A new procedure for sterilizing male dogs without surgery could be a "game changer" in efforts to curb the number of homeless animals born each year. The FDA-approved veterinary product Zeuterin became available in mid-February for use in dogs three to 10 months old, and the nonprofit Sula Foundation hosted a training event to teach local veterinarians how to use it; the service isn't available to the public locally yet.
The process is simple. The dog receives a physical exam, a mild sedative and an injection of Zeuterin (zinc gluconate neutralized by arginine) in each testicle. It receives a small tattoo on its groin to show it has been sterilized, although it remains intact. The dog can resume activities in a short time.
"Within 15 or 20 minutes of giving sedation, the dogs are usually alert again," says Jeff Schumacher, a veterinarian at the East Bank Jefferson Parish Animal Shelter, who led the training session. "The dogs don't need to go under general anesthesia. You give them just enough (sedation) to calm them during the injection process. It's simple, it's safe and it's effective." The Jefferson Parish Animal Shelter uses Zeuterin to neuter dogs available for adoption but currently doesn't offer the service to the public.
A two-year study upon which the FDA based its approval showed Zeuterin was effective in 99.6 percent of the 224 dogs treated. The study, conducted at six sites across the country, concluded the drug had no adverse affects on body weight, temperature, blood and serum chemistries or overall health. Unlike surgical neutering, a dog treated with Zeuterin continues to produce testosterone, which some veterinarians say helps protect against cancers (opponents say just the opposite). There have been no studies of long-term health effects.
"Non-surgical sterilants can be a game changer for animal welfare around the world," Joyce Briggs, president of the Alliance for Contraception in Cats and Dogs, said in a prepared statement following the release of Zeuterin Feb. 17. "Zeuterin is an important new tool as we work to reduce numbers of unwanted dogs."
Because there is no incision to heal, it is more attractive to pet owners who feel uncomfortable surgically removing a dog's testicles.
"I have been trying to find a way to convince men that neutering their dog isn't a bad thing to do," says Ken Foster, founder of the Sula Foundation, which promotes responsible ownership of pit bulls. "There are some people who, for various reasons, don't want their dog operated on, and I think this injectable option is a great thing to offer those people. ... It's also a great option for doing high-volume clinics in areas where there is no physical [veterinary] clinic."
Since it requires no anesthesia or surgery, no special equipment (all that's required is a measuring gauge, stethoscope, hypodermic needle and tattoo machine), no recovery room and has minimal complications, the process is cheaper for pet owners and more cost-effective for organizations trying to control homeless animal populations. Although there are programs to trap, neuter and release feral cats, no such program exists here for dogs. Injectable sterilants have been used in the Philippines and Japan following disasters, however, to keep the wild dog population in check, Schumacher says.
The new process holds so much promise on the feral cat and dog front that The Found Animals Foundation is offering a $25 million award to the inventor of a single-dose sterilant that works in both dogs and cats. No one had claimed that award at press time.