What Are Cat Pheromones?
From body language to vocalisation, your cat uses lots of signs and signals to communicate. Though humans may not be able to detect them, cat pheromones are one of the most important methods!
Pheromones are a type of olfactory (or scent) chemical communication that all cats use to interact with each other, and the world around them. Released from special glands around their bodies, all varieties of felines produce a wide range of pheromones, that send different meanings and messages to other cats and influence behaviours. All cats will understand these pheromone signals, no matter how old they are!
Cats have lots of different scent glands that release pheromones, and there are many concentrated around their face, on the chin, lower ears, forehead, cheeks and around the mouth. There are also scent glands located in your pet’s paw pads, around nipples for female cats, and pheromones in their urine.
To share or deposit their pheromone messages, your cat will engage in a range of behaviours. For example, you may have seen your pet:
- Rub their head on objects around the house
- Scratch or claw at items
- Bump heads with other cats (or you!)
- Rub their bodies on objects and surfaces
- Spray mark territorial areas
Does your cat have a favourite place to scratch? Or are they particular best friends with a certain other cat or member of the family? It’s all due to signals sent by pheromones!
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Understanding Cats and Pheromones
Did you know that your cat’s facial pheromone secretions alone can contain nearly 40 different chemicals - but your cat will know exactly what each means? The relationship between cats and pheromones can be complicated!
So how do cats understand what different pheromone messages tell them?
All cats use a special organ called the vomeronasal organ (VNO) to recognise pheromone signals in their environment. This is located in the roof of their mouth - to detect pheromones, your cat will slightly open their mouth, pull back their lips (known as a flehmen response) and inhale.
The pheromone messages are transferred to the VNO through the incisive papilla (and then through the incisive duct to sensory neurons and pheromone detectors) on the roof your cat’s mouth. You may have seen the incisive papilla yourself; it looks like a small ‘bump’ just behind their teeth, at the front of the mouth.
If you’ve ever seen your pet stand still and appear to pull a strange expression, you may have seen them identifying the pheromones through their mouth!
Just as with a scent, there’s no danger of your cat ‘overdosing’ on pheromones, or any similar pheromone-based product. The pheromones are not a drug, and don’t impact the body - they simply send your cat a message! Equally, humans and other animals won’t be impacted, or be able to detect cat pheromones. They are odour free, and won’t have any effect on you!
How Do Pheromones Work For Cats?
Pheromones influence many different cat behaviours, interactions, and emotions. So how do pheromones work for cats?
Your cat will release pheromones for lots of different reasons. Pheromones are used to:
- Mark territory
- Identify and learn about other cats
- Create familiarity
- Enhance bonding
- Signal to sexual partners
- Help mother cats and kittens bond, identify and be in harmony with each other
- Signal happiness, contentment and reassurance
- Signal stress or fear
- Plus more!
This means that the pheromones your cat releases will vary, depending on the situation. For example, if your pet comes across a new object and has decided it’s harmless, they may rub against it, to signal ‘this is safe’ or ‘I’ve explored this’.
Pheromones can also be used to reduce stress-induced behaviour in cats. FELIWAY CLASSIC for example, uses a synthetic copy or ‘analogue’ of natural pheromones, to send calming messages to cats, which reduces behaviours such as hiding, scratching, or spraying
It’s important to remember that cat pheromones are a natural, normal part of cat communication. So, whether your cat comes in contact with pheromones from another cat, or synthetic pheromones, they are always safe ‘cat messages’ with no side effects. They simply send a certain signal to your cat!
Understanding Male Cat Pheromones
Though all cats will release pheromones, male cat pheromones specifically, can indicate a few unique messages.
Pheromones released from the rear of a cat (often in the urine) are common to both genders, and used to communicate territory messages, indicate sexual viability and express stress or fear. For this reason, both male and female cats may urine mark; though it’s more common to see unneutered male cats spray, to send competitive messages to others of the same sex. Male cat urine may also be stronger smelling, as it contains amino acids that give the spray its characteristic odour.
