The holy grail of spay/neuter

By Gregory Castle

Over the weekend, I was invited to speak at the 5th International Symposium on Non-Surgical Contraceptive Methods of Pet Population Control presented by the Alliance for Contraception in Cats & Dogs (ACC&D). That’s quite a mouthful!

Best Friends was one of the sponsors of the symposium, which brought together a variety of stakeholders in Portland, Oregon, to learn the latest developments in one of the most important areas of research for animal welfare – the chemical contraception and sterilization of animals, including dogs and cats. We heard from scientists, veterinarians, animal welfare professionals, public health advocates, pharmaceutical industry representatives, and funders from the U.S. and abroad.

The potential lifesaving impact of a safe, easy-to-administer, and permanent contraceptive is enormous. Imagine if you could give your pet a pill rather than take him or her to the vet to be fixed. No stress for your pet, and no stress for you worrying about anesthesia or the risks of surgery.

Imagine the benefit to low-income families, who often have to overcome the hurdles of travel to and from a clinic with no car, or the often-prohibitive cost of a spay/neuter surgery. They could simply give their dog or cat a safe pill with their food, and presto – no unwanted litters.

Imagine how easy such a pill would make the management of community cat colonies. Trapy/neuter/return (TNR) would be replaced by a much simpler management protocol.

Imagine how such a pill or injection would mark the beginning of the end of suffering for hundreds of millions of animals, mostly dogs, who roam the streets of cities and villages across Asia, Africa and South America, and some parts of Europe, not to mention some impoverished communities in the U.S.

During my own presentation as a luncheon speaker, I discussed the many practical problems with which spay/neuter on a significant scale is beset, such as cost and the need to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars per year, every year, to make and maintain an impact in even a small city as well as the fact that private vets are often not located in proximity to the communities that need their services the most. These are just a few of the scalability issues that would be solved if spaying or neutering a pet were as easy as de-worming or giving a vaccine. The world of animal welfare, and the no-kill movement in particular, would be changed overnight.

The holy grail, unfortunately, has not yet been developed, but there is plenty of incentive out there for the enterprising scientist or pharmaceutical company. Found Animals Foundation founder and benefactor, Dr. Gary Michelson, has posted the $25 million Michelson Prize to be awarded to the first individual, corporation, research organization, university, etc., that develops the first single-dose nonsurgical sterilant that is safe and effective in male and female dogs and cats and is suitable for use in a field setting, among other criteria. In addition to a payoff to the winner, Michelson has established funding for research grants totaling an additional $50 million. For more information, visit the Michelson Prize & Grants website.

In the meantime, however, there are some very promising nonsurgical options that have come to market or are on their way. The one that many are familiar with is Zeuterin™, an injectable sterilant for male dogs that can be administered without anesthesia, although a mild sedative is commonly utilized to reduce stress. Zeuterin™ has been in use for years under a different name in other countries and is now making inroads in the U.S. since it received FDA approval. Not the holy grail, but getting there.

Best Friends supports this new frontier of animal welfare, and we are excited by the possibilities that are emerging along with advances in human medicine. I’d also like to commend Dr. Michelson and Found Animals Foundation for putting a much-needed spark into the quest for the silver bullet of a once-and-done non-surgical spay/neuter solution.

Each development brings us one step to a time when there will be No More Homeless Pets.

Cat Dog No-Kill 2025

Julie Castle


Best Friends Animal Society