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Study: Pheromones may be key to peace between cats and dogs

Multipet households are common—but what if some of those pets, specifically cats and dogs, don’t get along? A study from the University of Lincoln in the UK suggests that pheromones might be the answer.

Pheromones are chemicals animals produce that affect the behavior of another animal, generally of the same species. The study, published in the journal Frontiers in Veterinary Science, is the first to investigate two pheromones’ effectiveness in improving the behavior and relationship of dogs and cats sharing a household.

Researchers Miriam Prior, MA, MSc, VetMB, MRCVS, CCAB, and Daniel Mills, RCVS, CCAB, PhD, DECAWBM, conducted the study to examine how pheromone diffusers influenced the interactions between dogs and cats in their homes. Prior and Mills recruited test subjects for the six-week study via social media, online groups, and flyers posted in veterinary hospitals. Pet owners were chosen based on whether or not they perceived there was potential for improvement in the relationship between their cat and dog.

In the parallel, randomized trial, the researchers tested two pheromone products: one that emits calming pheromones for cats, and another that does the same for dogs. Each home was randomly assigned one of the pheromones in an unlabeled diffuser so that neither the participants nor the researchers knew which pheromone was in use in which household.

NEWStat reached out to Prior to find out more.

“There have been very few studies on cat-dog relationships in the same home, despite it being a very common area of concern for pet owners,” Prior told NEWStat. “This is the first study to look at using a pheromone product to help smooth out the relationship.”

Prior said that both pheromone products appeared to be effective.

The most apparent changes seen were significant decreases in dogs barking at and chasing cats, and cats spending less time hiding or perching in high places. Moreover, Prior said, the length of time that both animals spent relaxed in the same room increased significantly with the dog-specific product: “So unless there’s a particular need to help the cat relax, the dog-specific product may be preferable.”

For severe cases of cat-dog aggression, Prior always recommends contacting an animal behaviorist. However, “for those oh-so-common milder cases of cats and dogs who just don’t love sharing their home, it definitely seems worthwhile to try using [some kind of pheromone product] to aid the cat-dog relationship.”

Prior said the next step is to find out whether there’s a benefit to using both types of pheromone products simultaneously—and whether one works better than the other—in a larger, placebo-controlled trial. “In the meantime, in addition to making the house as cat friendly as possible—think high shelves/beds, hiding places, multiple resources—there’s no harm in trying pheromone diffusers, and it would seem there’s a significant benefit.”

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