When other cats sniff urine marks, they can use the pheromones to gain information such as who is nearby (and how long ago), the cat's gender, sexual viability, territory, location, and hierarchical status. In fact, these pheromone markers can help cats to avoid conflict; other, lower-ranking male cats can recognise territory messages from a high-status tomcat and stay away!
A male cat will also be attracted to pheromone marks left by a female cat in heat. Her pheromone deposits, typically from her cheeks and urine, will indicate when she is ready to mate, and looking for a partner.
Understanding Mother Cat Pheromones
Pheromones play a very important role in ensuring harmony and bonding between a mother cat and her kittens.
A mother cat’s pheromones are secreted in the mammary area from glands around her nipples. Known as the appeasing pheromone, this helps nursing kittens feel secure and content, and helps the kittens to get along together. This pheromone can also help a mother cat to identify her kittens if they become separated, and can be used in a wider context to help cats mark other individuals as ‘familiar’ friends.
Because of this, the appeasing pheromone can be used to reduce conflict and tensions between cats. When a synthetic pheromone copy (such as FELIWAY FRIENDS, a synthetic analogue of the Cat Appeasing Pheromone (C.A.P)) is used between cats with conflicts, they become more accepting of one another, less aggressive and are more likely to approach one another in a more amicable way.
What Cat Facial Pheromones Are There?
Your cat’s face is a hub for pheromone messaging!
With pheromone producing glands in their forehead, chin, cheeks, around the mouth and at the base of their ears, facial rubbing is a common pheromone depositing behaviour!
Cats will often rub their faces on household objects, doorways, and even people and other pets to mark them as ‘safe’ or familiar. It’s a positive sign that your cat is happy, relaxed and content in their environment and territory! Over time, this reassurance will build, as your cat will be drawn to re-mark their favourite and important places with up-to-date pheromones. Outdoor cats may also use their facial pheromones to send messages to other cats who may enter their territory (such as by rubbing on trees), and discourage surprise confrontation!
If an environment lacks those secure facial pheromones, it may cause your cat to feel uncomfortable, or see unfamiliar objects or places as threatening. Because of this, using FELIWAY Classic can contribute to creating a reassuring environment for your pet.
Understanding Different Cat Pheromones:
There are many different varieties of cat pheromone. Below are three specific ‘everyday’ pheromones that your cats uses.
F3 Facial Pheromones
The F3 facial pheromone is a comforting pheromone, which provides a sense of reassurance for cats in their environment. These ‘happy messages’ help cats feel safe and secure.
FELIWAY CLASSIC Diffuser and Spray both use the synthetic analogue of F3 to do just that; reducing stress and stress-related behaviours such as excessive scratching, spraying outside of the litter box, hiding, low activity, loss of appetite and more. Because of its calming effect, using an F3 product such as FELIWAY Classic can help cats handle stressful situations such as moving, decorating, visiting the vets or meeting new cats!
Cat Appeasing Pheromones (C.A.P)
The cat appeasing pheromone is the appeasing pheromone, produced by mother cats to ensure harmony, and help her kittens feel safe and secure. It can also help cats to get along with each other, stimulating social contact and acceptance, and limiting social conflict and escape responses.
FELIWAY FRIENDS is the synthetic analogue of C.A.P to help ease inter-cat conflicts and tensions, sending ‘harmony messages’ to cats and reducing social stress issues such as fighting, hissing, chasing and other tensions.
Feline Interdigital Pheromones (F.I.S)
When a cat marks an area by clawing or scratching, their toes and foot pads release the feline interdigital pheromone (F.I.S). All cats naturally need to scratch; scratching helps them mark their territory (with both visual scratch marks and pheromone markers), and helps them to feel secure in their surroundings; plus scratching feels good to your cat!
The F.I.S pheromone also encourages your cat to return to their regular scratching spots to scratch again, which can make it difficult to move your cat’s scratching if they’ve chosen an undesirable place such as an item of furniture. FELISCRATCH by FELIWAY is a synthetic copy of the FIS pheromone, which (combined with the blue FELISCRATCH visual markers) can be used to entice cats to scratch in a preferred location such as a scratching post.