Pheromones and Household Cat Aggression

August 21, 2018
Natalie Stilwell, DVM, MS, PhD

Dr. Natalie Stilwell provides freelance medical writing and aquatic veterinary consulting services through her business, Seastar Communications and Consulting. In addition to her DVM obtained from Auburn University, she holds a MS in fisheries and aquatic sciences and a PhD in veterinary medical sciences from the University of Florida.

According to results of a recent study, the use of pheromones significantly reduced aggression in multicat households within 21 days.

Intercat aggression is a common behavioral issue reported by veterinary clients, the therapeutic components of which may include psychotropic medication, aversion tactics (such as spraying water), and restricted interaction between cats.

US researchers recently examined the use of synthetic feline-appeasing pheromone (FAP; Feliway Friends) for its effect on intercat aggression in multicat households.

RESULTS:

  • Evaluating and Addressing Feline Aggression
  • Possible Causes of Feline Aggression

Study Design

The study targeted multicat households in the midwestern United States. Participants were recruited via multiple forms of media, followed by telephone interview.

Criteria for enrollment included the following:

  • Households with 2 to 5 cats aged at least 6 months
  • Minimum history of intercat aggression of at least 2 weeks
  • Primarily indoor cats with unrestricted access throughout the home

Intact male cats or those that were extremely aggressive, medically ill, or receiving psychotropic medications or nutraceuticals were excluded.

​​​​​​​Owners attended a 90-minute information session where they learned how to interpret and appropriately redirect aggressive interactions between household cats. Each household was then randomly assigned to a treatment or control group.

Each owner was instructed to wait 7 days, then place 2 plug-in diffusers in primary resting locations of household cats for 28 days. All diffusers appeared identical, and owners were blinded to treatment.

Owners completed short daily diaries and in-depth weekly questionnaires to record incidences, frequencies, and intensities of each of 12 behaviors, which were then compiled to indicate an overall household aggression score. Daily diaries and weekly questionnaires were completed for an additional 2 weeks after the 28-day treatment period concluded.

Results

Seventeen and 25 households completed the study in the treatment and placebo groups, respectively. Households had an average of 3 cats, most of which were female and mixed breed. Baseline aggression values were statistically similar between treatment groups during the information session and 1 week later, when pheromone treatment was initiated. Interestingly, aggression scores in both groups decreased during that period. The authors postulated that owners initially overreported aggression or, alternatively, learned to handle aggression more appropriately at the information session. The most commonly reported behaviors before treatment were staring, fleeing, and hissing/growling.

Aggression scores continued to decrease in both groups throughout the 28-day pheromone treatment period, but aggression levels were significantly lower in the treatment group than in the placebo group by day 21. Most owners in the treatment and placebo groups perceived that their cats were getting along better when FAP treatment was discontinued on day 28. Two weeks later, aggression levels in the treated group were still significantly lower that those in the placebo group, perhaps indicating that FAP treatment “initiated a new balance” in household cat interactions.

Take-home Message

For households with established intercat aggression issues, FAP treatment correlated with significantly reduced aggression within 21 days of treatment. The authors suggested that FAP “may be useful as a component of a complete behavior-modification program,” although long-term, lasting effects after treatment is discontinued remain unknown.