A new approach to an old pet problem

A new approach to an old pet problem

Todd Bruce, a herd manager on a farm in Oregon City, Oregon, had long resisted neutering his 5-year-old Australian cattle dog, Cody, for fear of losing the extra set (or two) of legs in the field.

“I just wanted him to maintain his working abilities,” said Bruce, 28. “I’ve had other dogs neutered that have had a lot of weight gain, and their bodies go through huge changes, and I didn’t want that to happen with my dog this time.”

Then Bruce’s sister, a veterinary student, told him about Zeuterin, a drug that sterilises male dogs without the removal of the testicles, thus preserving some testosterone production. In June, Bruce volunteered Cody for the procedure, performed by veterinarians as part of a training programme at a clinic in Portland, Oregon. The next day, Cody was back at work, enthusiastically rounding up livestock.

“It was quick, painless and super-un-invasive,” Bruce said. “He’s mellowed out a bit, but I haven’t had the problems I had before.”

The 40-year movement to convince Americans that they should spay or neuter their pets has been nothing short of a triumph: 83 per cent of owned dogs and 91 per cent of owned cats in the United States have been spayed or neutered, compared with only about 10 per cent in the 1970s. But the surgical removal of the reproductive organs of every pet is still time-consuming for veterinarians, unpopular among a subset of pet owners and ethically troubling to animal welfare advocates. It is also an impractical solution to sterilising stray animals, which constitute the bulk of the United States’ nuisance animal problem. “Surgery is definitely a bottleneck for humane animal control,” said Dr Julie K Levy, a veterinarian at the University of Florida who has researched the problem.

Now, a handful of nonsurgical sterilisation treatments — led by Zeuterin, which could be commercially available in the United States by the end of this year — are emerging and could reduce or even eliminate the need for traditional neutering. “The truth is, we may have maximised what we can do with surgical spay-neuter,” said Joyce Briggs, the president of the Alliance for Contraception in Cats and Dogs, a group advocating alternative approaches. “Nonsurgical sterilants could be a game changer for animal welfare across the world.” The problem, she added, is persuading enough veterinarians, pet owners and pharmaceutical companies to embrace the new form of treatment.
The remedy nearest to market is Zeuterin, a mix of zinc gluconate and arginine that is injected into a dog’s testicles, killing the sperm and shutting down the passageway through which it would normally travel. The results are permanent, and the process takes only a few hours, poses little risk compared with surgery and works in 99.6 per cent of dogs, according to research trials.

“I think it’s an outstanding product,” said Levy, who used the drug nearly a decade ago to sterilise wild dogs in the Galápagos Islands. She is eager for Americans to see what Zeuterin can accomplish. “There’s just a communication issue,” she added.
The drug, which must be injected precisely and delicately, has been on the market before and failed. Introduced as Neutersol in 2003, the drug was sold to veterinarians without much training or support. As a result, too many dogs had adverse reactions (inflamed testicles, mostly), and the drug earned a bad reputation. By 2005, both it and the company behind it had disappeared.

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