Yes, actually, there really are both pros and cons to dog neutering and puppy sterilization that may surprise you. It did me. After all, we’ve heard from animal welfare advocates for years preaching the gospel of spay/neuter. Heck, I preached this myself and for the majority of dogs and cats (ESPECIALLY cats!), “the big fix” is the best thing that ever happens to them.
There’s evidence, though, that the pros and cons of dog neutering are not so black and white. While the University of Georgia’s sample of 40,139 canine death records from the Veterinary Medical Database from 1984-2004 concluded that neutered dogs could be expected to live a year and a half longer (on average) than intact dogs, other studies point out potential increases in hip dysplasia or cancer. Oy.
Dog Neutering & Puppy Sterilization
So what’s a responsible pet parent to do? One possible solution is a new non-surgical sterilization technique called Zeuterin from Ark Sciences, that renders the boy dogs incapable of fathering puppies but let’s them keep about 50 percent of their testosterone that makes a beneficial health difference especially in certain breeds.
Zeuterin™, an FDA-approved nonsurgical sterilization technique for male dogs from Ark Sciences, is now available in the US for all puppies three to ten months old. Termed “Zeutering,” the injectable treatment offers an alternative to the traditional surgical castration methods.
Most pet lovers recognize that neutering boy puppies they don’t plan to breed or show can be the responsible choice. Sterilization reduces a number of potential behavior problems such as roaming, marking, mounting and fighting. The University of Georgia looked at a sample of 40,139 canine death records from the Veterinary Medical Database from 1984-2004 and concluded that neutered dogs could be expected to live a year and a half longer (on average) than intact dogs. Wow.
Animal welfare organizations such as the Humane Society of the United States provide statistics that show over 80 percent of owned dogs in the United States are sterilized. Hurray! but what about the other 20 percent? And what about in other countries?
Objections to Dog Sterilization?
Is there any good reason to NOT neuter your puppy? Surgical castration permanently removes 100 percent of the dog’s testosterone, and that can cause consequences some new studies indicate may pose problems, depending on the timing and the breed.
People with puppies they hope to develop into performance dogs—hunting, herding or other athletic-intensive activities—may be reluctant to castrate their male dogs. The sexual hormones generated by the male dog’s testis give him that “male” look, and impact bone, joint and musculature development important for performance. Also, some cancers–like prostate cancer–once thought to be preventable through neutering may in fact increase in incidence. Studies indicate that large breed dogs that are neutered are at increased risk for bone and spleen cancers.
Another study of 759 Golden Retrievers at University of California/Davis showed a doubling in the incidence of hip dysplasia in male dogs neutered before their first birthday. This early neutering also showed an increase in the occurrence of cranial cruciate ligament tear and lymphosarcoma in males and of cranial cruciate ligament tear in females. Older age sterilization was associated with the later development of mast cell tumors and hemangiosarcoma in females. Different breeds may have different results, but this information may be helpful in choosing when to time neutering your puppy.
Myths About Dog Neutering
Other objections are less founded in actual science and are more myths or opinions that are hard to change. There continues to be a perception that “fixed” boy dogs lose their ability to do protection work, get fat and lazy, and are less “macho.” None of these is accurate. Metabolism is affected by both maturity and removal of sex hormones, which means food intake must be adjusted as the puppy matures or he will, indeed, pack on too much “table muscle.”
Finally, in some areas around the world (including the southern states in the US), the stray or feral population can account for a significant number of unwanted dog pregnancies. Surgical sterilization of stray and feral population is both labor and cost-prohibitive. Currently, many veterinarians say they perform pet dog and cat sterilizations at a loss, simply as a service to owners, yet the economic climate makes even these opportunities out of financial range for many people.
Zeuterin appears to answer many of these challenges. It neuters your puppy with less pain, no anesthesia (usually only sedation is necessary), he recovers more quickly, and it costs less than surgical techniques. Because it requires less time, that’s a cost savings to the veterinarian, too.
Ark Sciences that owns the drug and procedure says its initial offer to nonprofits in the United States was 1/5th the average cost of surgical castration. That makes Zeuterin a good candidate for shelters and those dealing with stray and feral populations. Savings to the pet owner may potentially reduce the cost of sterilization by 30-50 percent compared to surgical castration.
What Is Zeuterin?
Zeuterin is an injectable spermicide composed of Zinc Gluconate (a trace element), neutralized with L-Arginene (an amino acid), two natural and essential substances for the dog’s body. It’s actually been around since 2003 when it was called Neutersol, but the company and product went away after about three years. According to Ark Sciences, the parent company owning Neutersol created too much inventory which expired before it could be used, and the company had to shut down. In addition, not enough attention was paid to teaching proper administration of the product, which increased the potential for adverse reactions and gave Neutersol a bad name.
