The contraceptive drug known as FeralStat (megestrol acetate) used to be available to individuals and groups as the most practical and economical method of managing stray and feral cat colonies. It was working, but is no longer available. Even the FeralStat website has disappeared.
Why are contraceptive methods for cats so controversial? What is the controversy?
On the one hand, we have a large number of people complaining about the problem of overcrowding, so clearly we would like to see fewer cats produced.
On the other hand, there is great disagreement on how to achieve this. Some would like to see the eradication of all cats, period, a concept explored in a recent article quoted on my blog (see below). The reality is that it is not feasible, even if it were possible.
Since human beings have interfered with the natural order of everything, the balance has been upset and we are faced with the search for ways to control those things that we have “thrown out of balance.”
If we kill predators that we don’t like, their prey populations often grow like mushrooms, causing new problems. So someone feels that they should also be eradicated. Poison is the typical method of choice. Then the predators we like eat the poisoned creatures and die too. You can’t get rid of coyotes and cats and keep eagles if you poison their shared food supply.
Destroying the links one by one in a chain that we do not understand is ineffective and extremely destructive, because the chain is not linear … it is a complicated network.
Another concept that no one in charge of the killing seems to be able to understand is this: if killing worked, why hasn’t it worked yet?
For decades, community animal control departments have attempted to “control” stray populations, especially cats, simply by killing them. So why do we still have them?
One explanation could be that we have three factions at work: those who love cats, those who hate cats, and those who don’t care.
Cat lovers are a diverse group, ranging from those who sneak around for food, to local stray colonies because they feel sorry for them, to those who work hard to implement trap and neuter campaigns.
As for the cat haters, they are not all inhuman monsters who trap and torture the unfortunate victims we hear about on the news. Many cat haters just don’t care what happens to them as long as “someone” kicks them out of their yard or neighborhood. It doesn’t work, of course, because more show up no matter what.
Where do they come from?
There are several sources of new stray and feral cats, such as people who abandon their cats when they move out, thinking that they will be fine, due to the myth that cats “go wild.” They do not. But they give birth to many who will be wild to begin with, since they have no human contact. Of those who live long enough, more are born and now you have a wild population.
Another source of stray animals is pets that roam at night without neutering and that belong to people who believe cats need their freedom and who also believe that they are not pleasant to disturb. So they go out and multiply all night.
But the most important question today should be: “How can we truly and humanely control them?”
The most important first step is for pet owners to spay and neuter … the battle cry for quite some time. If all owned pets were tampered with, they would at least be unable to reproduce if they escaped or were abandoned.
But street and wild colonies are an ongoing problem for which local agencies rarely provide assistance. Most of them still have the kill mentality, a concept that has been shown not to work.
Many communities have dedicated volunteers who work hard to manage these colonies, trapping, treating, and neutering thousands of cats each year. But that’s extremely difficult and expensive work with no government grants or programs to help. Loose and underfunded, how long can this voluntary approach last?
A more useful idea is that of oral contraceptive products. It is much less expensive, less risky because the cats do not need to be handled one at a time, and easier to implement because it is not complicated. One person can manage a fairly large colony alone.
But a new controversy has emerged: Some (not all) vets are against low-cost birth control by any method because they feel they reduce their income with routine care. In fact, two vets specifically told me that they “don’t do spay days” because it means less income. Therefore, they are also opposed to contraceptive drugs.
However, this is not the objection that is advertised. Most prefer to say that the drugs are risky because the long-term effects have not been defined and that victims could suffer a painful death from tumors or other side effects later on.
Oh please! Long-term effects? How many stray dogs have a long-term life? And how many now die a painful death, from starvation, injury, fatal disease, and giving birth to non-viable offspring at 5 months of age? And if officials just want to kill them, why would they care if years later they have side effects from birth control drugs? If they were really concerned, why not work on the formula to make it more secure? If they are waiting for permission or money, it will never happen.
Of course, drug birth control is not the optimal answer. Certainly side effects can be a real concern. Another is the difficulty of vaccinating against rabies, which is usually done during spaying or neutering, although an oral vaccine could also work in the field. In addition, the injured and sick may not receive the care they need, although it is easier to capture them.
However, surgical sterilization is also not the optimal method. In a “sterilization day” atmosphere, I have witnessed overworked staff, rushing to beat the day’s patients, miss out on actions that ensure a completely sterile environment or attention to detail at the end of a long day. In my own experience, many of the cats did not survive this “routine procedure.”
However, for now, birth control drugs may be our most useful and cost-effective alternative until better options are developed.
So here is my call to action:
We need to get in touch with veterinarians and pharmaceutical companies to re-launch drugs that were available for more than 30 years. Go to my website to find out how to contact them.