Updated April 13, 2021
Try any online search about canine anxiety and you will quickly come across Dog Appeasing Pheromone. Whether as DAP or by its brand name Adaptil®, you find many recommendations, quite a few articles and of course a lot of ads.
It sounds too good to be true. Can a harmless treatment undetectable to you or I really work to ease anxiety?
The answer is, of course, that it depends. You certainly aren’t going to get it out of the box and suddenly everything is OK. How well it works for your dog will mainly depend on:
- what type of problem you’re trying to treat, and
- what else you’re doing
What Is Dog Appeasing Pheromone?
DAP is one of the rare mammalian pheromones, and is released by nursing females during the first few weeks of the puppies’ lives. It seems to act to encourage relaxed behaviour in the nest.
DAP is sold as Adaptil in three forms:
- a plug-in diffuser, which lasts around a month and treats 90m2
- a treated collar, which also lasts 1 month
- a spray bottle for daily use around the house or on wearable items
You’ll see that different studies used different products. I’ll try to make this clear as I go.
Problems With The Evidence
I’ll present the evidence under headings for each condition or problem. While there are some excellent studies among the 20 available, there are also two large problems:
- Many studies or researchers are directly funded by the company that owns the molecule
- Many studies are not placebo-controlled
Of course, just because a career or a study depends on the whims of a pharmaceutical company doesn’t mean the science will be bad. It just introduces a risk of bias. This will come up especially when I talk about puppies later.
One thing companies definitely do not do often is publish studies that don’t give the desired outcome. This is a subtle form of bias because if we remove studies that say something doesn’t work, it can make uncertain efficacy seem certain.
The lack of placebo control is a bigger problem. I will just say that any behavioural study without a placebo group is very likely to find that the drug works, whether it does or not. You can read why here.
For this reason, I have discarded 8 studies (listed below) that all found benefit without comparison to placebo. These are often the same studies being quoted at you to say Adaptil works. You might be surprised by what’s left.
Adaptil For Separation Anxiety
There is no high quality evidence that Adaptil works for separation anxiety in dogs. The one good study13 found that a DAP diffuser did not improve behaviours such as barking, scratching, whining, howling, trembling, nor heart rate, eye or ear temperature of dogs.
Normal dogs were separated from their owners in a laboratory setting and observed for signs of anxiety.
My view: the results could have been different if dogs who suffer from separation anxiety were used instead. However, separation anxiety is usually severe by the time a vet is consulted, so I am not surprised that a mild treatment like DAP had no measurable effect. Of course, it is harmless to try as long as it’s not used instead of a more effective remedy.
Adaptil For Barking
One study11 on dogs in a shelter provides indirect evidence that Adaptil can reduce the intensity of barking. Dogs exposed to a person walking by or a friendly person barked less often and the average loudness was reduced compared with placebo. Peak loudness was unchanged.
My view: although the study has some statistical problems2, it seems likely that the effect is real. Just a warning though: barking is a complex problem, and Adaptil would probably only help in those dogs where it is caused by anxiety.
Adaptil For Firework & Thunder Phobia
There is only minimal evidence that Adaptil helps dogs with sound‐induced fear and anxiety. Two very problematic studies (discarded5,8) are often quoted but neither are placebo-controlled, and both use other treatments simultaneously.
One better study uses normal dogs and exposed them to thunder sounds at 83.9 dB (thunder itself can be up to 130dB). They found that a DAP collar reduced global measures of anxiety and active signs of anxiety and increased the use of a den. However, have a look at their experimental schedule.
|Study day||Placebo group||DAP group|
|0||Baseline thunderstorm (test 0)|
|1||Analysis of baseline thunder test and group assignment|
|6||Thunderstorm test 1|
|7||Thunderstorm test 2|
|8||Full cleaning and eight-hour aeration|
|9||Thunderstorm test 1|
|10||Thunderstorm test 2|
My view: as all of the placebo dogs and then all of the treatment dogs were assessed together, I would not be surprised if the researchers were able to tell which dogs were being treated with DAP and which were not. This is called a detection bias. I will say that intentions were good, and the researchers are well-respected in the field.
I also suspect that if dogs who suffer from noise phobias were used (which for welfare reasons is impossible) and the noise intensity matched that of thunder, the effect would have disappeared. Read here about treatments for dogs scared by firework and thunder.
