ArticlePDF Available

Use of pheromones to reduce stress in sheltered cats

Dear Editors, – My colleagues and I read with interest the
recent article in JFMS from the European Advisory Board
on Cat Diseases (ABCD), ‘Prevention of infectious diseases in
cat shelters’.
Within the ‘stress reduction recommendations’
section, just after the overall guidance on environmental
enrichment for a shelter housing system, the authors
included a paragraph on ‘Pheromones’. This did not
surprise us as we know how common it is for many shelters
and big catteries in the world to routinely use feline facial
pheromones in their facilities, to provide those cats with a
sense of safety and security. For example, Wood Green (one
of the leading UK charities, which rehomed more than 2500
cats last year) systematically includes Feliway spray in each
cat unit and Feliway diffuser in its vet check rooms, as stated
in its ‘procedures for feline welfare’ at intake. Indeed, cats in
a shelter environment do not find their familiar marks, and
have to cope with a new and unknown environment, which
is potentially stressful. Even cats staying for a while in a
shelter, which might be considered as accustomed to this
environment, have the territorial marks they spread in their
environment (while rubbing their face against walls, doors,
provided enrichment devices, etc) regularly removed during
cleaning processes (as do hospitalised cats in a vet practice
environment). The removal of those familiar marks (which
cats in private homes are less subjected to) is believed to
lead to an increase in anxiety in cats.
For all these reasons, providing cats with synthetic
pheromones, which reproduce the familiar marks they
naturally deposit into their environment when they feel safe,
will help them feel confident at the shelter.
In addition to the catteries and shelters routinely using
pheromones, several behaviourists and veterinarians
working with catteries also recommend their use. For
example, the Maddie’s Shelter Medicine Program at Cornell
University College of Veterinary Medicine states in its ‘stress
reduction protocol’ for cats: ‘Feliway has been shown to
reduce anxiety in cats. A plug-in diffuser should be used in
each cat room. Additionally, the spray can be used to help
individual cats who continue to exhibit signs of stress. To use
the spray properly, spray the cat’s bedding when the cat is
not in the cage or spray a washcloth and place it in the cage
with the cat.’
Use of synthetic pheromones (Feliway diffuser
or spray) as an enrichment means for cats has also been
recommended to those attending an international congress
on shelter medicine.
In the recent JFMS article, we were thus surprised that the
paragraph on pheromones stated that there was insufficient
evidence of their efficacy, a statement based solely on a single
This completely disregarded the clinical trials
(14 in 2013)
performed with Feliway and published in
reputable scientific journals or presented at international
conferences. No other stress-relieving product available on
the market for use in cats relies on so many published trials
to support its efficacy. Most of them do not have even one.
The article referred to in that reference, by Frank et al,
although presented as a ‘Systematic review of the use of
pheromones for treatment of undesirable behavior in cats
and dogs’, does not comply with the recommended
guidelines for conducting a systematic review. The authors
only focused on the material and methods described in each
trial, and did not evaluate the outcome parameters such as
mean and median efficacy rates. As has already been pointed
out in a further publication in JAVMA,
this article is
incomplete, inaccurate and misleading (for example, it falsely
claims that Valeriana is present in all formulations and
therefore may explain the efficacy). Also, according to the
guidelines for conducting a systematic review, only
comparable papers should be included for analysis (eg, all
publications on the different treatments available for one
particular disease). Here, we can question the scientific
appropriateness of including studies that assessed one
single product but in a variety of situations and for different
indications. Moreover, we can question the inclusion of
studies whose objectives were not in accordance with the title
of the paper: neither idiopathic cystitis nor IV catheterization
can be considered ‘undesirable behaviors’.
Aside from the scientific content of Frank et al’s review,
the tone used was consistently negative rather than impartial.
