Another study shows that Feliway™ doesn’t work

Trying to make sense of the pheromone mess.

Image 1First things first! Some of you might be wondering what the heck Feliway is! Feliway is a “feline facial pheromone analogue (also refered to as FFP or FFPA).” It is a human-created chemical copycat (no pun intended) of the pheromones that your cat deposits when they rub their scent glands on objects (or even on you). Pheromones are chemicals that many animals use to communicate – and in cats, these chemicals are quite important! The face (cheek, forehead, chin) and paws have important scent glands, and of course urine or spray marking contains pheromones – cats use all of these scent glands to mark their turf and communicate with other cats.

Now, when scientists came up with idea to manufacture a synthetic version of these pheromones they must have thought they hit the animal behavior jackpot. Imagine, a product that could convince a cat they just sprayed somewhere, so why bother doing so again? Or being able to convince animals that they should feel nice and cozy and secure because the pheromones that their mom would have released are being diffused throughout the environment?

Feliway claims to:

  • Create a state of familiarity and security in the cat’s environment
  • Comfort and reassure cats during a challenging situation
  • Reduce or prevent unwanted behaviors due to stress
  • Ease animosity between cats
  • Curb spraying indoors
  • Prevent cats from scratching on surfaces
  • Encourage less hiding in cats
  • Make it easier for your vet to examine your cat at the veterinary office

(I took these claims from the Feliway website)

Wow, is this sh*t magic? In theory, it’s a great idea. Vets love to recommend it, and people experiencing behavior problems with their cats want a magic bullet, so they are willing to give it a whirl. Feliway is pricey – with each plug setting folks back $40, a six-pack of refills running over $80 on Amazon, and the spray costing around $20/bottle. One plug diffuser covers around 700 square feet, according to the manufacturers, and the refill lasts one month. You do the math.

"Veterinary Surgeon" by Andrew Dunn - http://www.andrewdunnphoto.com/. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Veterinary_Surgeon.jpg#/media/File:Veterinary_Surgeon.jpg
Feliway had no effect on the behavior or stress of cats during a veterinary exam. "Veterinary Surgeon" by Andrew Dunn - http://www.andrewdunnphoto.com/. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Veterinary_Surgeon.jpg#/media/File:Veterinary_Surgeon.jpg

But does it work? A new study, “Evaluation of environment and a feline facial pheromone analogue on physiologic and behavioral measures in cats,” by Conti et al., examined the effect of Feliway on cats during a standard medical exam in both the home and the vet hospital. Experimenters measured various parameters that could be related to stress: heart rate, blood pressure, breathing rate, and other signs of stress including struggling and vocalization. Thirty cats were examined under four conditions in a repeated measure study: home with placebo, home with FFPA, vet hospital with placebo and vet hospital with FFPA. The veterinarian examining all cats was blind to whether the cat had been exposed to FFPA. All cats were healthy.

Results found that cats had higher breathing and heart rates in the hospital compared to the home examination. There was no effect of environment on the blood pressure, but more cats were likely to struggle and vocalize during the home examination than the hospital examination. There was no effect of Feliway on any recorded measure in the study.

So back to the question: Does Feliway work? Well, one study is not really enough to convince most people one way or another, so I took a look back at the previous, peer-reviewed and published studies that I could find on our good friend the internet (if I missed any, please let me know!). I did not include any poster presentations (most of them show positive results, and were by Feliway’s inventor, Philip Pageat, and have not been published in a journal). Here’s a brief summary of what I found, as well as a little note as to whether the study was in any way funded by makers of Feliway (the current study by Conti et al., was NOT funded by Feliway, or any of its parent companies – such as Ceva Sante, Abbott Laboratories, or Pageat’s company, the Research Institute in Semiochemistry and Applied Ethology).

Frank, Erb, & Houpt, 1999 – 14 out of /24 households reported a decrease in spraying after implementing Feliway. There was no control group. In other words, we don't know if the spraying would have decreased anyway without the Feliway. Funded by Ceva.