Adaptil For Puppies Crying At Night
Two studies have found positive effects of Adaptil collars on recently adopted puppies. The first12 fitted collars to purebred puppies and found a benefit only in Gundogs (mainly Labrador retrievers, Weimeraners and Spaniels). Those receiving Adaptil cried for a median of three nights versus nine for the gundogs in the placebo group.
The second study3 pre-fitted Adaptil collars to puppies prior to sale from pet shops. A striking effect was observed where all 32 treated puppies settled within three days. Two thirds of the 34 puppies receiving placebo were either still disturbing their owners in two weeks or only stopped when being allowed into the owner’s bedroom or to sleep with another dog.
The same authors published a later study of the same puppies4 showing fewer signs of avoidance and uneasiness when facing unfamiliar people and new environments, although the effect was not as striking.
My view: There is a potential conflict of interest in the two pet shop studies because “the owner of the company that produces the commercially available canine and feline pheromones was a coauthor”2. I certainly think this is worth considering, but the study design appears sound, and I find the results hard to ignore.
The purebred study is in partial agreement. The reason for the smaller effect may be that pet shop puppies are known to experience higher levels of anxiety. They suggest this could be due to the increased number of translocations, the lack of a home environment, and the average of 2-3 weeks spent in the shop.
Summary: based on these results, I recommend Adaptil collars for all pet shop puppies, Gundog breeds and any that do not settle quickly.
Adaptil In Puppy Classes
One study fitted Adaptil collars to puppies attending puppy preschool classes. At various points during the classes, treated puppies showed lower fear, lower excitability and higher learning. In addition, dogs in the DAP groups had a higher degree of socialisation at followup phone calls, compared with dogs in the placebo group.
My view: effects were not so great that collars should be considered essential in classes. However, for fearful, excitable or anxious puppies they are highly recommended.
Adaptil For Travel
There is no high quality evidence that DAP assists dogs who are anxious about car travel. As always, there’s no harm in trying but you might want to consider some of these options too.
Lastly, two other specialist uses are worth mentioning. Adaptil diffusers have been shown to increase the quality of mothering behaviour in breeding dogs with young puppies8,9. Adaptil as a diffuser5.7 or spray10 was also associated with reduced signs of anxiety in hospitalised dogs.
It might seem harsh to have excluded so many studies in this review of Adaptil. However, in such an important welfare issue we have to apply the evidence rigourously. I see far too many dogs in which Adaptil has been tried for wildly inappropriate reasons, and for far too long when much better treatments are available.
The company that own Adaptil are sitting on a gold mine, and in my view if real therapeutic benefits existed for the questionable problems, the research would have come out by now. And if it hasn’t, well it’s time. It’s a great treatment as long as we stick to its strengths and stay realistic about what it is unlikely to do well, at least on its own.
Next week: Feline Pheromones in the spotlight
- Denenberg, S., & Landsberg, G. M. (2008). Effects of dog-appeasing pheromones on anxiety and fear in puppies during training and on long-term socialization. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 233(12), 1874-1882
- Frank, D., Beauchamp, G., & Palestrini, C. (2010). Systematic review of the use of pheromones for treatment of undesirable behavior in cats and dogs. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 236(12), 1308-1316
- Gaultier, E., Bonnafous, L., Vienet‐Legué, D., Falewee, C., Bougrat, L., Lafont‐Lecuelle, C., & Pageat, P. (2008). Efficacy of dog‐appeasing pheromone in reducing stress associated with social isolation in newly adopted puppies. Veterinary Record, 163(3), 73-80
- Gaultier, E., Bonnafous, L., Vienet‐Lagué, D., Falewee, C., Bougrat, L., Lafont‐Lecuelle, C., & Pageat, P. (2009). Efficacy of dog‐appeasing pheromone in reducing behaviours associated with fear of unfamiliar people and new surroundings in newly adopted puppies. Veterinary Record, 164(23), 708-714
