Dogs and Cats Can Be Happy Together

Study suggests that pheromones can help ease interspecies conflict
By Karen B. London PhD, September 2020, Updated November 2020
A dog and a cat snuggle up together, and are best friends.

People with multiple pets as well as behaviorists and trainers are always seeking information about new ways to help dogs and cats get along better. A recent study, that provides evidence that pheromones can be useful tools, is encouraging.

Vast numbers of dogs and cats get along just fine, either benignly ignoring one another or acting like close friends. They often live together relatively easily despite differences in communication signals and the issue of some dogs viewing cats as prey. However, when the relationship is tense, it can cause deep distress for household members of every species, and can even lead to the surrender of one or more pets.

The new study, which was undertaken in the UK and reported on in July, is the first to investigate two pheromones’ effectiveness in improving the behavior and relationship between dogs and cats sharing a household. Participating families were recruited via social media, online groups and vet-office posters. The dogs and cats involved in the research were all “in homes where owners perceived the potential for improvement in the relationship between their cat and dog.”

 Researchers investigated how pheromones in diffusers influenced the behavior of dogs and cats in their home settings. The main finding was that both of these products had a positive impact on the interactions between the species as well as on their individual behavior. The report is very encouraging about the possibility of using these pheromones to help dogs and cats who are not getting along as well as they could.

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Pheromones are believed to change animals’ emotional processing, especially when conditions are stressful. It’s thought that they function differently than medications that reduce anxiety. In this parallel randomized trial, two pheromones—one for dogs, one for cats—were tested. Each home was randomly assigned one of the pheromones, which was provided in an unlabeled diffuser by someone unconnected to the study. Neither the participants nor the researchers knew which pheromone was in use in a household.

Over the six weeks of the study, significant declines were reported in a number of undesirable behaviors: the dog barking at the cat, the dog and the cat staring at each other, the dog chasing the cat and the cat running away, and the cat hiding from the dog. Households using a cat pheromone diffuser saw their cats become more relaxed, while households using a dog pheromone diffuser saw an increase in canine relaxation, as well an increase in friendly greetings and time spent by both the cat and the dog in the same room. It’s possible that the greater improvements seen with dog pheromones reflected a cascade of effects that followed from the dogs’ increased level of relaxation.

The two pheromones were not tried together, but that would be the next logical research step, as would testing each of the products against a placebo, a diffuser that contains no product at all.

In addition to the data collected as part of this study, feedback from participants suggests very favorable experiences with the pheromone diffusers. Multiple people made comments indicating that interactions between their dogs and cats were affected in a positive way: “Less chasing and more gentle play.” “My dog was his usual pesky self. But the cats were much more chilled with each other and with him.” “I have seen [the cat and dog] touch noses a few times, which is definitely a new thing.” “The whole household has been more content.”

How do your dog and cat get along? Would you consider using a pheromone product to improve their interactions?

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Karen B. London, Ph.D. is a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist and Certified Professional Dog Trainer who specializes in working with dogs with serious behavioral issues, including aggression. Karen writes the animal column for the Arizona Daily Sun and is an Adjunct Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Northern Arizona University. She is the author of six books about canine training and behavior, including her most recent, Treat Everyone Like a Dog: How a Dog Trainer’s World View Can Improve Your Life

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