Ogata & Takeuchi, 2000 – a decrease in urine marking was found with the use of Feliway, but again there was no control group. No funding from Ceva.

Hunthausen, 2000 -  a decrease in urine marking was found with use of Feliway, but AGAIN, no control group. No funding from Ceva.

Mills and Mills, 2001 – a reduction in spraying behavior was found in cats exposed to a Feliway diffuser. There was a control placebo group, but by the end of the study both groups of cats were spraying at similar rates (5-70 5.70 times per week for the treatment group, and 8-58 8.58 times per week for the placebo group). Sponsored by Ceva.

Gunn-Moore & Cameron, 2004 - no improvement in health found in cats with feline idiopathic cystitis based on use of Feliway. Double blinded and placebo control study. No funding from Ceva.

Griffith et al., 2005 - hospitalized cats exposed to Feliway and a cat carrier to hide in ate more than cats exposed to just Feliway. The effect seemed to be driven by the cat carrier, not the Feliway. No funding from Ceva.

Kronen et al, 2006 - Feliway did not reduce struggling of cats for a blood draw, although FFPA cats appeared "calmer." Acepromazine and FFPA seemed to result in the most calm cats compared to placebo and FFPA only groups. Funded by Abbott Laboratories, who also produce and distribute Feliway in the USA.

Frank, D, 2010 - review of use of pheromones for cats and dogs (included several of the aforementioned studies). This review basically concluded that based on the quality of evidence, there was no strong support for FFPA having a positive (or any) effect on cat behavior.  No funding from Ceva.

Photo by Melissa Weise. Used courtesy of Creative Commons license. https://www.flickr.com/photos/42dreams/1009400100
One study found that FFPA could reduce scratching behavior. Photo by Melissa Weise. Used courtesy of Creative Commons license.

Mills, Redgate & Landsberg, 2011 - A meta-analysis of treatments for spraying that included pheromones concluded that the aforementioned studies in the Frank 2010 review that found no strong evidence actually did show an effect of Feliway. Confused yet? Oh, this study was funded by Ceva.

Cozzi et al, 2013 - This study found an increase in scratching of areas sprayed with a Feline Interdigital Semiochemical. Not funded by Ceva. (Correction: March 4, 2016).  an FFPA.  Funded by Ceva.

Periera et al, 2015 - A randomized, double-blinded, placebo-controlled study that found a positive effect of Feliway on owner-reported stress levels in cats in a veterinary clinic setting. Funded by Ceva.

So if we are trying to solve a behavior problem in cats, should we be recommending or using Feliway? I think that for many veterinarians and consultants, the line of thinking seems to be, well it might help, and it probably doesn’t hurt…so…why not? And I guess my answer would be – for the money that owners spend on Feliway, it really should be doing some magic.

For the cost of two or three plugs running in someone’s home (and I did have a client who was using FIVE plugs in her house) – we should be seeing some pretty amazing results! That money could be spent on lots of enrichment and vertical space in a home, which might provide better results!

Now I may have my own biases – the people who are helped (or believe they are being helped) by Feliway most likely never call me for a behavior consultation. Many of my clients have already tried Feliway to no positive effect (and two of my clients had cats who sprayed or urinated on the diffuser…).

So, I have to admit, I don’t generally recommend Feliway to people whose cats are experiencing behavior problems. Does it work in some cats? Maybe! I cannot deny that some people swear by Feliway. And some of the studies (including ones with double-blind, placebo-controlled methodologies) find positive results. Is it odd that most of those studies were funded by the parent company? It makes me a little uncomfortable, for sure.

What I can conclude right now is that we’ve got a pheromone mess, and it would be great for someone to clean it up with some decent studies. Perhaps there are characteristics of some cats that make them more likely to respond to Feliway than others. Maybe some methods of application or use are more effective than others. But right now, it’s really hard to tell, and until we have better evidence, I’m not putting Feliway at the top of my behavior toolkit.

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33 thoughts on “Another study shows that Feliway™ doesn’t work

  1. Very well said! Thank you for gathering this info and putting it together in an organized posting. I agree that it does do harm if our clients could spend that money on things that really do help their cats!

