Pheromones are something that are often recommended along with behavior modification in both cats and dogs. Personally, I’ve had clients who swear by them and feel they’ve made a big impact on their pets’ behavior, and I’ve had others who felt they either weren’t sure or that they were not improving the situation. If you’re in the field of behavior and training, it’s very likely that the topic will come up at some point, and knowing some of the science behind them can help you make a decision about your recommendations or your use.

What is a Pheromone?

Pheromones are defined as “chemical cues emitted and detected by animals of the same species that influence social and reproductive behavior” (Frank et al., 2010). They are believed to affect emotional processing.

Pheromones work by reaching receptors in the vomeronasal organ, and sometimes the olfactory epithelium. Cats often open their vomeronasal organ with a behavior called flehmen, where they open their mouth and curl their upper lip. Dogs will perform tonguing, where they flick their tongue against their incisive papilla, which is a bump on the roof of their mouth right behind their front teeth. This behavior is less obvious than the flehmen in cats.

Types of Pheromones Marketed for Dogs and Cats

There are a couple types of pheromones that are used with dogs and cats. The ones we typically use are made synthetically, but are very similar to pheromones that are naturally produced.

The first is an appeasing pheromone, which is secreted in the mammary region from 3-4 days after birth to right after weaning in both dogs and cats. These pheromones are used as they are thought to provide reassurance to animals even when their mother is not present. Synthetic analogues of the dog and cat appeasing pheromones are often used when there may be anxiety in animals. The dog version was called DAP, or Dog Appeasing Pheromone, and is now called Adaptil. The cat version is Feline Appeasing Pheromone.

There are several cat-specific pheromones that are marketed to help with different behavior concerns. The first is the feline facial pheromone F3, which is one that is placed on surfaces when a cat rubs the side of their face against it. Cats will perform this facial rubbing along areas thought to be perceived boundaries of where they spend their time, and on things that are known to them. The theory behind the use of this pheromone is that it could help reduce anxiety and make areas feel more familiar. There is another facial pheromone in cats that is made synthetically, the F4 pheromone. This one is associated with allomarking in cats, or rubbing of their face that is done on other cats, and is marketed as Feliway Friends.

Finally, there is an interdigital (or between the toes) pheromone that is released when a cat scratches or spreads their toes. This was marketed as FeliScratch and was supposed to encourage cats to scratch on surfaces on which it is sprayed, indirectly reducing scratching on surfaces that people don’t want scratched. It doesn’t appear to be available on their website at the moment, and instead they are marketing their new Feliway Optimum which appears to be a combination of various pheromones to help prevent scratching inappropriate surfaces.

One of the benefits to pheromones is that they are not absorbed systemically and there is no known toxicity associated with them, so they can be used in conjunction with other medications.

Research on Pheromones

One of the difficulties with research in pheromones is that they were never intended or thought of as a treatment in and of themselves. They are meant to be an adjunct to a behavior modification program, but this adds a whole layer of complexity to research in the area. Much of the published research does not have the most rigorous study design, and many have staff or owners of the companies that make the pheromones listed as authors.

On the whole, studies are inconclusive on their efficacy, with some showing promise in certain situations and some appearing to show no effect. However, going through some of the research is important if this is a recommendation that you sometimes make for pets.

Let’s dig into the science….

Noise phobias in dogs

One study looked at dog response with Dog Appeasing Pheromones when exposed to recorded thunder (Landsberg et al., 2015). All dogs in the study were fitted with collars, and half of the dogs had the pheromone while the others were a control group. The researchers found that the dogs with Dog Appeasing Pheromone showed less stress-related behaviors when the thunder was being played, as well as spending more time in a hide box than the control group.

Veterinary Settings

There have been several studies of pheromones in veterinary settings, and they have shown mixed results, with some studies showing no improvement and others some moderate improvement.

One study examined the use of pheromone spray on a towel in cats that were waiting at a veterinary clinic in their carrier (Van Vertloo et al., 2021). Researchers looked at blood pressure and vocalizations and found that there was some improvement in the number of vocalizations when cats had a towel sprayed with Feliway on their carrier in the waiting room, but no difference in blood pressure.

Another study in dogs using DAP diffusers with hospitalized dogs found some benefits to Dog Appeasing Pheromone compared to a control placebo diffuser (Kim et al., 2010). Dogs were enrolled in the study if they were going to be spending 4 days or longer at the clinic and was focused on separation-related behavioral signs in the dogs. Compared to the placebo, those in the DAP group had less elimination, excessive licking, and less pacing behavior.

The manufacturers of Feliway state that other strong smells such as disinfectants can decrease the efficacy of the pheromone spray, and these are very commonly used in veterinary settings. It’s likely this is also the case for Dog Appeasing Pheromone.

