by Ruth Steinberger, founder, Spay First (www.spayfirst.org)
On July 24, 2015 a company called Calcium Chloride Castration, the brainchild of Canadian veterinarian Peter Denooij, will launch the sale of pharmaceutical grade calcium chloride dihydrate for the non-surgical castration of male dogs and cats at a daylong event in the Dominican Republic. Each premeasured dose will be mixed with readily available and inexpensive ethyl alcohol prior to injection. It will be available to veterinarians worldwide. In many ways it is a first.
Calcium chloride castration, a technique first published in the US in 1978, provides a low-tech, low-cost way to provide canine and feline neutering. This is vital in areas where the need for spay/neuter services far exceeds the capacity to provide them.
Leveling the playing field
Calcium chloride castration is a tool that will help to level the playing field between animals surviving in chronic poverty and those flourishing in relative wealth. That gap is not small. Only through scientific advances aimed at helping very large numbers of animals in areas of chronic poverty, emphasizing low cost research and development, and low cost production, will we reach the overwhelming numbers of animals in need.
Calcium chloride dihydrate is a compounded sterilent for male dogs and cats made from ingredients that are nearly universally available to veterinarians. The possibilities for using calcium chloride castration to initiate providing basic animal care services in underserved areas are endless.
Removing the barrier
The obstacle to doing this, until now, has been that the ingredients are too common to be patented. Therefore taking the product to market has not appealed to any entity, either non-profit or for profit. Though highly effective and safe, calcium chloride castration has remained outside of the standard pharmaceutical marketing venues and has been largely overlooked.
Hopefully that is about to change with the launch of the Calcium Chloride Castration company. Science that is intended to reach the poorest regions of the globe is needed if the challenges of helping street animals are to be met head-on. Reaching hundreds of millions of animals in chronically poor places is a problem too big to handle through costly surgeries. The “eyes on the prize” must focus on reaching the poor and doing so in a big way.
Why fixing males matter
Male animals are arguably only incidental to the issue of population control and some people question the value of spending resources to alter males at all. The argument is that if female dogs are allowed to roam, neutering males simply impacts which dog or cat will breed with each female, not whether or not breeding will happen.
However, population control is not the sole reason to alter a male dog. Castration of dogs generally reduces libido, and in most dogs affects the behaviors that often go with it. Some argue about which behaviors are altered, but for people in chronic poverty amid free-roaming dogs, much of that is a moot point. Anyone who has seen a pack of male dogs chasing a free-roaming female in estrus knows that the fast-moving pack of dogs, fighting as it moves, sometimes to the point of death of one or more dogs, is dangerous to the dogs involved and to any people nearby. For people with no access to health care, especially in poverty-stricken parts of the world where rabies remains endemic, the prospect of a bite makes street dogs into a feared menace, not a friend in need.
Numbers vary, but animal demographers agree that literally hundreds of millions of dogs across the globe are unwanted. Not coincidentally, most live in impoverished places. The World Bank defines extreme poverty as living on under $1.25 USD per day. More than one billion people live at that level. Veterinary care for unwanted animals is a low priority compared to the human need for food and clean water. Most street dogs lead short and often miserable lives of three years or less. Engaging new tools to stop litters is key to stopping their suffering.
Surgical sterilization is the gold standard, as it is the only solution that is 100% effective at preventing litters. However, an estimated 75% of the half billion dogs on earth receive no veterinary care during their lives, and thus do not benefit from any method, surgical or non-surgical, for stopping litters.
Waiting for a drug that is approved for use in privately owned animals who receive the highest standard of veterinary care before providing services to street dogs means accepting that street dogs will wait a very, very long time. It also means they will wait in line for a product with millions of dollars in research and development costs while products that are already here, including calcium chloride and several others, continue to be overlooked.
Time for help from science
It is time for animals who exist alongside people in extreme poverty to benefit from modern science and technology tailored to their needs. A plethora of compounded drugs, drugs with expired patents, and drugs otherwise not FDA approved can make a huge difference in the lives of animals born only to suffer. Existing technologies that stop animal suffering should be engaged, while research on products that will be widely available at low cost should move forward with a sense of urgency.
Although calcium chloride is not the whole answer to animal overpopulation, it has the potential to provide access to sterilization for millions of dogs at a fraction of the cost of surgery. That is significant. It is not a question of whether this is as good as spay/neuter; in the absence of cost-effective, labor-saving technologies most dogs will continue to get nothing at all. Waiting for the potentially decade-long, multi-million-dollar FDA approval process before a product may be used is foolish at best; doing so does not prevent suffering, but ensures that the suffering remains unabated for a very long time.