    Reply
  2. Lauren

    Wow - very interesting! Thank you for summarizing the current research. I've never used Feliway to reduce stress or spraying, but I've had great success using it to prevent scratching (Despite the countless scratching surfaces in my house, occasionally my cats like to dig into the textured upholstery on the back of my sofa. One or two spritzes of Feliway, and they'll leave it alone for a couple of weeks.) Like you, I'm interested in seeing some better studies on pheromones in the future.

    Reply
  3. Studies are easily skewed and I'd like to see more controlled studies. Ceva has funded 42 studies. AThere is no mention of how the product was used, in what quantity or frequency. This doesn't change my opinion about recommending Feliway but agree, it's no magic bullet and must be used with other changes in protocol. In my anecdotal experience over the past five years, the spray has a higher success rate. The biggest fallacy is that it works instantly. You can't spritz the inside walls of carrier two minutes before leaving for a vet visit and expect results. I suggest spraying at least a few hours in advance, leave the carrier door open for exploring. Make the carrier more inviting by placing a soft towel or cozy, old sweater smelling of the cat's owner (familiar natural pheromone scent).

    Reply
    1. Mikel Delgado

      Post author

      Layla,
      Most of Ceva's studies have not gone through peer review, from what I can tell, so I would not consider them very helpful. It's funny because someone else told me they thought that only the diffuser was effective, not the spray!!!

      Reply
  4. Liesbeth

    I have been citing the study by Frank (2010) at several presentations I have been giving to vet techs and behaviour therapists alike.
    Like you, I never came across a cat who reacted favourably to the Feliway diffuser. However, the spray can be used to good effect when cats are scratching furniture, but only when the scatching is stress-induced.
    The fact that 'it can't hurt' is not true, unfortunately. In the past year I have had several cats in my (beahvioural) practice who reacted adversely to the diffuser. In one case the cat no longer wanted to stay in the living room where the diffuser was placed! Talking about stress.....

    Reply
    1. Mikel Delgado

      Post author

      Liesbeth,I agree with you - I think that most people assume "it can't hurt" - but it could hurt if people invest in it instead of in other forms of behavior modification, or other products that could be helpful (such as condos/shelves/enrichment/toys) -- and certainly if cats have an adverse reaction. I hadn't heard of cats avoiding the diffuser, only urinating on them, so thanks for sharing that experience!

      Reply
    2. Casey

      Hello,
      Out of interest as I found Feliway to be very helpful, I am reading through other peoples experiences. There is always something to learn from other cat owners. When our Mother cat passed away her then 5 year old "kitten" was frantic looking for her, would follow us every where, cried/called out, barely touched her food (this cat was basically a life long food lover - would eat anything 🙂 ), stopped grooming/playing & if she was human you could say she went into a depression. After 5/7 days I was desperate to aid this normally happy cat. Our Vet suggested using Feliway, he said he knew little about it at the time, but it was worth a try. We plugged it into our Living Room as that was her preferred place, sneaked out & closed door to give maximum effect. Within approx a half an hour to an hour we watched (through window out of her view) her becoming visibly calmer cat, no calling/crying, grooming herself for the first time in days. It was not an immediate overall cure, but it certainly was a very noticeable change within an hour & thankfully the anxiousness left,
      appetite slowly returned (admittedly possibly through time) but Feliway certainly was a witnessed turning point. Our little lady lived until she was 15 & half years, became the total boss of the house, ruled like a queen through other cats coming into the house over the next 10 years & whenever there has been an upset cat since - out comes the Feliway & we believe it has been an asset when needed.

      Reply
      1. I ordered this product in desperation. However, to my shock the diffuser started on fire....thank God I was home. I do not know if it works......happened immediately. This product should be off market.....look online many same experience!

        Reply
  5. jeff horton

    What a waste of money... Feliway showed no benefit with my 5 indoor cats. It's to pricey. It makes your whole house smell funny and it leaves the spray all over the wall that you plug the outlet in. Not a good experience at all. Would never buy this useless product ever again.

