Dueling Cat and Dog? Pheromones to the Rescue

Analysis by Dr. Karen Shaw Becker

cat and dog fight

Story at-a-glance -

  • A newly published U.K. study suggests pheromone products may smooth out bumpy relationships between cats and dogs living under the same roof
  • During the six-week study, both the dog and cat pheromone products led to an observable reduction in undesirable interactions (e.g., dog chasing cat, cat hiding from dog, dog barking at cat)
  • The researchers anticipated that the feline pheromone would make more of an impact because positive dog-cat relationships appear to rely on the level of the cat’s comfort; however, the dog pheromone effect was more pronounced, suggesting a relaxed dog may lead to a more comfortable cat

The expression "fighting like cats and dogs," as you might guess, is rooted in the reality that canines and felines don't always get along, even or perhaps especially when living under the same roof. If you've ever had a dueling pair of pets at home, you know it can be extremely stressful for everyone in the family.

It can be difficult to manage your own emotions appropriately when on the one hand, you feel very protective of the pet who's most often the victim of these brawls, but on the other hand, you realize the aggressor — whether dog or cat — is in most cases acting on an instinct that is entirely natural. And often, pet parents in this situation feel guilty that they can't seem to get the situation under control.

The good news is there's a new study out that "reveals how you can bid farewell to those animal scraps and foster a harmonious relationship between your pet pooch and feline friend," according to a recent University of Lincoln news release.1

It seems that infusing appeasing pheromones (chemical substances produced and released into the environment by an animal that affect the behavior or physiology of others of its species) around the home could be the key to a more peaceful household.

Tension Is Fairly Common in Homes With Both Dogs and Cats

"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," study-co-author Daniel Mills, Professor of Veterinary Behavioural Medicine in Lincoln's School of Life Sciences explained in the news release.

"Seven per cent of households in the UK own both a cat and a dog, which represents a large number of pet owners and their animals living with potentially stressful animal relationships on a day-to-day basis.

Many cat and dog owners report that their animals are comfortable in each other's' company, but where this isn't the case, a poor relationship between a resident cat and dog can have serious consequences for the welfare of individual animals.

There may be an unacceptable level of social stress or restricted access to key resources such as food, water or suitable toilet areas. There will also be increased stress for the remainder of the family (both human and animal), and potential risks of injury due to conflict."2

Problem relationships between a new pet and an existing pet is one of the main reasons animals are relinquished to shelters.

Study: Pheromone Products Have a Positive Effect

The study was conducted by Mills and another animal behavior scientist at the University of Lincoln in the U.K., with the purpose of investigating the effects of pheromone products on interactions between dogs and cats living in the same home whose relationships could be better, according to their humans. The results were published recently in the journal Frontiers in Veterinary Science.3

The products used were Feliway FriendsTM (for cats) and AdaptilTM (for dogs), which emit calming species-specific pheromones. Pet owners were asked to report weekly on the frequency of 10 specific undesirable interactions and 7 specific desirable interactions between their cats and dogs.

The pets were split into two groups, with one group using Feliway Friends and the other using Adaptil, both of which were in unmarked packages and randomly assigned such that neither the pet parents nor the researchers knew which product was being used in each home until after the data was collected.

The results suggest that both products had a positive effect on the interactions between cats and dogs in the study:

"Over a six-week period, both products led to a notable decrease in undesirable interactions — such as dog chasing cat, cat hiding from dog, cat and dog staring at each other, and dog barking at cat.

Users of Adaptil even observed a significant increase in some desirable behaviours — friendly greetings between cat and dog, and time spent relaxing in the same room."4

Between weeks two and six of the six-week study, a better than 50% reduction in undesirable behavior scores was seen in 8 out of 17 dogs receiving Adaptil, and 5 out of 17 (29%) cats receiving Feliway Friends. A reduction of 30% or more in undesirable behaviours was seen in 12 out of 17 (71%) pets in both groups.

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A More Relaxed Dog = A Happier Cat?

In many households, according to the researchers, the cat's comfort level appears to play a more significant role in the quality of the relationship between cat and dog. It could therefore be seen as surprising that it was the Adaptil that increased specific desirable interactions.

"While it might be expected that Feliway Friends would be more effective in multi-species homes given the apparently stronger contribution of the cat's comfortabil­ity to the quality of the cat-dog relationship, this did not appear to be the case," said study-co-author Miriam Prior, a Lincoln-based veterinarian who undertook the work as part of her postgraduate degree in Clinical Animal Behaviour at the University of Lincoln.

"Our results might be explained by the behaviour of the dog being the primary determinant of the cat's quality of interaction with it. We would like to investigate this further to really tease out the effects of these pheromone products individually and also to investigate their use in combination with each other.

We suggest that Adaptil may have had such a beneficial effect because a more relaxed dog may be less likely to disturb the cat (e.g. by chasing it), resulting in a cat that is less stressed and more willing to form some form of social bond with the dog."5

For more information on how to help feuding furry family members get along, read my recent article, Strategies to Help Cats and Dogs to Peacefully Coexist.