- Kim, Y. M., Lee, J. K., Abd El-aty, A. M., Hwang, S. H., Lee, J. H., & Lee, S. M. (2010). Efficacy of dog-appeasing pheromone (DAP) for ameliorating separation-related behavioral signs in hospitalized dogs. The Canadian Veterinary Journal, 51(4), 380
- Landsberg, G. M., Beck, A., Lopez, A., Deniaud, M., Araujo, J. A., & Milgram, N. W. (2015). Dog‐appeasing pheromone collars reduce sound‐induced fear and anxiety in beagle dogs: a placebo‐controlled study. Veterinary Record, 177(10), 260-260
- Mills, D. S., Ramos, D., Estelles, M. G., & Hargrave, C. (2006). A triple blind placebo-controlled investigation into the assessment of the effect of Dog Appeasing Pheromone (DAP) on anxiety related behaviour of problem dogs in the veterinary clinic. Applied animal behaviour science, 98(1-2), 114-126
- Santos, N. R., Beck, A., Blondel, T., Maenhoudt, C., & Fontbonne, A. (2020). Influence of dog‐appeasing pheromone on canine maternal behaviour during the peripartum and neonatal periods. Veterinary Record, 186(14), 449-449
- Santos, N. R., Beck, A., Maenhoudt, C., & Fontbonne, A. (2020). Influence of ADAPTIL® during the Weaning Period: A Double-Blinded Randomised Clinical Trial. Animals, 10(12), 2295
- Siracusa, C., Manteca, X., Cuenca, R., del Mar Alcalá, M., Alba, A., Lavín, S., & Pastor, J. (2010). Effect of a synthetic appeasing pheromone on behavioral, neuroendocrine, immune, and acute-phase perioperative stress responses in dogs. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 237(6), 673-681
- Tod, E., Brander, D., & Waran, N. (2005). Efficacy of dog appeasing pheromone in reducing stress and fear related behaviour in shelter dogs. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 93(3-4), 295-308
- Taylor, K., & Mills, D. S. (2007). A placebo-controlled study to investigate the effect of Dog Appeasing Pheromone and other environmental and management factors on the reports of disturbance and house soiling during the night in recently adopted puppies (Canis familiaris). Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 105(4), 358-368
- Taylor, S., Webb, L., Montrose, V. T., & Williams, J. (2020). The behavioral and physiological effects of dog appeasing pheromone on canine behavior during separation from the owner. Journal of Veterinary Behavior, 40, 36-42
Discarded: Not Placebo Controlled
- Gandia Estellés, M., & Mills, D. S. (2006). Signs of travel‐related problems in dogs and their response to treatment with dog appeasing pheromone. Veterinary Record, 159(5), 143-148
- Gaultier, E., Bonnafous, L., Bougrat, L., Lafont, C., & Pageat, P. (2005). Comparison of the efficacy of a synthetic dog‐appeasing pheromone with clomipramine for the treatment of separation‐related disorders in dogs. Veterinary record, 156(17), 533-538
- Hermiston, C., Montrose, V. T., & Taylor, S. (2018). The effects of dog-appeasing pheromone spray upon canine vocalizations and stress-related behaviors in a rescue shelter. Journal of Veterinary Behavior, 26, 11-16
- Kim, Y. M., Kang, B. T., Gu, S. H., Yoo, J. H., Park, C., Jung, D. I., … & Park, H. M. (2006). Comparison of Acupuncture with Dog-Appeasing Pheromone (DAP) Application in separation anxiety of hospitalized dogs. Experimental Neurobiology, 15(2), 81-87
- Levine, E. D., Ramos, D., & Mills, D. S. (2007). A prospective study of two self-help CD based desensitization and counter-conditioning programmes with the use of Dog Appeasing Pheromone for the treatment of firework fears in dogs (Canis familiaris). Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 105(4), 311-329
- Osella, M. C., Bergamasco, L., & Costa, F. (2005). Use of a synthetic analogue of a dog appeasing pheromone in sheltered dogs after adoption. Current Issues and Research in Veterinary Behavioral Medicine, ed. D Mills et al, 270-273
- Osella, M. C., Bergamasco, L., Odore, R., Beck, A., & Gazzano, A. (2015). Adaptive mechanisms in dogs adopted from shelters: a behavioral assessment of the use of a synthetic analogue of the canine appeasing pheromone. Dog Behavior, 1(2), 1-12
- Sheppard, G., & Mills, D. S. (2003). Evaluation of dog‐appeasing pheromone as a potential treatment for dogs fearful of fireworks. Veterinary Record, 152(14), 432-436
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By Andrew Spanner BVSc(Hons) MVetStud, a vet in Adelaide, Australia. These articles are from a series regularly posted on email and Twitter. Subscribe via email here to never miss a story!