Ark Sciences bought the rights to the product in 2007, and renamed it. The company has since conducted clinical trials starting in 1999 on 270 dogs. They have followed 40 of these dogs for over two years, and collected information on many of the study cases for over five years. Since 1999, the company has not received any reports of long-term side effects.
In addition, Ark Sciences has embarked on a veterinary education and training program targeted primarily to shelter medicine practices. Veterinarians or vet techs (under supervision of a licensed veterinarian) must be trained and certified to qualify to perform the procedure. Only those trained by Ark Sciences may administer Zeuterin, and by doing this, errors and adverse reactions are uncommon. That protects your puppy to ensure the best possible outcome.
Esterilsol™ is Ark Sciences’ product for international markets and is registered in four countries, and pending approval in several others around the world. It is approved for all dogs over three months of age in Mexico.
How Does Zeuterin Work?
Zeuterin is injected in the testicles. Ouch! Wait—nope, your pup or older dog isn’t likely to notice at all. There are no pain sensors inside the testes, only pressure sensors. So when properly administered by your trained veterinarian, little to no sensation will be experienced by your sedated dog.
When injected into the testicles, the compound diffuses throughout the testis, and the Zinc acts as a spermicide and destroys all stages of sperm maturation. The tubules that were filled with sperm are emptied, and collapse.
In response, blood flow increases to the testicles to heal, and this causes inflammation resulting in scar tissue (fibrosis) within days. These block the “feeder” conduits permanently, and causes irreversible sterility. The Zinc Gluconate and Arginine are ultimately absorbed and metabolized by the dog’s body.
Sperm stops being manufactured within three days, but sperm may reside in the organ for up to 30 days. Because sperm maturation lasts 60 days, the company recommends keeping your Zinc-neutered adult dog away from a female for at least that period. Over time the interior structures of the testicles including the prostate all atrophy, and shrink in size.
Unlike castration that removes 100 percent of testosterone from the body, “Zeutering” removes only about 50 percent. Leydig cells that are responsible for the endocrine function of the testis are not affected and in test dogs, overall testosterone levels were reduced by 41-52 percent. The testis continues to produce the hormones at a level that recent research shows are protective and beneficial.
Are There Side Effects?
There’s a low incidence of severe side effects in surgical castrations, with discomfort and swelling, licking and occasional infection noted. Similar adverse reactions may occur with Zeuterin, and most do not require medical care.
Minor local reactions include testicular swelling, which is a normal reaction to the inflammation from the injection. Pain may be demonstrated by the dog not wanting to sit, or sitting with hind legs open, or licking/biting the area. More rarely, systemic reactions include vomiting, loss of appetite, lethargy and diarrhea.
Most reactions in the clinical trial group of 270 dogs were seen with the first week after the injection treatment, and more than 93 percent didn’t show any painful signs. When discomfort was noted, it usually happened within the first two days and then went away.
Long-term observations have shown no increase in risk for testicular cancer in dogs neutered with Zeuterin. But to date, no studies have been performed to see if there might be a decreased risk of testicular cancer.
What Else Should I Know About Zeuterin?
If your puppy has undescended testicles, surgical castration is still the best option. Not all dogs are the best candidates and your veterinarian will know if he has a history of allergic reactions to any of the components in the drug, for example.
Zeutering may or may not eliminate the behaviors associated with mating, although anecdotal reports from owners of dogs indicate the effects are similar to those expected from surgical castration. Of course, surgical castration doesn’t guarantee to totally suppress mounting, roaming, marking or aggression, either.
Puppies and dogs sterilized with Zeuterin will still appear to be intact. For dogs and pet parents getting the “hairy eyeball” at dog parks and gatherings, you may want to invest in a bandana or other way to show off your pet’s special Zeutered status.
Because he’ll still look intact, it’s recommended that you document the dog’s sterilized status on his microchip and/or a tattoo (a “Z” near the scrotum) be placed. That way if the worst happens and your dog becomes lost, he won’t be castrated at a later date if found by a rescue organization.
How to Find A Zeutering Option
Ark Sciences continues to conduct training sessions at spay/neuter shelters, animal centers and private practices. Ask your veterinarian about becoming certified. She can contact the folks at Zeuterin.com to learn more.
It’s important to learn all the facts, and figure out the best options for your individual puppy. Different breeds and lifestyles may impact your decision. So do your research, consult with your veterinarian, and ask questions. Your puppy is counting on you!
What do you think? Go ahead and comment–let ‘er rip! *s*
UPDATE: Ark Sciences discontinued distribution of Zeuterin in 2016. Currently, there are no nonsurgical procedures available that are widely recommended for pets in the United States.
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