Plug It In, Chill Out: Do Pet Pheromone Plugs-Ins Really Work?

Mary Simpson
by Mary Simpson
If you’ve got a stressed out or anxious pet, you’re willing to try anything to help calm him down. But are pet pheromone plug-ins the solution?

Years ago I worked for a hotel chain that had working bee hives on their roofs. The honey was used in their restaurants and lounges and whenever they wanted to expand the operation and introduce a new Queen Bee, they received her encrusted in a sugary box. The box was placed into the active hive and the queen “ate” her way out, releasing pheromones in the process that safeguarded her from potentially hostile worker bees.

Related: 5 Stress-Free Ways To Deal With Dog Separation Anxiety

It was this tidbit of knowledge that came to mind recently as I was touring my local pet shop, checking out new products. You see, I inherited my dad’s cranky feline when he passed away and ever since have been looking for anything that might encourage her to use the litter box more, claw my furniture less, and keep her aggressive streak in check. So when I spotted the ad for a pricey pheromone plug-in, I felt compelled to learn more. The shelves were empty, and I was told the product typically sold out shortly after delivery each week. I was intrigued. Was this the holy grail of pet calm that I sought? I returned the next week and doled out over $50 for what looked like a Glade plug-in.

Did it work? My experience was mixed. The packaging offered a money back guarantee if it didn’t, but also stated I needed to keep this project going for up to six weeks which meant purchasing a pricey refill after the initial unit ran out (about 30 days). The unit is odorless with apparently no known harmful effects on our pets (or humans). I haven’t purchased the refill yet… but I also haven’t returned the main unit so I’m keeping an open mind.

Related: Could Music Ease Your Dog’s Separation Anxiety?

If you’re considering a synthetic pheromone product to modify your dog’s or cat’s behavior, here’s some back ground information that should help you decide on whether it’s the right investment for you.

  • Pheromone products were first introduced in the U.S. back in 2001 as a non-drug alternative to pet parents seeking a solution for stressed animals with destructive behaviors. The formats include sprays, plug-in diffusers, wipes, collars and best of all, no side effects.
  • The actual pheromones are a type of chemical communication between animals of the same species and the “receptor” (located between the nose and mouth) helps them recognize certain pheromones as positive, thereby having a calming effect.
  • Initially developed for cats with marking, spraying, and aggression behaviors, the product is now recognized as also helpful for easing the stress of a house move, trip to the vet, or even travel.
  • The dog variation is intended to assist with separation anxiety, noise phobias – including thunderstorms or fireworks, and travel. It is not however, effective at treating aggression.
  • What do the experts say? Several studies (many of which were funded by the manufacturer) found pheromone products for cats and for dogs did in fact help soothe stressed pets during certain circumstances. The Journal of Veterinarian Medical Science reports that a one-month clinical trial of feline pheromones used to treat urine marking resulted in a complete resolution to the problem in 37 percent of the cats tested, greatly reduced in 40 percent of cats and unchanged in 23 percent.
  • For cats, it works by imitating the F3 facial pheromones they deposit when rubbing their face against surfaces. Yes, when she coyly rubs up against your legs, furniture or wall corners, she is essentially lay claim to this as her territory. When she smells pheromones around the house, she is calmed because it reassures her that it’s her space and she already knows it’s safe.
  • For dogs, it mimics the peromones produced by nursing mother dogs to comfort their puppies.

Effects are usually noticed within 14 days for the diffuser and improve during the first month. But as our fur-kids each have different personalities, they also have different reactions to pheromone products and experts advise that it can never be used in isolation when treating problematic pets. Behavior modifications and other therapies are needed to ensure success.

Have you ever used a pheromone plug-in before? What results did you notice, if any? Leave your experiences in the comment section below.

Mary Simpson is an animal-loving writer and communications professional. A soft touch for anything stray, she shares her century home with an eclectic collection of rescues that include orange tabby Chico, tuxedo Simon, and jet black Owen. She enjoys running, politics, exploring local wine regions and is an avid supporter of the “shop local” movement.

Mary Simpson
Mary Simpson

Sharing space with three seriously judgy Schnoodles and a feline who prefers to be left alone. #LivingMyBestLife

More by Mary Simpson