Pheromones in Cats: What Are They and How Do They Work?

By: Monica WeymouthUpdated:

Photo of a cat drifting off to sleep

Pheromones in Cats: What Are They and How Do They Work?

Cats have a reputation for playing things cool, cool, cool. But underneath their calm, confident exteriors, our feline friends experience stress and anxiety, just like us mere humans. Fortunately, there are a number of strategies to reduce the stress your pet experiences so they can live their happiest, healthiest life. One of the easiest ways to add a little calm to your kitty’s day? Pheromones. Read on to find out how pheromones in cats work and how you can use them to your furry friend’s advantage.

What Are Pheromones in Cats?

First things first: What are pheromones in cats, anyway?

Pheromones are chemicals that animals use to communicate with members of the same species. Cats use different pheromones to send chemical signals that influence the behaviors of the cats around them.

Both male cats and female cats naturally release pheromone messages for a number of reasons, including:

  • Marking territory
  • Bonding and creating familiarity
  • Attracting a mate
  • Self-soothing
  • Signaling happiness and contentment
  • Signaling stress or fear
Photo of a cat resting peacefully in a pet parent's arms

How Do Pheromones Work?

Pheromones are released by glands throughout the body. For cats, pheromone hot spots include the face, paw pads, anal glands and mammary glands.

There are two common types of cat pheromones that pet parents should be aware of:

  • Feline facial pheromone: Cat faces are particularly pheromone-centric, with glands in the forehead, chin, cheeks, and around the mouth and ears. When cats rub their heads on familiar objects—such as a favorite chair, or favorite human—they deposit facial pheromones (known as F3 pheromones) that communicate the safety and comfort of the area.
  • Cat-appeasing pheromone: Mother cats produce the cat-appeasing pheromone (C.A.P.) to make kittens feel secure, as well as promote bonding and discourage conflict.

Can You Use Pheromones to Calm Cats?

Now, the million-dollar question: Can you use these pheromones to help calm your cat? The answer: Yes!

"I'm a cat owner myself, and one of the things I spend the most time juggling in my head is anxiety—but not for me, for my cat,” says Dr. Sara Ochoa, DVM, a veterinarian at Animal Hospital of West Monroe in Louisiana. “The good news is, pheromone products really can help provide some calming effects for our feline friends."

Available in a number of delivery methods–including diffusers, sprays and collars–calming pheromone products mimic the chemical communication that cats naturally secrete to signal that an area is safe, secure and acceptable for relaxing.

"The active ingredients are synthetic versions of the natural pheromones found around a cat's face,” explains Ochoa. “These chemicals signal comfort and contentment to cats. By releasing similar fake pheromones into the environment, it can prevent stress behaviors like crying, scratching and hiding."

Did You Know: Numerous studies have shown the effectiveness of feline facial pheromones in reducing stress, both at home and in veterinary clinics.

Other Benefits of Synthetic Cat Pheromones

Synthetic cat pheromones can help address a number of stress-related cat behaviors, including:

  • Aggression
  • Excessive vocalizations
  • Hiding or antisocial behaviors
  • Scratching
  • Biting
  • Excessive grooming
  • Urine marking and urine spraying

Pheromone products can be especially helpful when introducing a cat to a new environment, such as a new or remodeled home; a room in which furniture has been rearranged; a car; or a veterinary clinic.

“These products can help cats adapt to unfamiliar environments quicker and help reduce unwanted behaviors,” says Dr. Dwight Alleyne, DVM, a veterinarian at Petfolk in Sandy Springs, Georgia. “Facial pheromones help cats mark their territory and create a sense of familiarity and comfort."

Photo of a cat sleeping on a beige blanket
Anna Chaplygina/Getty

How to Use Synthetic Cat Pheromones

Pheromone products are safe and easy to use. There are three common types of products to choose from, depending on your cat’s needs and lifestyle. “The benefits are similar regardless of the method of delivery,” Alleyne says.

  • Diffusers: Plug-in diffusers heat pheromone oil, which is dispersed throughout the room. Place them in the rooms your cat spends the most time, as well as problem areas (such as near the litter box). Replace the cartridges when empty. Most diffusers last about a month when used continuously.
  • Calming sprays: For calm on the go, consider pheromone sprays. These products can be used in crates and cars to reduce travel anxiety, as well as sprayed directly on problem areas throughout the home. Use the spray before your cat enters the area, approximately 15 minutes prior; never spray a product directly on your pet.
  • Collars: A pheromone collar can also provide mobile relief, especially for cats who spend time outdoors or in open-air catios, where diffusers aren’t effective. Most collar options last about 30 days.