    Reply
    1. Mikel Delgado

      Post author

      Jeff, it is expensive and unfortunately I hear from many folks who had similar experiences to yours. Thanks for sharing.

      Reply
      1. Great article. Have you guys tried Pet Remedy natural de-stress and calming. It is low dosage valerian root oil (also with vetiver, basil, and clary sage essential oils ) based. Have a look at the Facebook page or website. Good independent studies and reviews too!!! very happy to send out samples to anyone who wants to try!
        How to use Pet Remedy:
        The plug diffuser should be located in the room in which the stressed pet spends the most time. It is low concentration valerian based and constant slow release of actives.
        Starts to help within minutes and ideal for separation anxiety, fireworks , new home, bonding, and any other stressful situation

        You can also use the spray on the pet bedding, bandana, or even spray a little on your fingers and gently rub around muzzle, under chin, and top of chest!
        As a rule, best not to spray directly on a pet. This avoids any association of the spray with the stressful situation.

        Apart from being a natural option, a great advantage of Pet Remedy is that it starts to help within minutes. This is because of the way it works. Works for all mammals, reptiles, and birds.
        The low concentration Valerian based formulation works with the pet's own natural calming mechanisms by mimicking GABA (a natural calming agent present in all mammals).
        So when a pet becomes stressed or anxious the Pet Remedy actives help trick the fired-up nerve cells into thinking they are getting a message from the brain to calm.
        It is now used on a daily basis by vets, vet nurses, rescue centres , pet professionals (such as behaviourists, trainers, and groomers), and even zoos all over the world!

        Reply
    2. Casey

      Hello,
      Out of interest as I found Feliway to be very helpful, I am reading through other peoples experiences. There is always something to learn from other cat owners. I am wondering though about your experience of "house smell funny and it leaves the spray all over the wall that you plug the outlet in."? I have been using Feliway for years for behaviour (big difference when diffuser runs out & we overlook refill) and never experienced either a funny smell or spray on wall??? Which makes me wonder does natural environment/climate/geographical location add/remove from the effectiveness of Feliway??

      Reply
  6. Well written article!

    One thing I have observed working with cats…the individualism is startling. From responses to nutrition, treatment plans, behavioural therapy, and anything to do with olfaction, the individual variation in response is amazing and significant!

    My guess is that the pheromone mess will continue until our studies start to ask even further defined questions (i.e. perhaps proxy’s other than physiological stress) in different ways. Tough to do (find a large enough cohort of potential responders, then double blind that…) and maybe even harder to find funding for it….but not impossible.

    I use feline facial pheromones, most often in combination with other olfactory aids that have some research behind them to suggest they are a good bet in terms of enrichment. And then the whole olfactory shebang is just a stepping stone so other positive associations that reduce stress or fear can be attempted. So while it might marketed as feel good spray, I always tell folks it's a small piece in a larger puzzle. And maybe you don't need it. Except we really underutilize olfactory conditioning in practise so you WANT to use it...

    And I think you hit the nail on the head - individual characteristics and method of application. You know what sucks? Using feliway for a year and then finding out you sprayed it all wrong because the little booklet that came in the box sucked…

    k

    Reply
    1. Mikel Delgado

      Post author

      Excellent points and I always feel like the more I know...the more I know I don't know! Perhaps a future blog post on olfactory enrichment and condition in cats is needed!!! Thanks for commenting!

      Reply
  7. Excellent article and the summary of studies was very helpful. I completely agree with you that, given the price for iffy results, money may be better spent on various forms of enrichment or other resources that could be more effective in deterring marking behavior or reducing stress. I wonder if Feliway has any placebo effect on humans, making them feel a bit less worried about their cats spraying because they've "done" something to help the situation? Because cats tend to pick up on the emotions and anxiety of their people, do you think that if the human feels more confident (i.e., secure in feeling the Feliway is helping), cats might pick up on that, their own anxiety becomes reduced, and THAT leads to positive results? Hmmm - probably a stretch! Thanks for the information 🙂

    Reply
  8. Shane Critz

    Thank you for the synopsis. We have two adult cats (one male, one female) and adopted a very young make kitten. The female is having issues, including weight loss, lack of appetite, etc. which we think is stress from the kitten. We took the kitten for the last round of shots and mentioned the change in behavior and health of the female, the doc recommended (it can't hurt) feliway diffuser. So far, like Marci said, it's probably in my mind that it's helping....the female is still on top of the fridge.

