An interview with cat behaviourist and author Mieshelle Nagelschneider, aka The Cat Whisperer
Calm your cat, help him handle stress better, create peace in your multi-cat household—feline pheromones can do it all! We asked Mieshelle Nagelschneider, a Harvard University-trained cat behaviourist at The Cat Behavior Clinic and author of The Cat Whisperer, the acclaimed feline behaviour book for cat owners, to explain how to employ pheromones to help your cat feel relaxed, happy, and at ease!
Q: To start with, what exactly are feline pheromones and what can they do?
A: Feline pheromones are naturally occurring chemical substances that can be sensed by cats and effect their behaviour or physiology. These pheromones are produced by the cat and then released into the environment. Secreted from glands around the cat’s face, these friendly pheromones help produce a calming effect in cats and can help them handle stressful situations better. Pheromones are also used for communication between cats.
Q: Can they benefit all cats?
A: Synthetic feline pheromone products replicate a cat’s naturally occurring friendly pheromones. These are the pheromones that help them feel relaxed and safe in their environment. Every cat benefits if their sense of emotional well-being is improved. Keeping cats in captivity (your home), either by themselves or with other cats, can be stressful. Multiple cats together in a closed environment can lead to tense situations that might not occur at all or as often as when cats live outdoors. Of course, it’s best for cats to live safe inside our home, but as cat owners we need to do what we can to help ensure their happiness and keep stress to a minimum.
In single-cat households—even if there is every toy known to man—the cat’s stress response system can be activated by not receiving enough (or the right kind) of playtime and mental activity. Along with daily play sessions and other enriching activities, pheromones can occupy an important role in de-stressing your cat if her inner prey drive isn’t fully exerted each day. This goes for multi-cat households also.
Q: My cats are not best friends, but they seem to tolerate each other and never fight. Can pheromones help them become closer?
A: If you’re not seeing friendly or social behaviour between them, such as allorubbing or allogrooming (think head bunting, rubbing up against one another, and licking each other’s faces), then they are not as comfortable with one another as they could be. They may even be displaying avoidance behaviour to some extent, which can increase stress levels. Pheromone products can not only reduce this stress but, over time, help them feel more relaxed and friendly with one another. After using pheromone products for a few weeks, my clients often report that their cats spend more time together in the same room and even begin to rub up against or groom each other. Instead of roommates, they become more like family.
Q: How can you identify a cat that is really stressed, fearful, or timid and thus could benefit from pheromones?
A: There are some obvious signs to watch for like hiding, hissing, growling, excessive meowing or cat clawing behaviour. A timid or fearful cat may overreact to usual day to day activity in your home. Opening a garbage bag in the kitchen can cause timid cats to hide under the bed. It’s important to know, however, that all cats are generally very watchful and curious in their environments. These feline instincts help ensure survival; should the situation call for it, they are ready for action! However, there are some cats that go a little overboard and could use some calming to help them worry less and feel safer. The friendly pheromones tell a cat everything is amicable and safe.
I always convey to my clients that it’s important to do what we can to help our cats feel relaxed and safe in the home we share with them—and especially so when they’re faced with stressful situations.
Q: What are some of the common cat behaviour issues pheromone products help correct?
A: In addition to improving a cat’s emotional well-being, pheromones can also help change their behaviour. Aggression, urine-marking, and excessive cat clawing behaviour are among the most common behaviour issues. Many of my clients notice a significant reduction in the unwanted behaviours within the first week and the majority see more improvement over the course of several weeks.
Other stress related behaviours, such as overgrooming, destructive chewing, separation anxiety, timid and fearful cats, and lack of appetite have been helped with pheromone products.
Q: One of my cats will occasionally have litter box issues and sometimes will urinate around the home. Can pheromone products help with this behaviour?
A: Yes. Pheromones can be an important part of a full behaviour plan we design for our clients to get all the urine back in the litter boxes. One common example—if your cat is afraid of another cat in the home and this cat happens to be in the pathway leading to the litter box, this can create litter box usage issues. In a cat’s mind, it may be safer to urinate on the sofa or under the dining room table than pass by the opposing cat. Because feline pheromone products can create a friendlier cat environment and a calmer more confident cat, you’ll notice an improved relationship between the cats, which can in turn make the path to the litter box area less scary.
Q: What about adopting a new cat? Are pheromones helpful in this situation?
A: Moving to a new environment is one of the most traumatic experiences for cats—even if the move is from a cage at the cat shelter to the comforts of your loving home. For cats to feel as relaxed as possible and to help ensure adjusting to their new home goes smoothly, having pheromones in the home from day one is a must and can make all the difference in your new cat adjusting well. If you already have existing cats at home, we’ve seen pheromones be the only reason they accept the newly adopted cat.
Give these pheromone products for your cat a try!
Comfort Zone’s Multi-Cat Diffuser is a drug-free, odour-free vapor that signals to your cat or kitten that they’re in a safe and familiar space. It helps reduce tension and conflict in the multi-cat home by mimicking a cat’s natural, calming pheromones and has been proven effective in combating urine marking and destructive scratching. ($40 for diffuser kit with single diffuser, comfortzone.com)
Have cat, will travel. ThunderEase’s Cat Calming Pheromone Spray decreases fear and anxiety during stressful occasions and situations, such as a road trip or visit to the vet—and it helps ease motion sickness. This all-natural calming solution, which also reduces urine spraying, provides a sense of comfort and security by copying natural feline facial pheromones. Also available in diffuser kits. ($30, thundershirt.com)