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Zinc Chemical Neutering
A Godsend or God Help Us?
The highly anticipated release of Zinc Gluconate as a chemical neutering alternative to surgical castration has sparked intense debate between animal lovers.
Dannielle Romeo, Newsdesk Editor
Ark Sciences, based in New York, has been researching, developing and producing veterinary pharmaceutical products since 2007. The company’s website addresses how the product is administered and how it takes effect, but of great interest to the show and breeding public are issues of product misuse or injection without owner consent.
They have reason to fear. Animal rights organizations such as PeTA and HSUS have been extremely vocal about their intention to stop all pet breeding. The fact that some personnel associated with these groups have conducted seizures and dispersal of animals without warrants or due process leaves open a critical questions; would a veterinarian acting on behalf of these groups chemically alter an animal without consent? Would they disclose what was done? Animal rights groups have released animals from the safety of their crates at shows or other public events, so what would stop them from using this product to irreversibly sterilize an animal during a short window of opportunity?
The fancy has question and deserves answers. I spoke with Mr. Sandeep Manchanda of the Ark Sciences Executive Team. He responded within minutes to my contact email asking for more information.
First, some background: Zinc Gluconate has been in development and testing, originally under the product name Neutersol, for over a decade. More than 20,000 animals have been treated with few adverse effects and some of the first subjects are still living healthy, happy lives at twelve, thirteen and fourteen years of age. Effectiveness of the product has been placed at nearly 100%. The product is administered by fine needle through the testicles of the animal (available at this time only for male canines) in a slow, steady manner to reduce discomfort. Clinical observations state that this method is practically painless.
The process takes only minutes and completely eliminates the need for surgical castration and accompanying anesthesia. One advantage this chemical sterilization method is that normal endocrine function of the testes is retained, although the testosterone production gets cut down to about half. Complete loss of the protective effects of testosterone as well as the testicles themselves have been issues that cause some owners to refuse to alter their dog.
Geneva Coats, Secretary for the California Federation of Dog Clubs, expressed concern over this alleged benefit believing it “trivialized” the matter. “It is false to claim that normal endocrine function of the testes is maintained if testosterone production is cut by half. Having markedly low testosterone levels would be an abnormal situation, medically speaking. Low testosterone levels throw off the chemical balance of the body. Hormones interact with each other in a feedback method. Low circulating testosterone stimulates the production of several pituitary hormones. Testosterone helps to maintain muscle mass, preserves a normal appetite, and prevents osteoporosis and anemia. Low levels of testosterone in humans are correlated with diabetes and Alzheimer's disease. Low testosterone levels are also associated with mood disorders.”
Conversely, for owners seeking to sterilize their dog, and for animal shelters and rescue groups, this sounds like heaven. It’s simple, effective and there is no need for invasive procedures. The savings on surgical costs alone would be dramatic, and the animals could go home immediately. With all its appeal, zinc neutering is an incredibly attractive and cost conscious answer to preventing accidental or irresponsible breeding.
But this assumes consent. What about the potential for abuse by overzealous shelters that could use the product to immediately sterilize an animal before an owner could reclaim the dog that was found running at large? What about seizure and possible sterilization of a dog where an owner’s innocence or guilt has not yet been determined? What about outright intentional injection by animal rights activists who don’t think any dog should ever be bred?
If any of these situations occurred, could an owner tell that the dog had been chemically sterilized? Could they reverse the process? No, says Mr. Manchanda “The injection, once given, there’s no turning back”. Furthermore he added, “The product, Zinc Gluconate, is metabolized in 48 to 72 hours. There would be no way to detect the chemical in the body.”
So how could an owner know if their dog has received this product? Well they couldn’t, not for some time. According to Mr. Manchanda, a determination could be made using two concurrent criteria; sterility (absence of spermatozoa) and a distinct change in texture of the testicles. The organs become noticeably more firm by 3 months’ time after treatment, and his said “Within a year it would be clear to any veterinarian the dog had been chemically altered.”
Ark Sciences has considered the potential misuse of Zinc Gluconate but states that most of the inquiries into the subject have been from veterinarians who were concerned that non-medical personnel would use it without appropriate training. They have attempted to address this issue by restricting the sale of Esterilsol only to licensed veterinarians or to those who have attended and completed Ark’s own training process in person.
When asked if there was potential for a trained, process approved veterinarian to misuse the product or perform the injection without owner consent? Mr. Manchanda said “We really didn’t think about that.” Steps taken to prevent misuse so far include a reporting process instituted by Ark, where information on each dog sterilized with Zinc Gluconate would be returned to the company. Information on these forms would include age, breed, whether or not any type of sedation or other drugs were given, if there were any reported adverse effects, and follow up appointment observations.
