Treating Behavioural Problems with Pheromones
WSAVA/FECAVA/BSAVA World Congress 2012
Kersti Seksel, BVSc(Hons), MA(Hons), FACVSc, DACVB, CMAVA, DECVBM-CA, MRCVS
Sydney Animal Behaviour Service, Seaforth, Australia

Behaviour Problem or Problem Behaviour - Why Diagnosis is So Important

Behaviour problems are common in pets. Several large surveys have indicated that the reported prevalence of behaviour problems ranges from 42 to 87%. In fact, behaviour problems are now considered to be the number one reason for euthanasia of pets. The largest cause of death of puppies under 1 year of age is said to be euthanasia due to behaviour problems.

Some behaviours that are problematic are minor and only mildly irritating (e.g., jumping up when greeting the owner), and have relatively little impact on the pet or the owner. These owners either seek some sort of help from trainers, breeders or veterinarians or decide that they can live with the problem. The best way to classify these issues is as problem behaviours. By giving the owners some key tips or advice and teaching the dog some basic manners the problems can be resolved to the owner's satisfaction.

Behaviour problems, however, are usually major issues and can be potentially dangerous to humans, other animals or the animal itself. These include behaviours such as aggression directed towards people or other animals, obsessive compulsive disorders and self-mutilation. These major problems have a much larger effect on the pet as well as the owner and can lead to a breakdown in the bond with the owner. This breakdown in trust can lead to the pet being abandoned, surrendered to an animal shelter or euthanased. These more serious issues should be classified as behaviour problems and usually need referral to a veterinarian or veterinary behaviourist for a satisfactory resolution.

In the past two decades there has been an increasing amount of research into the behaviours exhibited by pets and the problems they cause. This research has resulted in the reclassification of some behavioural issues, the terminology we use to describe the behaviours and the problems that result, as well as the methods that are used to treat or manage them.

The various methods that have been used to reduce behaviour problems in pets may include training of the pet and education of the owner, environmental management, intensive behaviour modification (e.g., desensitisation and counterconditioning), as well as the use of psychotropic medication to modify the neurochemical environment. Psychotropic medication, such as tricyclic antidepressants, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, azaperones and anxiolytics, are now commonly used in combination with a behaviour-modification programme. Pheromonatherapy is an adjunct that is commonly included in a treatment programme.

The success of the treatment regime is dependent on many factors including client expectations and compliance. The success also depends on the accuracy of the diagnosis, correct choice of medication and the appropriateness of the behaviour-modification programme. Early intervention can reduce behaviour problems as well as problem behaviours in dogs and cats.

Pheromones and Their Synthetic Analogues

Pheromones are chemical substances that are released by one individual and convey a message to others, usually within their own species. Although they were first studied in insects pheromones have also been identified in all mammalian species including humans. There are many types of pheromones and they convey different information (e.g., alarm pheromones, sex pheromones, aggregation pheromones, releaser pheromones, primer pheromones and trail pheromones).

The detection and perception of pheromones occurs in the vomeronasal organ or organ of Jacobson, a special part of the olfactory tract. The binding of pheromones to their specific receptors within the vomeronasal organ leads to changes within the body including the emotional centres of the brain or the release of other messengers such as hormones.

The role of pheromones is varied ranging from promoting a feeling of reassurance to warning others of potential danger. They are also important in the sexual cycle of many species. Large animal veterinarians and producers have used their knowledge of pheromones to manipulate the reproductive cycles of pigs. Some dairy farmers also use their dogs to detect when the cows are in oestrus.

There are several different pheromones that have been identified in the canine and feline world. Some of these pheromones have been shown to have a useful clinical effect. They have been synthesised and their analogues are marketed for use in a variety of situations.

However, the use of feline pheromones is not new. Many practitioners would be familiar with rubbing a towel over one cat in the household and then rubbing the same towel over another cat to make the transition to going home after a veterinary visit easier.

There have been several feline facial pheromones identified, and it is the F3 fraction that is marketed as Feliway®. This is thought to be the familiarisation pheromone that is common to all cats. The facial pheromones originate in the cheek glands and are deposited on various surfaces around the cat's environment by facial rubbing. It is thought that these chemical markers indicate known places, and lead to a decrease in anxiety for the cat. Conversely if the cat is placed in an environment with no familiar marking odours, there can be an increase in anxiety. Feliway® is available as a spray and as a diffuser.