Systematic review guidelines emphasize the importance of
respect for selected publications. All the trials quoted have
been published in reputable, peer-reviewed, scientific
journals, and although not perfect, they can inform an
evaluation of efficacy. The review failed to highlight the lack
of good evidence, according to the authors’ own standards,
for the management of most of the conditions evaluated
(beyond the use of Feliway) and thus ignores the inevitable
conclusion that some evidence is better than none. Thus, as
written, the Frank et al review offered no constructive advice
for readers.
In summary, using the Frank et al review (with its flawed
methods and debatable conclusions) as the basis for
evaluation of, and advice on, the efficacy of pheromone
therapy in cat shelters is very regrettable. We would urge
readers to take a broader view and evaluate the primary
literature for themselves before making a judgement.
We believe that there is much more evidence that can be
highlighted already, but also that this is an area that deserves
further field trials in the future.
Alexandra Beck DVM
Companion Animals Behavior Technical Manager
CEVA Santé Animale, Libourne, France
1 Mostl K, Egberink H, Addie D, Frymus T, Boucrat-Baralon C,
Truyen U, et al. Prevention of infectious diseases in cat
shelters. ABCD guidelines. J Feline Med Surg 2013; 15:
2 Anon. Stress reduction protocol for cats.
Use of pheromones to reduce stress in sheltered cats
Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery (2013) 15, 829–830
at ISFM on August 27, 2013jfm.sagepub.comDownloaded from
Letters may be shortened for publication
documents/StressReductionProtocolforCats.pdf (accessed
July 16, 2013).
3 Griffin B and Levy J. Feline-friendly sheltering. Proceedings
of the North American Veterinary Conference; 2010 Jan
16–20; Orlando, Florida.
4 Frank D, Beauchamp G and Palestrini C. Systematic review
Re-shedding of Toxoplasma gondii oocysts
Dear Editors, – Jitender Dubey proved 18 years ago that cats
reinfetcted with T gondii 6 years after initial infection re-shed
And yet, we still see statements like the following
which was recently published in a consensus guidelines
article by the ABCD in JFMS:
‘Thus, cats that have
antibodies to T gondii no longer shed oocysts, and do not
pose a risk to humans.’
How long will this myth continue to be perpetuated?
Nate Bauer DVM
MS College Station, Texas
DOI: 10.1177/1098612X13500882
of the use of pheromones for treatment of undesirable
behavior in cats and dogs. J Am Vet Med Assoc 2010; 236:
5 Complete references on file.
6 Beck A. Questions study on the use of pheromones in dogs
[Letter]. J Am Vet Med Assoc 2010; 237: 493–494.
1 Dubey JP. Duration of immunity to shedding of
Toxoplasma gondii oocysts by cats. J Parasitol 1995; 81:
2 Hartmann K, Addie D, Belak S, Boucraut-Baralon C,
Egberink H, Frymus T, et al. Toxoplasma gondii infection
in cats. ABCD guidelines on prevention
and management. J Feline Med Surg 2013; 15: 631–637.
DOI: 10.1177/1098612X13500883
at ISFM on August 27, 2013jfm.sagepub.comDownloaded from
... 11, 18,28,29 A feline facial pheromone fraction a contained in a commercial preparation has been assessed in a variety of studies as another potential stress reducing modality. [30][31][32] Use of this product has been evaluated in the management of feline behaviors sometimes associated with stress, such as urine spraying, as well as stress-associated diseases such as feline idiopathic cystitis. Use of the product also has been shown to decrease signs of stress during transportation or when visiting a veterinary clinic and to improve appetite in hospitalized patients. ...
