We all know by now how stress can affect the human body, but what about our pets? People aren’t the only ones who get ‘stressed out’. But while we might get headaches, neck aches or stomach trouble when our boss or coworkers hassle us, our pets experience different types of stress in different ways.
Types of Stress
Some of the most common and obvious types of stress that can turn a pet into a bundle of nerves are a trip to the vet, a car ride, a household move or a new addition to the family, whether it be a new pet or a new baby. Like people, all animals are different and can react very differently to situations. If you’re lucky, you’ll have a rather mellow pet who isn’t fazed about anything, but if you’re not, you’ll need to learn to deal with stressful situations. Sometimes, however, coping with a stressed out pet might not be easy.
Take my cat Skylar for instance. He’s actually an excellent example of how stress can affect a pet. He’s 12 years old, neutered and very territorial. He also prefers to be in a single cat household. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize this for a long time and now have three additional cats, one of whom is pregnant. Poor Skylar didn’t react well at all when I brought home my hairless Sphynx cat from the breeders because he could smell the stud male’s scent on her…plus I brought home another kitten as well. He hissed, growled and began spraying urine everywhere. He wasn’t really aggressive to any of the cats, but the peeing was out of control.
He was really trying to assert the fact that the house belonged to him by marking the furniture with his urine. While I respect instinct in animals, I couldn’t have my furniture, mattress and pillows soaked with pee. I had to do something.
What to Do
After trying to keep my eye on Skylar and chase him away from the furniture when he lifted his tail, and still not stopping him from spraying, I came to a crossroads. Either Skylar had to go or I had to find an alternative. Not willing to part with him after 12 years, I called my vet in desperation. I explained my problem to the receptionist and asked if there were any tranquilizers or sedatives that I could give to Skylar that would relax him.
She told me it wouldn’t work because I’d have to keep him sedated all the time. That really wasn’t an option, so I was glad when she suggested trying a pheromone. Having a biology background, I knew what a pheromone was, but I didn’t know there was a commercial pheromone product available for exactly the problem I had. She explained that the pheromone she was talking about was a special facial pheromone, therefore completely natural and harmless to my other cats and especially harmless to my pregnant cat. The facial pheromone, excreted at the base of the whiskers when a cat rubs against something, gives the cat a calm feeling. It sure sounded like that was what I wanted!
Pheromones are chemicals secreted by an animal for a variety of reasons, some of which are to denote territoriality, signal sexual readiness or as a friendly, calming scent. The calming scent is the one I’m talking about. I’ve read that some researchers aren’t quite sure that there really is a facial cat pheromone, but I was willing to try anything. A product called Feliway is a synthetic facial pheromone and ethanol as the binding ingredient. Feliway offers a spray and a heated diffuser like the air freshener diffusers for long-term use.
Since both products are quite expensive, I wanted to purchase one first to see if it worked. I opted for the spray since I would be able to spritz it directly onto the places where Skylar had sprayed and hopefully get immediate results.
My vet didn’t have the spray available, but a nearby pet supply shop did. So I bought it, it was around $40, and hurried home to try it. Skylar, at this point, had been banished to the laundry room. I was anxious to let him out and see if the stuff worked. But before releasing the poor boy, I went around the house and sprayed all around the couch, chairs, closet door (yep, he even sprayed my closet door), chaise, and bed skirt. I left it for about 15 minutes and then let Skylar out.
He skulked around the house, not looking real happy, until he sniffed at the areas I’d sprayed with the Feliway. He then walked right past without peeing! I was thrilled. My other cats sniffed at Skylar, but no one growled or hissed. Amazing.
With the spray pheromone, however, the manufacturer recommends re-spraying the area several times a day, which I did, just to make sure the message was getting through to Skylar. And, miraculously, he did not pee on any areas I sprayed. But, there’s always a ‘but’ isn’t there, he started to spray urine in places he hadn’t before. Places that didn’t have the pheromone on them. Yikes! Now what, I thought?
Once again, the boy was put in the laundry room (for some reason he never pees in there). That’s when I thought of the diffuser. It was supposed to work continuously 24 hours a day. So, the next day I shelled out another $40 and bought the diffuser. I figured that I could use them both for optimal results.
The Long Awaited Results
As soon as I got home from the pet supply shop, I plugged in the diffuser, sprayed the furniture another time with the spray pheromone and crossed my fingers. By this time, all my other cats were getting along famously. No fighting or squabbling. I guess I got a side benefit from the pheromone as well.
I gave the diffuser a couple of hours to start working and then released Skylar. I had to follow him around and around, just to make sure he wasn’t going to ‘mark his territory’, so it wasn’t exactly a relaxing process at first for me. He did go around sniffing everything, including the other cats, but he didn’t exhibit any spraying tendencies. Yay!
Of course, the longer the diffuser is plugged in, the more the pheromone will diffuse throughout the room and house. But I have to say, within that first day, there was no spraying of urine and no cat fighting. Whether it was a combination of luck and the pheromone or just the pheromone, I was happy.
I have a very pleasant cat-filled household now and there have been no adverse effects whatsoever. I would swear by the use of pheromone, at least in my situation. Even the cost was worth it. (I later found that I could buy the pheromone cheaper online) I used the diffuser for one month continuously and then decided to stop and see what happened. To my surprise, Skylar didn’t resume his peeing. Of course I had to be very diligent and remove all traces of the urine from the furniture, etc. first. It’s been two months now and still no peeing from Skylar. But if he starts again, I’ll go right out and get more Feliway.
I think I should also mention that Feliway suggests using the spray pheromone in the cat carrier just prior to a trip to the vet if you have a nervous cat, or spraying it around when there are people visiting or a new person or pet coming into the house. It can be used for any situation that can or does cause a cat stress. Feliway gives a little disclaimer that occasionally the pheromone won’t work on some cats, but in my case, it looks like it did.