In dogs, the dog-appeasing pheromone (DAP) has been isolated. Appeasing pheromones are produced by all mammals with the pheromone excreted from the glands between the mammary chains of the female. This pheromone messenger is said to be responsible for reassuring the offspring, and engenders a feeling of calm. Adaptil® is available as a diffuser, spray and a collar.


Both Feliway® and Adaptil® appear to help reduce anxiety and promote a feeling of calmness and are marketed for behavioural issues stemming from increased anxiety and stress. Because they are inhaled, and therefore are a part of the animal's normal biology, pheromones offer a unique mode of treatment. They have no systemic absorption, and no toxicity problems have been reported. They are a useful adjunct to other behaviour therapies such as behaviour modification and psychotropic medications. They are also useful where multiple animals need to be treated or for the fractious pet that is not easy for the owner to medicate.

Feliway® has proven useful in the treatment of urine spraying and vertical marking. Anxiety and stress are often seen in crowded environments such as multicat households. Covert aggression often goes unrecognised by owners as there is no fur flying and hissing and spitting. Yet the cats are stressed and respond by spraying.

When cats are introduced into a new environment or there is a change in their current one (e.g., a new spouse, new furniture or new baby), cats may feel anxious and urine mark. When used in combination with behaviour modification Feliway® has been shown to decrease these marking behaviours.

Cats that are hospitalised can also be stressed. Using Feliway® in the veterinary hospital has proven helpful as studies have shown they eat more, play more and settle into grooming more quickly. Feliway® sprayed on the examination room table can help calm cats and make cats easier to handle. Using a diffuser in the waiting room of the veterinary hospital and the cattery room also helps cats settle.

Studies indicate that cats travel better when Feliway® is used in the cat carrier. As Feliway® spray is alcohol based allow about 30 minutes for the alcohol to evaporate before placing the cat in the cage or cat carrier.

In dogs, Adaptil® has been recommended for reducing the stress associated with separation anxiety, noise phobias (such as thunderstorms and fireworks), as well as motion sickness. It can help with the transition of a puppy or adult dog into a new home. Using an Adaptil® diffuser can make the first nights for a puppy much less stressful for puppy and owner. The use of an Adaptil® diffuser in stressful environments such as the veterinary clinic, shelters and puppy classes can also reduce stress. It has been reported that diffusers may reduce behaviours such as destructiveness, vocalisation, excessive licking and house-soiling. Their use in shelters has shown a significant decrease in barking and they have proven useful in veterinary hospital wards for the same reason.

It is important that dogs have easy access to the diffuser. Many dogs like to lie in close proximity to the diffuser so placing it behind furniture or hard to reach places may distress the dog.

Both the Feliway® and Adaptil® diffusers last about 1 month, depending on the location in the house. Open doors and windows as well as air conditioning will affect diffusion rates. For the diffusers to be effective they must be left on 24 hours a day, 7 days a week not just switched on when the pet is in the house.

Feliway® and Adaptil® are registered products of Ceva Sante Animale


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2.  Ley J, et al. Results on the use of dog appeasement pheromone (DAP) collars in a selection of Australian dogs with anxiety disorders. Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research 2010;5(1):45–46.

3.  Mills DS, White JC. Long-term follow up of the effect of a pheromone therapy on feline spraying behaviour. The Veterinary Record 2000:746–747.

4.  Sheppard G, Mills DS. Evaluation of dog-appeasing pheromone as a potential treatment for dogs fearful of fireworks. The Veterinary Record 2003:432–436.

5.  Tod E, Brander D, et al. Efficacy of dog appeasing pheromone in reducing stress and fear related behaviour in shelter dogs. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 2005;93(3):295–308.


Speaker Information
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Kersti Seksel, BVSc(Hons), MA(Hons), FACVSc, DACVB, CMAVA, DECVBM-CA, MRCVS, Registered Veterinary Specialist, Beha
Sydney Animal Behaviour Service
Seaforth, Australia

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