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As a species, cats aren’t known for embracing the unfamiliar. And events that may seem innocuous enough to us—fireworks, a new pet, visitors, a simple change to your morning routine—can trigger serious anxiety in cats.
Not only do we hate seeing a cat in distress, but unresolved nerves can lead to some negative behaviors, such as marking, scratching, fighting, and howling. Once you’ve checked with your veterinarian to rule out a medical issue, you might consider pheromone calming aids for your stressed-out kitty.
But do calming collars and diffusers really work? And how effective can cat parents realistically expect them to be? We spoke with veterinarians Patrik Holmboe, DVM, and Megan Conrad, BVMS, to get to the bottom of things. Here’s what we learned about cat calming collars and pheromone diffusers—and whether or not they’re a good idea.
How Do Calming Collars and Pheromone Diffusers Work?
Pheromones are odorless chemical signals produced naturally by cats (and other animals) as a way to communicate. When cats rub their faces against your legs or furniture, they release pheromones that mark the area as safe. Calming collars and diffusers work by releasing a synthetic version of these reassuring chemical “messages.”
Generally, calming aids will mimic one of two types of pheromones, explains Dr. Conrad, a veterinarian with pet telehealth service Hello Ralphie. “The pheromones in collars and diffusers will mimic either a cat’s facial pheromones (used to mark something as safe) or the pheromone produced by nursing cats to soothe their kittens.”
Products geared towards single-cat homes will use the facial pheromones produced in a cat’s cheek glands. Calming aids for multi-cat households, on the other hand, release the maternal pheromone meant to calm kittens. Diffusers and collars will be labeled as such—so be careful to check the type of collar you’re considering to make sure you get the right one.
Types of Cat Calming Aids: Collars Versus Diffusers Versus Sprays
Deciding between a collar, a diffuser, or a pheromone spray will depend on several factors, including your cat’s preferences (some won’t take to a collar), their environment (indoors or outdoors), and the frequency of relief needed (round-the-clock care or for occasional stressful episodes).
Since a collar goes wherever your cat goes, it can provide non-stop relief—making it a smart pick for cats who need 24/7 calm. Some collars incorporate soothing scents like lavender or chamomile, which will appeal to certain cats but can be off-putting to those with more sensitive sniffers.
For the scent-averse cat, the ComfortZone Breakaway Calming Collar is a safe, fragrance-free option. It makes sense for outdoor use, where a diffuser won’t work. Most collars will lose their efficacy after 30 days.
But not every cat will be happy wearing a calming collar, as they tend to be stiff. And while rare, cats with sensitive skin sometimes experience a reaction. In these cases, a plug-in diffuser makes sense.
Diffusers for single-cat homes, like the Feliway Classic, replicate the feline facial hormone for a sense of calm. Multi-cat homes will do better with their Multi-Cat Diffuser, which uses a calming mammary pheromone.
Like pheromone collars, most diffusers need to be refilled every 30 days. They’re certainly a convenient option, but some users complain about spills or oil stains left on the wall. Most of the diffusers we found covered an area of 700 square feet—sufficient for keeping the peace in certain high-stress areas, such as feeding stations.
To cover a larger space, it’s worth considering a wallet-sparing value pack like the Comfort Zone Value Pack, which comes with three diffusers and six refills.
Alternatively, a pheromone spray offers more precision than a diffuser that wafts pheromones indiscriminately into the air. With a spray, you can apply pheromones directly where you need results (around a litter box, feeding area, or cat carrier, for example).
Sprays also make for a more portable option, so they’re good for relieving nerves on the go, whether that looks like a stressful trip to the vet or a cross-country move. The bSerene Pheremone Spray, for example, can be sprayed on a crate or a favorite blanket (just not directly on your cat). This spray entices cats with catnip oil, but it needs to be reapplied periodically for results to last.
For more examples of feline pheromone products on the market, check out “The Best Cat Calming Collars and Diffusers for Anxious Kitties.”
What the Experts Say About Cat Calming Collars and Diffusers
What about the research—do we have any evidence that pheromone products actually help with feline anxiety?
“There isn’t a huge amount of work that has been done on these products to evaluate their efficacy,” admits Dr. Patrik Holmboe, lead veterinarian at Cooper Pet Care. “However, studies that have been done do point toward promising results and suggest these products do actually work,” he adds.
One recent study from the UK found a link between pheromone diffusers and improved pet behavior in households with a cat and dog. Another study determined that pheromone products are a helpful way to reduce hostility among feline roommates.
The effect of these calming aids appears to be largely positive. And yet, we can’t ignore the fact that cats, like humans, are individuals. And what works for one cat may not work for another.
“Some cats will be less sensitive to any type of calming collar or diffuser, and will need other or additional treatment for anxiety,” Conrad points out.
“It is not known exactly why these products do or do not work,” agrees Holmboe. “The main thing is that behavioral problems (like in humans) are generally complex and can be due to multiple, complicated factors.”
This, of course, makes it hard to predict how your own cat will respond to synthetic pheromones. But all is not lost, Dr. Holmboe assures us. “The good thing is that [pheromone products] are safe and not that expensive—so there’s not much risk in trying them out.”
Speaking of safety, our experts laid out some smart practices for pheromone collars and diffusers:
- Avoid plugging diffusers under shelves, behind furniture or doors, or near flammable fabrics like curtains. If possible, try placing them out of your cat’s reach.
- Remember, it’s normal for diffusers to be hot to the touch.
- Replace the diffuser head every six months. And don’t leave empty diffusers plugged in.
- For collars, look for breakaway styles, and watch for any skin reactions underneath.
Final Verdict: Do Cat Calming Collars and Diffusers Really Work?
Pheromone calming aids have their place, with plenty of cat parents reporting positive results. They’re cost-effective, non-medicated, and don’t require a prescription. But not all cats will have success, and in most cases, a collar or diffuser is most effective when paired with another method of stress relief.
In short, cat pheromone collars and diffusers aren’t a magical cure-all for feline stress, but they can be a good place to start, especially since they’re relatively inexpensive.
We think cat calming collars and diffusers might be helpful for cats who:
- Have mild anxiety
- Share their home with other cats or dogs
- Suffer situational anxiety (trips to the vet, loud noises)
- Don’t mind wearing a collar
On the flip side, pheromone collars and diffusers may not work as well for cats who:
- Have more severe anxiety
- Are experiencing anxiety as a result of an underlying medical condition
- Need an immediate fix for nerves (diffusers may take a few days to see results)
- Are simply insensitive to these products
For cats who fall into the latter camp, you can talk to your vet about alternative methods that might work for you. Tried-and-true stress busters include calming vests, calming beds that encircle cats in cozy security, calming chews, and vet-prescribed medications.
Bach Rescue Remedy is a non-pheromone-based, over-the-counter herbal solution that many pet parents swear by. Just add a few drops to your cat’s water bowl.
How We Chose
The collars and diffusers featured here were selected based on a combination of our own hands-on testing, a comprehensive look at customer reviews across several retail platforms, and interviews with veterinary experts.
We prioritized products from reputable pet companies, taking into account the various needs of different cat parents. We considered each product’s cost, their practicality of use, and of course, the reported results of real cat parents. We’re also guided by the experience of living and playing alongside our own much-loved and strongly opinionated cats, who are never stingy with their feedback.
- The Best Cat Calming Collars and Diffusers for Anxious Kitties
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- What Separation Anxiety in Cats Looks Like and How to Prevent It
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