Separation from people

A study looked at the use of Dog Appeasing Pheromone with behavior modification and compared it to Clomipramine (a tricyclic antidepressant often used for separation anxiety in dogs) and behavior modification in dogs with separation anxiety (Gaulthier et al., 2005). The homes were assigned to either the pheromone or Clomipramine , and were blind to treatment. This was done by having capsules that either contained the medication or a placebo, and the diffusers were filled with either pheromone or a placebo. The researchers found similar improvements in both groups after approximately one month, including sleep, signs of destruction, vocalization, urination or defecation in the house, and self-licking. Participants mentioned in the study that they found the diffuser easier to use than giving their pet Clomipramine. However, it is important to note that one of the authors is an owner of the company that makes the synthetic pheromone.

Interactions between animals

A more recent study looked at intercat aggression in households (DePorter et al., 2019). As part of the study, participants were given instructions on how to handle aggressive events (using redirection, positive reinforcement, and classical conditioning), how to score body language and aggression events, and then were assigned to either a Feliway or a control group – both having diffusers in the home but the control group did not have pheromones in the diffuser. Over a period of a month, aggression on the whole decreased, very likely due to the training delivered. A certain periods of time, the Feliway group had lower aggression than the control group, showing a potential benefit for the Feliway in conjunction with behavior modification.

Another study looked at the interactions between dogs and cats in homes (Prior & Mills, 2020). Homes were assigned to either Adaptil (Dog Appeasing Pheromone) or Feliway Friends (Cat Appeasing Pheromone). Owners were asked to score both their dogs and cats on a variety of interactions that they observed, including undesirable and desirable behaviors. On the whole, throughout the 6 week study the undesirable interactions decreased and the desirable ones increased. In both groups, they saw a decrease in dogs chasing cats where the cats run away, cats hiding from dogs, cats and dogs staring at one another, and the dog barking at the cat. In the homes with Adaptil they found an increase in friendly greetings between the animals and time spent relaxed in the same room. Dog relaxation scores increased in the Adaptil group, and cat relaxation scores increased in the Feliway Friends groups. There were some concerns with this study as the number of animals in the home was not taking into account, there was no control group to compare the pheromone treatments to, however it does show some promise for dog-cat interactions.

What’s the verdict on pheromones?

I’ve gone through some of the research that we have on pheromones in dogs and cats, some seem to show some promise, and there are several others that have shown little efficacy. In knowing this, I thought I’d let you know what I recommend to clients in these situations.

With all of my clients, we implement a management plan as well as a behavior modification and training plan. Sometimes, this includes recommendations to speak to their veterinarian about medication, and also homeopathics and pheromones. I always explain that the research is inconclusive at the moment, but they are believed to be very safe and that there is potential they may find it effective in addition to the other work we’re doing.

If you’d like a less technical version of this to share with clients, one can be found at the Landmark Behaviour blog that is written for pet owners.


DePorter, T.L., Bledsoe, D.L., Beck, A., Ollivier, E., 2019. Evaluation of the efficacy of an appeasing pheromone diffuser product vs placebo for management of feline aggression in multi-cat households: a pilot study. Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery. 21:293–305.

Frank, D., Beauchamp, G., Palestrini, C. 2010. Systematic Review of the Use of Pheromones for Treatment of Undesirable Behavior in Cats and Dogs. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association. 236:1308–1316.

Gaultier, E., Bonnafous, L., Bougrat, L., Lafont, C., Pageat, P. 2005. Comparison of the efficacy of a synthetic dog-appeasing pheromone with clomipramine for the treatment of separation-related disorders in dogs. The Veterinary Record. 156:533-538.

Kim, Y.-M., Lee, J.-K., Abd El-aty, A.M., Hwang, S.-H., Lee, J.-H., Lee, S.-M. 2010. Efficacy of Dog-Appeasing Pheromone (DAP) for Ameliorating Separation-Related Behavioral Signs in Hospitalized Dogs. Canadian Veterinary Journal. 51:380–384.

Landsberg, G.M., Beck, A., Lopez, A., Deniaud, M., Araujo, J.A., Milgram, N.M. 2015. Dog-appeasing pheromone collars reduce sound-induced fear and anxiety in beagle dogs: a placebo-controlled study. Veterinary Record. 177:260.

Prior, M.R., Mills, D.S. 2020. Cats vs. dogs: The efficacy of Feliway Friends and Adaptil products in multispecies homes. Frontiers in Veterinary Science. 7:399.

Van Vertloo, L.R., Carnevale, J.M., Parsons, R.L., Rosburg, M., Millman, S.T. 2021. Effects of waiting room and feline facial pheromone experience on blood pressure in cats. Frontiers in Veterinary Science. 8:640751.