Keep in mind that it might take a couple tries to find the right product, and be patient with your pet. "While pheromones aren't a magic solution, they are useful tools in our kitty calming toolkit,” says Ochoa. “Try out different products to see what works best for your unique situation."

The Best Pheromone Diffusers for Cats

Pheromone diffusers are ideal for use at home, and these are among the top-rated by Chewy customers. Depending on the size of your home and the areas your cat likes to occupy, you may want to invest in multiple diffusers.

  • Feliway Classic 30 Day Starter Kit: A leader in the feline pheromone market, Feliway’s products come highly recommended among veterinarians and pet parents alike. Both Ochoa and Alleyne recommend Feliway’s collection of products, including this popular calming diffuser. The starter kit includes the plug-in diffuser and one cartridge containing synthetic F3 pheromones, which lasts 30 days and covers up to 700 square feet.
  • Feliway MultiCat Calming Diffuser: If your household is lucky to have more than one feline resident, consider Feliway’s MultiCat formula, which mimics the cat-appeasing pheromone released by mother cats. Reviewers especially appreciated this product when introducing a new cat into the home.
  • Feliway Optimum Enhanced Calming Pheromone Diffuser: If your cat exhibits a number of stress-induced behaviors, or hasn’t previously responded to pheromone products, consider Feliway’s advanced formula. Using a complex blend of synthetic pheromones, it’s appropriate for solo cats as well as multicat households. Reviewers call it a “game changer” and “significantly more effective.”

The Best Cat Calming Sprays

Cat calming sprays can be used both at home and when traveling. If you or your pet is sensitive to fragrance, be sure to select an unscented product. Like the diffusers above, these sprays are a hit with Chewy pet parents.

  • Feliway Classic Calming Spray for Cats: Feliway’s calming spray is a popular alternative to its signature vet-recommended, pet parent-approved diffusers. Reviewers who use the in-home diffusers recommend this spray as an option when traveling with your pet.
  • Sentry Good Behavior Calming Spray for Cats: Sentry's Good Behavior pheromone spray has a soothing lavender-chamomile scented pheromone formula. Reviewers found it especially effective for car rides and veterinary visits.

The Best Cat Pheromone Collars

Although they're less commonly used, pheromone collars are the perfect solution for some cats. When placing the collar on your cat, ensure that it fits comfortably; you should be able to slide two fingers between the collar and your cat’s neck. These are customers' top picks.

  • Comfort Zone Calming Pheromone Breakaway Cat Collar: This flexible collar from Comfort Zone features breakaway construction, meaning you don’t have to worry about your pet becoming stuck or injured. Pet parents appreciate that it's scent-free, and that it’s easy to put on and remove.
  • Relaxivet Calming Collar & Anti Anxiety Products Cat Collar: Using a mix of synthetic pheromones and calming lavender and chamomile scents, this collar from Relaxivet is flexible, adjustable and appropriate for both cats and small dogs. Reviewers particularly appreciated how quickly they saw results.

Looking for more ways to chill out your kitty? Check out these top-rated and reviewed calming aids for cats.

Cats and Stress: When to Visit Your Veterinarian

Pheromone products can help healthy cats relax and better handle stressful situations. However, many common signs of stress—such as aggression, withdrawal and litter box issues—can also point to an underlying health issue, or the need for a more rigorous behavior modification.

For this reason, before you try pheromone products, check with your veterinarian to ensure your pet isn’t suffering from another condition.

“I always tell cat parents: If you're worried about anxiety or stress, be sure to chat with your vet, too,” says Ochoa. “We can help identify any underlying issues and advise a plan just for your cat."

Pheromone products are one of the many great ways you can help your kitty kick back, relax and enjoy the finer things in life. After all, less stress means more happiness. Looking for other ways to enrich your cat’s life? Check out these playtime tips and toy recommendations.

Expert input for this story provided by: Dr. Sara Ochoa, DVM, a veterinarian at Animal Hospital of West Monroe in Louisiana; and Dr. Dwight Alleyne, DVM, a veterinarian at Petfolk in Sandy Springs, Georgia.


By: Monica WeymouthUpdated: