INTERPRETATIVE ARTICLE SUMMARY
The purpose of the study was to evaluate the effects of a synthetic feline facial pheromone on the behavior and food intake of healthy and clinically ill cats. Two groups of 20 client-owned cats, aged 1 year of age, were employed in the study. Cats were housed individually in cages in a hospital ward at the Ohio State University Veterinary Hospital. The first group included 13 cats with suspected lower urinary tract disease and 7 healthy cats. Cats were alternately assigned to the pheromone group or to a vehicle (control) group. Pheromone or the vehicle, as assigned, was delivered to each cat on a freshly laundered towel placed inside the cage. Each cat was videotaped for 18 five-minute intervals, beginning 35 minutes after the cat was placed into the cage. Behaviors monitored and recorded included food consumption, hiding, crouching, resting, physical activity, and interactions with an observer. The second group of 20 cats was composed of comprising 13 cats with an assortment of medical conditions and 7 healthy cats. All of these cats were exposed to the pheromone using the same methodology as applied in the first phase of the study. Cats were randomly assigned to one of two groups: one group was provided with a clean plastic cat carrier; the other group was not. Twenty-four hour food intake was measured for each cat in the second group.
The effects of treatments in the first group of cats were analyzed using ANOVA: Correlations between behaviors were examined using Pearson 2-tailed correlation test. Food intake was compared using a t-test. No differences were found between the behaviors of healthy versus sick cats. Differences in the behavior of cats exposed to pheromone or vehicle treatments were not detected during the first 30 minutes of observation. Thereafter, cats exposed to the pheromone showed more episodes of lying and sitting and fewer episodes of sleeping than control cats. They also showed a greater frequency of grooming and more interest in food than control cats. In addition, there were significant positive correlations between grooming and facial rubbing, walking and facial rubbing, interest in food and facial rubbing, and eating and facial rubbing. There was also a positive correlation between grooming and interest in food, and grooming and eating. In the first group, no difference was found in food intake of cats exposed to pheromone versus vehicle. In the second group, in which food consumption was measured over a 24-hour period, food intake was significantly greater in cats exposed to the pheromone.
The authors conclude that hospital cage-housed cats are stressed, and that exposing them to feline facial pheromone most likely reduces stress, allowing them to show more interest in food, engage in more grooming, and generally helping them to relax.
The results suggest that exposing hospital-caged cats to feline facial pheromone may help them relax and eat better.
This interesting study shows that feline facial pheromone, commercially available as FeliwayTM, does have an effect on cats' behavior. The authors of the study are to be commended on their rigorous experimental design and attention to detail. The results they found are unquestionable. The interpretation of the results and the conclusions are more equivocal. The authors' state, in the Materials and Methods section, that feline facial pheromone only begins to work after 30 minutes and quote that few changes in behavior are observable after 125 minutes. This leaves only a 90-minute window of effectiveness, the window of time they chose to study. The duration of the effect of the pheromone, used in this way, limits its clinical usefulness. In the first group, no difference was found in the mean food intake of cats exposed to facial pheromone vs. vehicle. The increased food intake found in a second group of cats occurred in those cats exposed to pheromone and a cat carrier, not in those exposed to pheromone alone. This suggests that the presence of the cat carrier had a positive effect on appetite rather than the pheromone. In the Discussion, the authors state that increases in grooming, interest in food, and food intake, suggest that feline facial pheromone has an anxiolytic effect in cats. Grooming can be a displacement behavior and is frequently seen in cats in conflict situations. Interest in food is not the same as eating. There was no evidence that food consumption was altered by the pheromone in either phase of the study. The authors, themselves, admit that the fact that the cats were observed to spend more time lying down when exposed to the facial pheromone could also be explained by the fact that they were anxious and the observation that cats exposed to the pheromone slept less would go along with this interpretation. While this study points the way toward further research on the subject of pheromones and anxiolyis, more work needs to be conducted to validate its conclusions. It would be nice to think that pumping pheromones in through the ventilation would calm wards full of anxious cats but, in reality, the provision of a cat carrier or presence of a familiar object may well have a more profound calming effect.
Griffith CA, Steigerwald ES, Buffington T
J Am Vet Med Assoc 217:1154-1156, 2000
Behavioral Disorders - General Practice & Preventative Medicine
Commentary By: Nicholas Dodman BVMS, DACVA, DACVB
is Director of the Animal Behavior Clinics at Tufts University.
Title: Effects of a synthetic facial pheromone on behavior of cats
Author(s): Griffith CA, Steigerwald ES, Buffington T
Source: J Am Vet Med Assoc 217:1154-1156, 2000
Study type: Prospective double-blind placebo-controlled study
Practice focus: Behavior
Key words: cats, pheromone, behavior