Full-text available
Background: Stress contributes to reactivation of feline herpesvirus-1 (FHV-1). The usage of pheromones to decrease stress in FHV-1 experimentally inoculated kittens has not previously been investigated. Hypothesis/objectives: To determine whether a feline pheromone would lessen stress, resulting in decreased recurrence of FHV-1-associated illness in kittens. Animals: Twelve 5-month-old, purpose-bred kittens. Methods: Randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial. Kittens previously infected with the same dose of FHV-1 were randomized into 2 separate but identical group rooms. After a 2-week equilibration period, a diffuser containing either the pheromone or placebo was placed in each of the rooms, and the kittens acclimated for an additional 2 weeks. Every 2 weeks thereafter, for the 8-week study period, housing was alternated between kennel- and group housing. Blinded observers applied a standardized clinical and behavioral scoring rubric daily. After each 2-week period, serum cortisol concentrations and quantitative PCR for FHV-1 and glyceraldehyde 3-phosphate dehydrogenase (GAPDH) ratios were evaluated. Clinical, behavioral, and laboratory test results were compared between groups within individual and combined study periods. Results: Sneezing occurred more frequently in the placebo group during individual (P = 0.006) and combined study periods (P = 0.001). Sleep at the end of observation periods occurred more frequently in the pheromone group during individual (P = 0.006) and combined study periods (P < 0.001). Conclusions and clinical importance: The findings suggest that the pheromone decreased stress, and the decrease in stress response may have resulted in decreased sneezing associated with FHV-1.
Full-text available
To improve conservation outcomes and move towards a ‘predator-free New Zealand’, we need new pest control technologies. Our growing knowledge of the chemistry, behaviour and neuroendocrinology of mammalian scents that affect other individuals (semiochemicals) provides an opportunity for these to be used in various ways to help to control pest species. In this report, we summarise current knowledge of attractant semiochemicals (pheromones) of rodents, mustelids, cats and possums in New Zealand, to find potential avenues for the development of lures and other control strategies. Putative pheromones have been identified in all these species, and the major urinary proteins (MUPs) and peptides derived from the major histocompatibility complex (MHC) have been shown to play a role as pheromone carriers in the house mouse (Mus musculus), Norway rat (Rattus norvegicus) and ship rat (R. rattus). In addition, attractant compounds have been identified in the urine and glands of cats (Felis catus), mustelids (stoats – Mustela erminea, weasels – M. nivalis and ferrets – M. furo) and brushtail possums (Trichosurus vulpecula), and the calming effect of the feline facial pheromone has been explored. There are several potential applications for pheromones in mammalian pest management, including in trap and lure-and-kill systems; toxic baits; immunocontraception or chemosterilisation delivery systems; monitoring for incursions; interruption of breeding behaviour; and enhancement of biological control. The learned component of responses to pheromones and the role of MUPs in that learning suggest a complex system and it is unlikely that there will be a single ‘magic bullet’ solution for all pest species, but some potential for inter-species attractants. The use of novel control strategies based on a sound understanding of animal behaviour and neurophysiology could see pheromones and MUPs being combined to help improve predator control in New Zealand.
Domestic cats (Felis cattus) comprise a small (2%) percentage of the non-rodent animals used in biomedical research. In 2011, 21,700 cats of a total 1,134,693 non-rodent animals were used in research (APHIS, 2011). According to the National Research Council Committee on Scientific and Humane Issues in the Use of Random Source Dogs and Cats in Research (National Research Council, 2009), peak use of cats occurred in 1974. Since that time, the number of cats used in research has fallen by 71%, with more than 98% of those cats being purpose bred for research. Cats are a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) covered species with special housing requirements defined in the Animal Welfare Act and the Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals (NRC, 2011). At the request of congress, a committee of experts formed by the National Research Council examined the use of random source dogs and cats and concluded that obtaining dogs and cats from Class B dealers is not necessary for NIH funded research (National Research Council, 2009). While the number of cats used in biomedical research has declined, cats continue to contribute uniquely to biomedical science and are valuable research model for several disciplines, including aspects of neurology involved in locomotion and spinal trauma, retrovirus and zoonotic disease research, and for developing therapeutic strategies for inherited diseases.