When asked about rescue group or shelter adoption disclosure, Mr. Manchanda responded they were “looking into the legalities” of requesting owner information and he seemed hopeful they would be able to obtain the names of owners, including adoptive families. “Public shelters are required to keep this information”, he said. Getting it may be another matter but Ark’s spokesperson appears committed to being able to track the use of each dose for accountability and long term studies on the animals treated. Mr. Manchanda was firm in his statement “We don’t want anyone to use the product who doesn’t know how to use it”.
To that end, Ark appears to have significant say. They plan to self-distribute the product and maintain a list on their website, currently in development, of practitioners who have passed their certification process.
What if the sterilization product is used without owner consent? Mr. Manchanda claims the legal department at Ark has reviewed product liability but has not given much attention to the issue of parties that might be unknown to an owner performing the injections on their own initiative. “We will pass this concern along and discuss protection for owners” he said in response. In discussing the issue, it seemed that Ark has not given much thought to potential for abuse of the product by trained veterinarians, a matter that in light of events by animal rights extremists cannot be ignored.
Mr. Manchanda said he was pleased that these matters were being brought to his attention. “We really didn’t think about it this way,” he said, and added, “We’re open to suggestions,” when asked what else could be done to prevent unauthorized use of Zinc Gluconate.
Being able to avoid risky anesthesia and traditional surgery is an amazing option to have available to the public, and Ark is focusing most of its marketing efforts to towards nonprofit groups and public agencies such as animal shelters, where the developers hope it will do the most good. As for the general population? Ark’s commitment to keeping the use of Zinc Gluconate limited to responsible veterinarians seems clear. “We don’t want this in the wrong hands either” assured Mr. Manchanda. Yet one cannot help thinking about a phrase regarding the road to hell and good intentions.
Owner rights’ advocates and breed fanciers have conflicting opinions about the development and use of Zinc Gluconate. Jay Kitchener, Secretary and Editor for the Federation of Maine Dog Clubs & Responsible Dog Owners, stated "Today there are more dogs in loving American homes, and fewer dogs in shelters, than ever before in our history. The number of dogs killed in shelters is a tiny fraction of what it used to be, and that number becomes even smaller when compared to the growing number of dogs owned by responsible Americans. The development of this chemical focuses on the brave new world of a zero birth rate for dogs instead of focusing on a zero kill rate in shelters.”
Mr. Kitchener’s stance appears valid based on Ark’s own claim that “Barring few exceptions, we should be sterilizing all our pets to end the needless suffering and euthanasia due to the overpopulation of our dearest companions. A non-invasive procedure like Zinc Neutering should always be the first procedure considered. One is advised to understand the pros and cons of surgical neutering to make an informed decision”.
The concern among fanciers then becomes, what exceptions, and who makes these decisions? And will a person who is not responsible enough to prevent their animal from indiscriminately reproducing be any more inclined to seek alteration through this method? Ms. Coats also addressed this matter, “There is not an overpopulation problem in our country. The solutions shelters need to be looking at have nothing to do with spay and neuter; they have to do with finding homes for the adoptable animals that come through.” As evidence of this position, Ms. Coats directs individuals to consider the high volume of dogs transported across the nation and even imported by rescues and shelters for adoption purposes.
Owners of each zinc neutered dog will be provided with a sterilization certificate and a rabies type tag for a collar confirming the animal’s neutered status. But at this time, local laws may be unprepared for the public use of the product. For all intents and purposes, a dog appears intact, which could lead to costly licensing or citations should animal control officers refuse to accept chemical neutering as proof of alteration in regions where license fees are tiered or prohibitions exist for unaltered animals.
Whether or not existing laws are adequate to address use of chemical sterilization of dogs whose owners have not given informed consent could also prove challenging. Has the law progressed along with the technology? It would not appear so, and is unlikely to be prepared prior to the anticipated 2nd quarter 2012 release of Zinc Gluconate. In the end, like any tool, zinc neutering will only be as beneficial as the person wielding it.
Footnote: "Although the complication rate was similar for surgical and zinc-gluconate castration, the zinc-gluconate reactions were more severe. Surgical wound complications were treated by superficial wound debridement and resuturing. In contrast, zinc-gluconate reactions required antimicrobial treatment, orchiectomy, and extensive surgical debridement and reconstruction, including scrotal ablation in 2 dogs. These reactions occurred following administration by both experienced and novice individuals. All dogs made a full recovery following treatment of zinc-gluconate reactions and incisional dehiscences." Dr. Karen Becker
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