Are your pets ‘fighting like cats and dogs’? Pheromones might help, study says

New research shows that synthetic pheromones — chemicals animals release to communicate with each other — may be the solution to a “Tom and Jerry” conflict in your home.

After six weeks of filling their homes with the harmless, odorless and colorless chemicals, participants in a U.K. study were relieved of their cat and dog’s undesirable interactions such as chasing and fighting. Instead, pet owners reported nose touching, shared relaxation areas and happier households.

“Although we are all aware of the perceived tensions between cats and dogs, we believe this is the first study of its kind to explore the use of pheromone products to improve the relationship when the two species are living in the same household,” Dr. Daniel Mills, professor of veterinary behavioral medicine at the University of Lincoln in England, said in a news release.

Animals naturally release pheromones to communicate messages such as “you are welcome here” to members of their own species. So, cats and dogs don’t choose to torture each other for fun; the problems arise from this communication barrier and their differing behaviors and social structures. For example, tail wagging and head turning are considered “appeasing/submissive” for dogs but signs of “frustration/aggression” in cats.

These contradicting behaviors can cause restricted access to food, water and toilet areas, and they can increase risk of injury while causing stress for the entire household.

“It has also been reported that a problematic relationship between a new pet and an existing pet is one of the main reasons for cats and dogs being taken to shelters for rehoming,” the researchers said in the release. The study was published in July in the journal Frontiers in Veterinary Science.

What did the study find?

A total of 34 pet owners with at least one dog and one cat living together diffused their home with one of two pheromone products: Feliway Friends, which emits calming pheromones for cats, and Adaptil for dogs.

Each week participants were required to report the frequency of 10 specific undesirable interactions and seven desirable ones, including sleeping near each other, friendly greetings, playing together and mutual grooming.

Both products produced positive results, according to the study. In emailed comments to the researchers, pet owners said: “my dog was his usual pesky self but the cats were much more chilled with each other and with him,” “the whole household has been more content” and “less chasing and more gentle play.”

One owner’s cat started sleeping on a sofa edge closer to the dog instead of its tower, and another owner’s dog was much calmer on walks.

Much to the researchers’ surprise, it was Adaptil, the product that releases dog pheromones, that led to the greatest positive changes in cat-dog relationships. This is because cats are more likely to have a “stronger influence over the quality” of the relationship than dogs.

The researchers suggest that a more relaxed dog may be less likely to disturb a cat, “resulting in a cat that is less stressed and more willing to form some form of social bond with the dog,” study co-author Dr. Miriam Prior, a veterinarian who undertook the work as part of her postgraduate degree in clinical animal behavior at the University of Lincoln, said in the release.

The pair warned that pheromone products are only part of the solution to problematic cat-dog relationships, and that the chemicals are generally recommended with a behavioral modification plan.

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