messages to themselves. They can act as warnings to signal places they have felt stress or fear, and as territory markers or to mark interactions with neighbouring cats. They can also signal reassurance and ‘happy places’. And are very involved in bonding and familiarity both with other pets, humans and home environments. They are also produced by mother cats to help bond with their kittens.
Feliway aims to produce reassuring messages to your cat, using the pheromones associated with safety and comfort. So that they reduce anxiety and therefore stress-related behaviours. As pheromones are a normal part of cat communication, Feliway is not a drug. Therefore it has no side-effects, and cannot be overdosed.
When do I use Feliway?
The classic Feliway can be used in a variety of ways. It can be used continuously throughout your entire home via a diffuser in your home for ongoing stressors in the home, such as building work. It can also be helpful for single events such as a vet trip or festive occasions such as fireworks nights, using either a spray or diffuser.
Feliway Friends focuses on pheromones that help cats communicate positively with each other, and can be used as a diffuser in a home with conflict between feline occupants.
Feliscratch contains pheromones used in territory marking, and is designed to prevent your cat scratching in unwanted places such as furniture. And instead direct them to a more preferable option for this highly natural behaviour, such as a scratching post.
Does Feliway really help?
There are not a huge number of scientific studies critically reviewing the efficacy of pheromonal products in cats. However, there has been some research that has showed some positive results.
A recent study (Mills & Prior, 2020) looked at the effect of using pheromonal products in households which contain both cats and dogs. The use of Feliway Friends in the study led to improved relationships between the cats and dogs (fewer negative behaviours and more positive), and greater relaxation scores in the cat occupants. This could therefore be very useful when considering introducing a new pet to your household, or have multiple pets already and suspect this might be causing some anxiety for your cat.
There is also some evidence that Feliway can help in cases of aggression between cats. A study in 2018 showed that the use of synthetic pheromones reduced aggression scores between cats in multi-cat households and reduced stress behaviours (DePorter et al., 2019). However, in this study, the owners also had training as to how to deal with aggressive episodes, so the reduction in conflict may not be solely due to the Feliway.
Urine spraying is a common symptom of stress in cats. A review (Mills et al., 2011) of multiple cases of cats spraying urine for a multitude of different reasons found that using Feliway did reduce urine spraying after four weeks. However, the best reduction was found by using both pharmacological and behavioural intervention.
What else can I do?
Behavioural changes are often complicated, and using Feliway alone is unlikely to be a miracle solution. Depending on the source of anxiety, and the severity of signs, other treatments may be necessary. Environmental modification, such as providing ‘safe zones’ for your cat, ensuring their food and water are in a neutral area and providing plenty of litter trays in private areas might all be applicable. Your vet or veterinary behaviourist may be able to advise on more specific measures for your cat’s circumstances. Severe cases of stress may need medication to relieve the anxiety whilst behavioural measures are put into place.
Pheromonal therapy, such as Feliway diffusers, have been shown to be useful in cases of feline anxiety, but the most benefit comes from using a variety of methods to help your cat feel more comfortable and secure.