The main reason for a blood transfusion in a cat is poor oxygen-carrying capacity and subsequent tissue hypoxia from a decrease in red cell mass. Because feline transfusions create a demand for a very precious resource, ensuring the patient is a suitable candidate for transfusion is essential. Before a feline blood collection is considered, it is imperative that the level of need for the blood transfusion by the recipient is established. Specifically, the donor must be of the correct blood type to match the recipient, as well as up to date with all routine blood screen tests, vaccinations, deworming, and flea treatments. Vascular access ports (VAPs) were originally used for a variety of treatments such as chemotherapy, nutritional support, or medical treatment requiring repeated anesthesia events. Anemia of the donor after donation is highly unlikely if the cat has had the appropriate health assessments prior to the blood collection.
Because of the variety of settings and cat populations, it is difficult to make sweeping specific recommendations for feline shelter health policies to support optimal cardiorespiratory cat health. Ideally, each animal shelter should work closely with a shelter veterinarian or veterinarian with specific shelter training to develop the best approach for the health of the individual cats in that particular setting, as well as the policies for the population. Basic necessary allocations of resources include the vaccination of animals on intake, surgical sterilization, parasite treatment and microchip implantation. Some facilities routinely perform retroviral and heartworm testing, while others will do so only on symptomatic animals. Other facilities will use evidence of disease as a sorting and selection mechanism to identify individuals for quarantine or euthanasia. Because of this, some shelters will completely avoid diagnostic testing and make decisions based on clinical appearance and adoptability. If disease incidence is low, testing every incoming cat for a particular infectious or cardiopulmonary disease may sideline resources that could be redirected for greater positive impact for the population. The necessary allocation of basic resources for all admitted animals reduces available resources for diagnostics and treatment of individual animals showing signs of cardiac and respiratory diseases.
Full-text available
OVERVIEW: Recommendations are given in relation to infectious diseases in rescue shelters. The ABCD recognises that there is a wide variation in the design and management of shelters, and that these largely reflect local pressures. These guidelines are written with this diverse audience in mind; they point to the ideal, and also provide for some level of compromise where this ideal cannot immediately be attained. In addition consideration should be given to general requirements in order to optimise overall health and wellbeing of cats within the shelter. HOUSING: Compartmentalisation of the shelter into at least three individual sections (quarantine area for incoming cats, isolation facilities for sick or potentially infectious cats, and accommodation for clinically healthy, retrovirus-negative cats) can facilitate containment of a disease outbreak, should it occur. STANDARD OF CARE: Incoming cats should receive a full health check by a veterinary surgeon, should be dewormed and tested for retrovirus infections (feline leukaemia virus [FeLV] and/or feline immunodeficiency virus [FIV]) in regions with high prevalence and in shelters that allow contact between cats. Cats which are not rehomed should receive a regular veterinary check-up at intervals recommended by their veterinarian. VACCINATION: Each cat should be vaccinated as soon as possible against feline panleukopenia virus (FPV), feline herpesvirus (FHV-1) and feline calicivirus (FCV) infections. HYGIENE: Adequate hygiene conditions should ensure that contact between shedders of infectious agents and susceptible animals is reduced as efficiently as possible by movement control, hygiene procedures of care workers, barrier nursing, cleaning and disinfection. STRESS REDUCTION: Stress reduction is important for overall health and for minimising the risk of recrudescence and exacerbation of infectious diseases. In general, a special effort should be made to rehome cats as soon as possible.
Full-text available
OVERVIEW: Toxoplasma gondii infection is common in cats, but the clinical disease is rare. Up to 50% of cats, especially free-roaming ones, have antibodies indicating infection and the presence of cystic stages. DISEASE SIGNS: Clinical signs only appear in few cats when they become immunosuppressed - in these situations cystic stages can be reactivated. Commonly affected are the central nervous system (CNS), muscles, lungs and eyes. HUMAN INFECTION: Cats can pose a risk for humans when they shed oocysts. However, this happens only once in their lifetime, usually only for 3-10 days after ingestion of tissue cysts. Thus, cats that have antibodies to T gondii no longer shed oocysts, and do not pose a risk to humans.