    Reply
    1. Mikel Delgado

      Post author

      Shane, I hope you utilize some other solutions besides the Feliway...and definitely monitor your female cat's health!

      Reply
  9. Melyssa Buchanan

    As a starting point, my vet also recommended trying pheromone collars AND plugins though not a specific brand. I have 7 cats right now living in different areas but this was to address two specifically, one 10 y/o male who sprays all over my house all the time and attacks one of my females. 4 y/o, with increasing violence when he can get to her, in part because she acts like prey. This last fight, I got hurt but all the cats are behaving poorly now. For the spraying only, the male is in the restroom for two weeks to learn not to foul where he sleeps and eats (per the vets recommendation). They are both on medication now for anxiety. I'm also using Bach's Rescue Remedy and a couple Jackson Galaxy remedies, the Rescue Remedy also being recommended by the vet. Both those cats are wearing pheromone collars and those alone are expensive, I haven't gotten to the plugins yet which always have mixed reviews. It's only been a week here but there is no improvement, the female continues to hide and stays mad about the medicating via pill gun (she won't take a baited treat of any type or flavor). Your article was very informative and I'm not convinced by those studies that it works or is worth investing it. You're right, it is very much an act of desperation to try it but I am desperate, though perhaps not that much.

    Reply
    1. Mikel Delgado

      Post author

      Melyssa,
      It sounds like you need some professional help from a veterinary behaviorist or qualified consultant. Confining your cat to the bathroom will "manage" the damage your cat to do, but won't "retrain" cats - cats do not need training to use the litterbox. Regardless, it sounds like a situation that needs more help than pheromones or holistic remedies (which have no scientific evidence for efficacy). You need behavior and environmental modification, and perhaps mood-stabilizing medication (which is why a veterinary behaviorist would be helpful in assessing that.

      Reply
      1. Melyssa Buchanan

        Sir, I didn't anticipate a reply but thank you very much for responding. A behaviorist would be helpful but due to the expense, I'm what they've got. The vet did prescribe medication for the two, generic Elavil but I know this needs time to build up in their systems and is not a cure, nor am I expecting one just from that. I've added more litter boxes and water bowls around the house (everyone has their own food bowl and do not free feed) so to lessen any resource issues and, although they are of different ages and activity levels, I am trying to engage them in more play than before. Regretfully, I may also re-home, carefully and safely, the newest because she is not happy living here with so many cats and has begun excessively grooming- that will lessen some stress on the others as well. The pheromone collars and holistic remedies, with them it's more that it isn't harmful and if it does happen to help, all the better and it is in addition to the other steps. The behavior modification I just have to implement myself, but I'm willing to research what I don't know.

        Reply
          1. Melyssa Buchanan

            That requires an apology. Obviously the spelling of your name was lost on me, I'm very sorry. I've actually been called "sir" on the phone and I didn't like that.

  10. Bethie T

    We have four cats, two of whom have occasional behavioural problems. My only comment is that we can tell when the Feliway diffuser has run out because the younger female starts picking on the older more timid female, and one of the males also becomes more aggressive. When we look at the Feliway refill, it is invariably empty. So do we think it works? Yes, we do. Do we think it will work in all situations? No, because every cat household's dynamic is different. Would I recommend it? Yes, because it's worth a try and if you're lucky, as we are, it will work extremely well.

    Reply
    1. Casey

      Hello,
      Out of interest as I found Feliway to be very helpful, I am reading through other peoples experiences. You remind me of our own house hold (3 cats) we generally all do ok until refill is overlooked 🙂 Totally agree with what you say about dynamics/situations being different, certainly worth a try & like you for us it works.

