Are Appeasing Pheromones Effective in Horses?

How effective are appeasing pheromones for reducing nervousness or anxiety in horses?
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Q: I have had a few extension clients ask about the effectiveness and availability of the appeasing pheromone that can be rubbed in the nostrils of the horse to help reduce nervousness/anxiety. Could you comment on these? –Carissa, via email

A: I imagine your clients are hearing about the appeasing pheromone called Confidence EQ, which is now marketed in the United States by CEVA and commercially available through retailers. It is a gel that is applied to a horse’s nostrils 30 minutes before an expected stressful situation.

This is a very interesting synthetic pheromone product developed in France many years ago. The concept was based on the “calming” or “appeasing” pheromone that glands around the mammary gland release. This pheromone has soothing, calming effects on the young, either when suckling or nuzzling the mammary area. Over the last couple of decades it has been available in a variety of formulations for pigs, dogs, cats, and horses.

In blind controlled studies in which researchers evaluated previous formulations and methods of application over the years, efficacy has been unclear. In one study published in 2012, a group from the University of California, Davis, led by Dr. Jeannine Berger (DVM, Dipl. ACVB, ACAW) evaluated the effectiveness of a mist-delivered formulation of the same pheromone, previously available in the United States as Modipher EQ, in foals during weaning. In seven treated and seven control foals, they found no effect of the pheromone treatment on any behavioral or physiological indicators of stress

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Written by:

Sue M. McDonnell, PhD, is a certified applied animal behaviorist and the founding head of the equine behavior program at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Veterinary Medicine. She is also the author of numerous books and articles about horse behavior and management.

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