Full-text available
To systematically review the scientific literature to identify, assess the quality of, and determine outcomes of studies conducted to evaluate the use of pheromones for treatment of undesirable behavior in cats and dogs. Systematic review. Reports of prospective studies published from January 1998 through December 2008. The MEDLINE and CAB Abstracts databases were searched with the following key terms: dog OR dogs OR canine OR cat OR cats OR feline AND pheromone OR synthetic pheromone OR facial pheromone OR appeasing pheromone. A date limit was set from 1998 through 2008. Identified reports for dogs (n = 7) and cats (7) were systematically reviewed. Studies provided insufficient evidence of the effectiveness of feline facial pheromone for management of idiopathic cystitis or calming cats during catheterization and lack of support for reducing stress in hospitalized cats. Only 1 study yielded sufficient evidence that dog-appeasing pheromone reduces fear or anxiety in dogs during training. Six studies yielded insufficient evidence of the effectiveness of dog-appeasing pheromone for treatment of noise phobia (2 reports), travel-related problems, fear or anxiety in the veterinary clinic, and stress- and fear-related behavior in shelter dogs as well as vocalizing and house soiling in recently adopted puppies. 11 of the 14 reports reviewed provided insufficient evidence and 1 provided lack of support for effectiveness of pheromones for the treatment of undesirable behavior in cats and dogs.
Cats that have shed Toxoplasma gondii oocysts are considered to be immune to reshedding of oocysts. To investigate if this immunity persists in cats for 6 yr, 12 4-6-mo-old cats without T. gondii antibodies were inoculated orally with tissue cysts of the ME-49 strain (6 cats) and the TS-2 strain (6 cats) of T. gondii. All of them shed > or = 20 million oocysts between 4 and 13 days after feeding tissue cysts. Two cats became ill between 11 and 13 days after primary infection; 1 died on the 13th day, and the other had to be killed on the 11th day because of generalized acute toxoplasmosis. Toxoplasma gondii oocysts were not found on the hair of 10 cats examined 7 days after cats had shed millions of oocysts. On day 39 after primary infection, 5 cats (2 infected with the ME-49 strain and 3 infected with the TS-2 strain) were challenged orally with tissue cysts of the ME-49 strain. None of the challenged cats shed oocysts. One cat died due to causes unrelated to toxoplasmosis. Seventy-seven months after primary infection, the remaining 9 cats were challenged orally with tissue cysts of the P89 strain of T. gondii. Four of these 9 cats re-shed T. gondii oocysts; 3 of them had been challenged also at 39 days after primary infection. Two control cats housed together with chronically infected cats for 6 yr remained seronegative for T. gondii; both of these shed oocysts after challenge with the P89 strain.
Stress reduction protocol for cats
  • Anon
Anon. Stress reduction protocol for cats.
Feline-friendly sheltering
  • Griffin B
  • Levy J
Prevention of infectious diseases in cat shelters. ABCD guidelines
  • K Mostl
  • H Egberink
  • Addie D Frymus
  • T Boucrat-Baralon
  • C Truyen
Mostl K, Egberink H, Addie D, Frymus T, Boucrat-Baralon C, Truyen U, et al. Prevention of infectious diseases in cat shelters. ABCD guidelines. J Feline Med Surg 2013; 15: 546-554.
Toxoplasma gondii infection in cats. ABCD guidelines on prevention and management
  • K Hartmann
  • Addie D Belak
  • S Boucraut-Baralon
  • C Egberink
  • H Frymus
Hartmann K, Addie D, Belak S, Boucraut-Baralon C, Egberink H, Frymus T, et al. Toxoplasma gondii infection in cats. ABCD guidelines on prevention and management. J Feline Med Surg 2013; 15: 631-637. DOI: 10.1177/1098612X13500883