      Reply
      1. G. Barner

        I just wanted to comment. I have used their product since 2014 when I brought a 1 year old Street cat, not ferel, into my home with two middle-aged Pugs and one resident can who was four years old. All females. This product was amazing. The new kitty was having a lot of trouble settling in and attacking the Pugs, especially. We noted a decided change in her behavior with this product. I know this is anecdotal, but I was really skeptical as to whether it would work. I'm going to recommend it to a friend who has an elderly cat and just brought a small rabbit into the home as a pet for her seven-year-old daughter. I am
        a retired RN.

        Reply
  11. Karine Buasto

    From my experience , with my two male cats, I can honestly say that did notice a difference, but not in positive. The bully cat became even more aggressive than before and I immediately stopped using it and things just went back to the bullying stage. Another point that I find contradictory in the instructions for use is to not use it in the area of the home where there is more tension...so where does it go, since they LIVE in the house? I would not recommend it at all!

    Reply
  12. Mary WB

    Agree it would be great to have peer reviewed studies (not financially backed by product manufacturers). However, given the complexity of feline relationships and differences in household environments, I doubt that there is a way to set up a study that would definitively answer the question of efficacy of Feliway products. I wonder if folks who have previously posted realize that there are actually two types of Feliway products (that have different pheromones). I use the Feliway Multicat diffuser (appeasing pheromones vs the facial pheromones). I can tell when it runs out because my one cat gets "growly" with the other cats. Although it works in my situation, I do not believe that it would always be a magic bullet in solving extreme behavioral issues. Animals, like people, are individuals. Thus, what may work for some might not for others. Due to my experience, I would recommend giving it a try. But should it not yield acceptable results in your household, definitely consider contacting a reputable cat behavior expert to assist you in resolving your cat dynamic issues. Sometimes they can suggest minor changes (unfortunately these are not always obvious to the cat owner) that can make a world of difference and result in long term solutions.

    Reply
  13. Casey

    Hello,
    Out of interest as I found Feliway to be very helpful, I am reading through other peoples experiences. I must commend your very balanced & well written view, particularly paragraph from "Although it works in my situation......... that can make a world of difference and result in long term solutions."

    Reply
  14. Holly

    Actually it does work and quite well. I've used Feliway in the recent months for my cat Gus. It works like a champ. He doesn't meow/cry when in the car, at the vet or in our new home. I respect research but I'll take my own results and run because if something works, I'm using it. My credentials are being a cat owner for 20+ years.

    Reply
  15. No One

    Sheesh, I've been trying to dig through and figure out what's truth and what isn't with this stuff.. it's quite an ordeal.
    I would like to point out though, that in what you wrote of the Mills and Mills 2001 study, "(5-70 times per week for the treatment group, and 8-58 times per week for the placebo group)" -- this is incorrect. If you look at the article again, you'll see it should be 5.70 and 8.58. The decimal is written as a dot in between the numbers for some god-only-knows bad formatting decision. If you look at the other similarly-written numbers in the study, you'll see that this only makes sense (otherwise there was "a median level of weekly spraying of 9-0 in the treatment group" and other odd figures, as well as the equation
    (x)y=0-929-0-14x which obviously makes no sense lol).

    So that study did actually show a nice treatment effect, but as a review pointed out, it didn't show relapse rates later.. so did it continue to work? Who knows! And as you pointed out, it was funded by Ceva (nice catch, thank you). So.. damn :/ There's a mark on its reliability to begin with..

    Reply
    1. Mikel Delgado

      Post author

      Thanks for catching that mistake! I'm going to fix it right now. And let me know if you find anything else interesting about what the truth is and isn't on Feliway. it's obviously a very controversial subject based on the number of comments this post has received!
      Best,
      Mikel

      Reply
  16. Mary

    Our experience with Feliway is this:
    We have 6 cats, when the Feliway was first plugged in, (in 2 places in the house) the cats all smelled the scent emitting from it. We can't, but there is something for them to smell. The directions say to use for 3 months, well it's been 3 months and nothing has improved, might be getting worse.
    Probably will discontinue use to save money. Don't waste yours.

    Reply

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