Pheromone Notes #26
News release issued by University Of
CATS COMFORTED BY SYNTHETIC CHEMICAL,
COLUMBUS, Ohio - Have an anxious cat?
A synthetic chemical may be what it takes
to put kitty at ease in unfamiliar territory,
a new study suggests.
Researchers at Ohio State University
found that when stressed cats were exposed
to a synthetic form of a feline facial
pheromone (FFP), they ate more and seemed
more comfortable in a hospital than did
cats not exposed to the pheromone.
FFP is one of a variety of pheromones,
chemicals that animals use to communicate
with others of the same species. FFP seems
to signal comfort and amicability.
Changing a cat's behavior by introducing
a synthetic pheromone to its environment
is a unique solution to helping agitated
cats, said Tony Buffington, co-author of
the study and professor of clinical nutrition
at Ohio State's College of Veterinary Medicine.
"Veterinarians are so used to putting
something in or on an animal that we've
never really thought of altering the animal's
environment," he said. "Using
pheromones may be an effective way of
The study appears in a recent issue of
the Journal of the
American Veterinary Medical Association.
Buffington conducted the study with Cerissa
Griffith, a veterinary student at Ohio
State, and Elizabeth Steigerwald, of Parke-Davis
In one study, 20 cats were housed in
stainless steel cages 3 feet high by 4
feet wide at Ohio State's veterinary teaching
hospital. The cages included a litter
pan, food and water bowls and a clean
towel. Enough space was left between the
litter box and the back of the cage to
allow the cat to hide in this area.
When faced with new surroundings, especially
in a hospital with other animals, cats
tend to show signs of stress and fear,
such as hiding or becoming hyper-vigilant,
Buffington said. Common behaviors, such
as exploring their surroundings and playing,
are often suppressed.
In this study, 10 cats (four healthy,
six ill) were exposed to synthetic FFP
while the rest of the cats (three healthy,
seven ill) were exposed to towels that
had been sprayed with ethanol (the ethanol,
which acted as a placebo, evaporated before
the animals were placed in the cage with
the towels.) The researchers applied FFP
or ethanol to the towels 30 minutes before
placing the towels in each cage. The researchers
videotaped the cats for 125 minutes. They
then recorded cat behavior and food intake
for 18 five-minute intervals that began
35 minutes after the cat was placed in
the cage with the towel.
"The effects of FFP tend to kick
in about a half-hour after exposure,"
Buffington said. Once the FFP kicked in,
though, the cats exposed to the pheromone
exhibited more episodes of typical feline
behavior, such as lying in the cage, sitting,
grooming and eating. Three cats in the
FFP group ate during the observation period,
compared to only one cat in the control
group; the cats in the FFP group that
did eat consumed nearly 10 grams of food
during the observation period, compared
to 0.2 grams in the non-exposed group.
What was key with these findings was
that cats exposed to the pheromone exhibited
more "calming behaviors," Buffington
"The increases in grooming, interest
in food and food intake suggest that FFP
had an anxiety-reducing effect on some
cats," Buffington said. "The
cats responded to the synthetic FFP by
increased episodes of facial rubbing,
which meant they released more FFP onto
objects in the cage." Cats release
FFP via glands in their face.
In a second study, researchers looked
at another environmental factor that may
help calm anxious cats. The researchers
exposed 20 cats - all different than those
in the first study - to FFP and placed
cat carriers in half of the cages. They
wanted to know if having a place to hide
- the carrier - would have an effect on
their food intake. For this study, the
researchers recorded the 24-hour food
intake of each group.
Adding the carrier caused cats to eat
significantly more, Buffington said. These
cats consumed an average of 26 grams of
food during the 24-hour period, while
the cats without the carrier consumed
about 9 grams of food. (26 grams is equivalent
to about half of a cat's daily food intake
"The increase in food intake in
this group suggests that other features
of the environment may affect a cat's
response to FFP," Buffington said.
Synthetic FFP is currently available
from veterinarians, Buffington said. Cat
owners can use it to make their pet feel
more comfortable at home or to control
"It's a lot easier for an owner
to spray a pheromone around the home than
it is to stick a pill down a cat's throat,"
Abbott Laboratories provided support
for this study.
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