Yesterday, we talked about how all-too-often veterinarians have to decide whether or not to recommend treatments for their patients when scientific evidence regarding their effectiveness is contradictory. I used synthetic feline facial pheromones (FFP) as an example.

I can’t say that I find the evidence in support of their use very compelling. It seems to work in some cases but not in others, and the quality of the studies leaves something to be desired.

One blessing, however, is that I’ve never seen any indication that FFPs are harmful. As long as we are treating a cat’s condition appropriately in all other respects, I don’t think there is any harm in trying one, as long as the client is aware that it might be a waste of money. I make my recommendation that an FFP might (emphasis on the “might”) be useful and leave the final decision to the owner.

My clients who have tried FFPs seem divided on whether or not they are effective as well. Some report improvement in their cats’ behavior, while others have seen no effect at all. In some of these cases, pheromones were used alone. In others, they were tried in conjunction with medications, behavioral modification, and/or environmental enrichment which makes drawing meaningful conclusions difficult. Therefore, my experience as a veterinarian with these products hasn’t really helped me determine whether or not I should be recommending them in the first place.

I recently had an opportunity to try a FFP on my own cat, Victoria. She has developed what appear to be anxiety-related vocalizations. They occur mostly at night when she finds herself in a part of the house with no human companionship. The situation was not bad enough for me to resort to drug therapy (Vicky hates nothing more than being chased around the house in an effort to medicate her), but I thought an FFP diffuser near the couch where she likes to sleep was worth a try.

It’s been plugged in for a few weeks now, and I do think it is helping. Vicky still occasionally cries out in distress when alone but the frequency of her vocalizations seems to be significantly reduced. I wish I had thought to keep a before-and-after log, but I’m confident enough in my observations that I’m ordering more refills for the diffuser and they’re not cheap.

So there you have it. I now have had a positive personal experience with a FFP product and feel a little more confident recommending them to clients despite a lack of definitive research and results from the veterinary clinic that support their use. Situations like these occur more frequently than any of us would like. Sometimes making a lukewarm suggestion is as good as we can do and doesn’t pose a huge dilemma as long as everyone involved in the case is aware of the somewhat “experimental” nature of the treatment and is dedicated to following up with other options should they become necessary.

Dr. Jennifer Coates

Image: Galushko Sergey / via Shutterstock