Feline Facial Pheromone Spray Reduces Stress in Cats During Veterinary Office Visits
Feline veterinary visits cause significant stress for cats, owners, and staff alike. A new study shows that feline facial pheromone spray may bring more cats to the clinic without all the drama.
A recent study in the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery demonstrated reduced stress among cats exposed to feline facial pheromone spray during veterinary office visits.
Feline facial pheromone spray has been used to help manage urine marking, certain types of aggression, and other stress-associated behaviors in cats.
The goal of this randomized, double-blinded, placebo-controlled study was to determine whether applying feline facial pheromone spray (Feliway, Ceva Animal Health*) to the exam room table would affect the stress level and behavior of feline patients and ease handling during veterinary office visits.
The practice that participated in the study designated two exam rooms to be used. Investigators assigned the exam table in room “A” to be sprayed with a solution marked “B” (containing the placebo solution), and the exam table in room “B” to be sprayed with a solution marked “L” (containing the pheromone spray). Pet owners, clinicians, and observers were all blinded to the type of solution that was sprayed in each room. The sprays were applied directly to the exam table 15 minutes before each appointment to allow time for the alcohol base of each solution to evaporate.
To begin the study, the lead observer used a 15-day period to become familiar with the stress and behavior assessment tools that would be used in the trial. No results were recorded during that time. That period was followed by another 15-day period during which no spray solutions were used on any exam room tables, but the behavior of cats examined in both exam rooms was recorded. Cats examined during this time constituted the first control group.
Subsequently, for 30 days, investigators randomized cats to exam room A or B, and the previously marked spray was used on the tables before each exam. Between appointments, each table was cleaned with standard disinfectant, the floor was mopped, and the door was left open to air out the room in an effort to reduce residual odors.
The first 30-day active portion of the study was followed by a 7-day washout period during which no sprays were used on either table, and no observations were recorded for any feline patients. This period was followed by a 15-day phase during which no spray solution was used before exams. Cats examined during this period were evaluated and results recorded, serving as an additional negative control group. For the final 30 days of the study, the spray solutions used initially were reversed, such that spray “L” was used in exam room A and spray “B” was used in exam room B.
Eighty-seven cats were randomly allocated to room A or B. Investigators reported no significant differences between groups in terms of age, gender, breed, spay/neuter status, or indoor/outdoor status. Cats younger than 26 weeks of age were excluded to help eliminate kitten behavioral reactions, and all cats must have undergone at least one prior veterinary visit to allow for comparison with earlier behavioral observations by the owner. Cats currently or previously diagnosed with an illness that could cause pain or alter behavior were also excluded, as were cats receiving any medications. Similarly, because the stress of waiting in the reception area can alter behavior, any patients that waited 25 minutes or more to be seen were excluded.
Three parameters were assessed: stress level, ease of handling, and owner’s perception of how the cat behaved during the current visit compared with prior visits.
The lead observer assessed each cat’s stress level before handling using a cat stress scoring scale. A separate scale was used to assess ease of handling during the appointment, and at the end of the appointment owners were asked to compare their cat’s behavior with what they could recall from prior veterinary visits using the following descriptions: (1)no difference/same as usual, (2) easier to handle/ more relaxed, (3) more difficult to handle/more agitated, (4) more difficult to handle/more aggressive. Of the 87 cats included in the trial, 33% were exposed to facial pheromone spray, 38% to placebo spray, and 29% to no spray at all.
Results showed that the pheromone spray significantly reduced stress, as these cats received lower stress scores compared with cats in the placebo group. Forty-one percent of owners in the pheromone group reported that their cats seemed more relaxed and easier to handle, compared with 3% of owners in the placebo group. There was no significant difference between groups when ease of handling was assessed.
The authors note that the optimal duration of exposure for feline facial pheromone spray to exert its effect has not been definitively determined in the medical literature. In this study, investigators waited 15 minutes after starting the appointment to complete their observations about the patient’s ease of handling, based on the cat’s behavior and perceived stress level at the time. The authors noted that “the 15-minute interval was enough to produce changes in the behavior of cats ... as well as leading to real differences between both groups regarding stress scoring.”
The authors reported that, “This study supports the effectiveness of Feliway spray in reducing the stress of cats during consultations, helping them to cope better with the veterinary examination, from a feline welfare perspective.”