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Synthetic pheromones, stress, URI and shelter cats

Chadwin RM, Bain MJ, Kass PH. Effect of a synthetic feline facial pheromone product on stress scores and incidence of upper respiratory tract infection in shelter cats. J Am Vet Med Assoc. 2017 Aug 15;251(4):413-420.

Over 1 million cats are euthanized annually in U.S. shelters due to disease, overcrowding, undesirable behavior, or prolonged duration of stay. Upper respiratory tract infection (URTI) is the most common disease found in shelter and group-housed cats, therefore URTI becomes an important welfare concern for shelters. One of the primary methods for reducing the incidence of URTI is through stress reduction using such methods as making physical changes to shelter design, enlarging cage size, reducing cat density, and adding socialization and behavior enrichment programs.

One method that has become popular in recent years for stress reduction is the use of pheromone treatment. This type of application can be relatively cost effective and easy to implement. Yet, there are no published reports about the effectiveness of this protocol in shelter-housed cats. This study’s purpose was to determine whether diffuser administration of a synthetic feline facial product would be effective at decreasing signs of stress and incidence of URI in shelter cats.

This randomized controlled clinical trial involved 336 cats at 2 animal shelters in northern California. The cats were housed in 5 holding rooms, 3 rooms at one shelter and 2 rooms at the other private shelter. The investigators randomly assigned either a diffuser holding synthetic pheromone or a placebo to each room, and the cats were exposed for a 21-day period. Data was then collected on each cat that included signalment, daily stress scores and daily URI incidence. After this initial 21-day period, a 7-day washout period followed where the diffusers were removed. Then, the diffuser type was switched for each room and data was again collected for another 21-day period. The investigator, who was blinded to each of the diffuser contents, had extensive experience with animal behavior and evaluated each cat to assign daily stress and URI scores.

The authors concluded there was no evidence found that the evaluated synthetic feline facial pheromone product had any effect on stress scores or URI incidence in shelter-housed cats. They stress that these findings do not apply to the use of pheromone diffusers in the home. The stress levels and specific triggers of cats in shelter settings are different from owned cats in the home. The authors did feel that other factors are of greater significance in decreasing stress levels and URI in shelters and stated they would encourage shelter personnel to invest their time and resources into other established methods of stress reduction in cats.  (VT)

See also:
Tanaka A, Wagner DC, Kass PH, Hurley KF. Associations among weight loss, stress, and upper respiratory tract infection in shelter cats. J Am Vet Med Assoc. 2012 Mar 1;240(5):570-6.