Why Does Feliway Work Its Magic on Cats? The Science Behind the Calming Pheromones

What is Feliway?

Feliway is a synthetic pheromone product designed to help relieve stress in cats. It mimics natural feline facial pheromones that provide cats with a sense of familiarity and security. Feliway contains a synthetic version of the feline facial pheromone fraction known as F3, which mother cats release when caring for their kittens. This pheromone communicates comfort and contentment.

Feliway comes in both a spray and diffuser form. The diffuser plugs into an outlet and continually releases pheromones into the air. The spray can be applied directly to objects and environments as needed. Both deliver the F3 pheromone fraction shown to reduce anxiety behaviors in cats.

How pheromones work

Pheromones are chemical signals that trigger social responses in members of the same species. They are secreted externally by an individual and received by another individual, where they elicit a natural response 1. Mammals, insects, plants, and other organisms release pheromones to communicate with each other. In mammals, pheromones play a role in attracting mates, marking territory, recognizing offspring, and coordinating nursing or foraging behaviors. When an individual detects pheromones, sensory neurons in the nasal cavity send signals to the brain, triggering instinctual reactions and behaviors 2.

The facial pheromone cats use

Cats have a facial pheromone they use for communication and marking territory. This pheromone, called the Feline Facial Pheromone or F3, is produced when cats rub their cheeks and chin on objects in order to deposit the pheromone (Feliway, n.d.). F3 pheromone plays an important role in a cat’s ability to orient itself and identify its surroundings (Wikipedia, n.d.).

The F3 pheromone is secreted from glands located around a cat’s mouth, cheeks, forehead and chin. When a cat rubs its head against you or an object, it is depositing this facial pheromone and marking you as familiar and safe (Comfort Zone, n.d.). This facial rubbing behavior helps communicate information and provide cats with a sense of security via the pheromone messages.

Active ingredient in Feliway

The active ingredient in Feliway is a synthetic version of the pheromone cats produce from glands on their face, specifically the vomeronasal or Jacobson’s organ. This pheromone is known as feline facial pheromone or FFP for short. It plays an important role in cat-to-cat communication and provides information about the cat’s emotional state (1).

The synthetic FFP in Feliway is made in a lab to mimic the properties of the natural pheromone. It contains a component called F3 fraction, which is responsible for the calming effect. By dispersing this artificial FFP into the air, Feliway helps create a familiar, comforting environment that makes cats feel more relaxed and secure (2).

So while Feliway doesn’t contain any drugs or sedatives, it uses the power of pheromones to influence cat behavior and emotions in a subtle, natural way.

(1) https://www.ceva.com.au/Products/Products-list/FELIWAY-R-Spray

(2) https://www.drugs.com/vet/feliway-diffuser.html

How Feliway helps stressed cats

Feliway mimics natural facial pheromones that cats use to mark places and objects, signaling that the area is safe. According to a peer-reviewed study published in PLOS ONE, the pheromones in Feliway can significantly reduce stress in cats. When a cat is stressed or anxious, applying the artificial pheromones in Feliway helps create a familiar, comforting scent that makes them feel more relaxed and secure. The pheromone signals to the cat’s brain that they are in a safe space that they have marked, evoking feelings of comfort and safety. This calming effect helps reduce stress-related behaviors like hiding, aggression, urinary marking, and excessive grooming.

When to Use Feliway

Feliway can help cats deal with many common stressors and changes in their environment. Some situations when Feliway may be useful include:

  • Moving to a new home – Spray Feliway in the new home about 24 hours before the move.
  • Traveling – Apply Feliway to the cat’s carrier 30 minutes before transport.
  • Visitors – Use Feliway Diffuser 2-3 days before guests arrive.
  • New people or pets – Start using Feliway Diffuser 1-2 weeks before introducing a new family member.
  • Vet visits – Spray carrier, blanket, clothing with Feliway before the appointment.
  • Grooming – Spray Feliway on brushes, towels, clippers to help keep cats calm.
  • Boarding – Apply Feliway to bedding when boarding cats away from home.

By using Feliway preventatively during transitions, cats may feel less anxious and react better to changes in their surroundings.

How to use Feliway

Feliway comes in different forms that allow you to apply it in various ways in your cat’s environment. The three main forms are:

  • Diffusers – These plug into an outlet and constantly release Feliway into the air so your cat inhales it. They last about a month and the refills come in various sizes. Just make sure to place the diffuser with the vents facing up. FELIWAY® Classic Diffuser Kit | Cat Calming Diffuser

  • Sprays – These allow you to directly apply Feliway onto objects and areas in your home. It’s good for targeting specific locations your cat frequents. Apply it places like cat beds, scratching posts, carriers.

  • Wipes – These disposable wipes make it easy to wipe down objects and apply Feliway. They are convenient for travel or cleaning carriers before vet visits.

Follow the instructions for proper usage and dosage amounts for whichever Feliway product you choose. Using it consistently is key so your cat can continuously inhale the calming pheromones.

Evidence Feliway Works

Multiple scientific studies provide evidence that Feliway helps reduce stress in cats. A 2016 study published in the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery found Feliway spray significantly changed stressed cats’ behavior compared to a placebo. The study evaluated cats in a shelter environment and measured vocalizing, hiding, urinating, and other stress indicators (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26282847/).

Another study published in the Journal of Small Animal Practice in 2019 evaluated Feliway in household multi-cat environments. The data showed Feliway helped reduce conflict and aggressive behaviors between cats compared to a placebo (https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/1098612X18774437).

The studies demonstrate Feliway’s synthetic pheromones can help cats feel more relaxed and comfortable by sending “messages” similar to those exchanged when cats face-rub and mark with scent glands.

Other calming options

In addition to Feliway, there are other options to help calm a stressed cat. Some may work better than others depending on the cat and situation.

Synthetic pheromones like Feliway mimic the facial pheromones cats use to mark places and objects. Since these pheromones signal safety and security to cats, they can have a soothing effect. Pheromone collars, wipes, and sprays are available. However, research shows Feliway plug-in diffusers work better as they continuously release pheromones into the air.

Some over-the-counter supplements marketed for calming cats contain ingredients like tryptophan, melatonin, and chamomile. There is limited evidence on their effectiveness. Check with a vet before using.

Prescription medications may help in some situations, like a long car trip. However, they are not a long-term solution. Only give cat medication prescribed by a vet.

Establishing a predictable routine with playtime, feeding, and human interaction can reduce anxiety. Providing stimulating cat trees, toys, and activities gives cats an outlet for stress.

For extreme anxiety, a vet may recommend consulting with a cat behaviorist. They can design a customized training and conditioning program.

When to seek vet advice

If your cat continues to show signs of severe anxiety and stress despite your attempts to provide a calming environment and use products like Feliway, it’s a good idea to schedule a veterinary appointment. Some cats have underlying medical conditions that can contribute to anxiety. A vet can perform an exam to check for any health issues and help assess why your cat is experiencing prolonged, severe stress. They may recommend medications or other treatments that could help relax your cat. Depending on the situation, your vet may also refer you to a veterinary behaviorist for additional help. It’s important not to ignore signs of extreme distress in cats. Seeking professional veterinary advice can help identify potential medical causes and provide extra resources to reduce your cat’s stress and improve their quality of life.

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