by Barbara George
Tellington Ttouch Behaviourist
Is a diffuser better than a collar? Which one to use for which situations? These are commonly-asked questions by owners of cats with behavioural issues. There is no definite answer; it depends on the reason for the behaviour as well as the cat(s) involved.
Cats dispense at least 5 pheromones all the time, depending on how they feel, their level of stress, age, gender, and other influencing factors. (See Feline Pheromones)
To the best of my knowledge, the calming collars available in South Africa all contain a synthetic copy of the safety and security of environment pheromone dispensed by mother cats for their kittens. Some of these products also come in the form of diffusers.
These products may assist cats to feel safer and more secure in their environment if that is their main concern. This pheromone has been shown to improve behaviour in cats dealing with stress relating to travel, new cats, separation anxiety, excessive noise, general stress, and over-grooming.
Diffusers are more effective for multiple indoor cats, shelters, catteries or specific enclosed spaces where conflicts occur, such as the bedroom at night!
Feliway, which comes as a diffuser or spray, is a copy of the facial territory marking pheromone. It may help with territorial marking, scratching furniture, introduction of a new cat, and cats that isolate themselves from others.
There are no recorded side-effects of the use of pheromones. If the level of concern is too high it may reduce the stress but it may still remain too high for a noticeable change in behaviour. The use of pheromones alone may not address the underlying cause of the behaviour; once the treatment is stopped the behaviour may return. All collars may be hazards if attached incorrectly, not checked for tightness, or for cats that have access to outdoors or those that resist wearing them.
Any change in behaviour could be caused by illness or injury; a full vet check-up is always recommended before any other action is taken. Calming collars or diffusers are best used as part of a behaviour-modification program.