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Pheromonatherapy and Animal Behaviour

A team of animal behaviour experts at the University of Lincoln has pioneered research into how pheromone therapy can be used to encourage desirable behaviour in small animals.

Pheromones are a form of chemical signal produced by a huge variety of species throughout the animal kingdom. They are released by animals into their environment and can affect both their own behaviour and that of other animals.

Professor Daniel Mills and his colleagues from the School of Life Sciences at the University of Lincoln have been at the forefront of an emerging field of veterinary behavioural medicine, which explores the use of biological chemo-signals (pheromones) to regulate the behaviour and emotional state of animals (pheromonatherapy).

Lincoln’s renowned team of animal behaviour experts has been carrying out extensive research in this area for more than 15 years.

"We've been developing new applications [of pheromonatherapy], for example in dogs to reduce stress of going into waiting rooms in veterinary practices; treating noise fears; and helping puppies settle into a new home."

Since the publication of its first independent study on the use of the synthetic fraction of feline facial pheromones to reduce urine spraying in cats in 1997, the group has steadily developed new benchmarks for the evidence of potential therapeutic interventions, culminating in the first meta-analysis in the field. This involved collating and reanalysing all published studies to evaluate their true effect.

The team has pioneered the development of a novel delivery system in the form of a diffuser, which can be used to release the dog-appeasing pheromone or the feline facial pheromone. This can be used to reduce anxiety in the veterinary clinic and to reduce separation distress in puppies.

As a result of these and other developments, pheromonatherapy is now a multi-million pound global industry.

The simplification of animal behaviour therapy, so that it can be easily incorporated within veterinary practice and used by a wider section of the public, has been another strategic goal of the team at Lincoln.

To this end, the team has pioneered a clinical approach to allow more reliable and specific diagnosis of problems, which is taught on an MSc programme and is presented in a new book, Stress and Pheromonatherapy in Small Animal Clinical Behaviour, published in 2012 by Wiley-Blackwell.

The RSPCA is among many animal charities to acknowledge the team’s research and most key textbooks on the subject now cite the use of pheromones in mainstream veterinary practice, as a result of their work.

Professor Mills is a European and Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons Recognised Specialist in Veterinary Behavioural Medicine. Over the past 15 years, he has coordinated independent trials of potential new products in addition to developing his own initiatives, which focus on improving behaviour while safeguarding welfare.

Helen Zulch is programme leader on the MSc Clinical Animal Behaviour at the University of Lincoln and a consultant at the University’s specialist Animal Behaviour Referral Clinic.