It is time for cutting edge science and technology to have a dedicated place at the table to help the animals who live among people in chronic poverty. Those animals need to be the focus of research and development of contraceptives and sterilents that are intended from the get-go to meet their needs through low cost and accessibility.
On behalf of suffering animals, there should be a sense of urgency in placing science into the forefront of animal welfare.
(See also http://www.animals24-7.org/2014/11/24/make-high-volume-spayneuter-programs-in-indian-country-a-priority/; and http://www.animals24-7.org/2015/04/30/calcium-chloride-chemosterilant-tested-successfully-in-tomcats/.)
Elaine Lissner says
Bravo– Thank goodness this is finally getting the recognition it deserves! Calcium chloride is not perfect, but we could spend a lot of years waiting in vain for the perfect answer– which might not ever even make it to lower-income countries.
The “sweet spot” for calcium chloride seems to be small and medium dogs — which includes most of the world’s street dogs. It also appears effective in cats, though it is less of a time savings.
For a list of scientific references, see
Bravo to veterinarian Peter Denooij and to Ruth Steinberger for making this more available and known around the world!
Ruth Steinberger says
Elaine, thank you for bringing this previously unknown compound into public view. You truly carried the torch on this. Calcium chloride can be a huge game changer for those helping animals in chronic poverty. The overwhelming majority of street dogs are male, so using calcium chloride leaves more funding and more human resources for the girls!
jeffrey young dvm says
I am a big supporter of Ruth and the use of calcium chloride. It works and it is safe and fast and cheap. My only concerns is females really control the population and we really need the injectable or oral sterilent for the females..Calcium chloride can help to reduce overall costs and help other issues like roaming and fighting. No question it is a start and there will be great resistance simply due to the low cost and the fact anyone with half a brain can do the injection..You still need anesthesia to make it humane, but no question if it catches on it will help greatly with the fight to reduce unwanted companion animals..All the best Ruth..
otis henry says
Why is anesthesia needed, Dr. Young? The humane aspect makes me ask especially. Thanks.
Merritt Clifton says
From the beginning of experimentation with chemosterilants administered by testicular injection, more than 30 years ago, there has been debate over whether anesthesia is a necessary part of the procedure, since the site wound is small and the various chemosterilants have been deposited in a region where there are no nerve endings. However, while the injections themselves appear to be relatively painless, temporary testicular swelling to varying degree has followed application of all chemosterilants injected into the testicles, including calcium chloride. Light anesthesia appears to relieve discomfort in association with this. Probably some of the veterinary experts among our readership will soon provide further details.
Ruth Steinberger says
Jeff, thank you so much for your comments and reply! You are a hero in setting up new clinics… each time we speak you are in a different part of the world helping veterinarians learn how to do more to help animals. Many of your events are first time animal welfare efforts. Yes, the females are the urgently important ones and through the support of scientists and veterinarians, including yourself, we are the largest researcher of a GnRH antigen in penned studies on dogs and the answer cannot come fast enough. Thank you for helping us make this happen while you stay so focused on increasing spay/neuter programs in previously unserved areas. You’re a rock star!
Peter P. Denooij, DVM says
Dr. Young, we will only sell to veterinarians. I will personally verify that the individual purchasing Calcium Chloride from us is a veterinarian graduated from a veterinary college as per the World Veterinary Association. All the veterinarian has to do is add the ethyl alcohol and the compund is ready to be injected.
Anesthesia is not required, but the animal needs to immobilized during the injection.
We have on our website a page that shows some of the possible complications.
Elaine Lissner says
It is performed in India with just manual restraint, no sedation. However, most vets in the U.S. prefer to use at least light sedation, to avoid any chance of movement. Sedation can also be helpful from a public perception perspective, especially when beginning to use calcium chloride in alcohol sterilization. Dr. Young, being one of the very first veterinarians in the U.S. to use calcium chloride, has probably chosen to be extra-conservative, when exposing oneself to potential criticism by being a pioneer and trying something innovative, extra-conservative is always a good place to start!
In published studies from Italy, pain measures did not differ from controls; however, if any lethargy or discomfort is seen, pain medication can be offered similarly to after surgery.
It may be helpful for people who are really interested to see firsthand what it is like. Videos of the procedure in Italy and India are available on our website:
Also, best-practices guide to due diligence can be found at Calchlorin.org . This is in addition to the wonderful materials available at Spay First!’s website (a video and a downloadable guide written by veterinarians for veterinarians), which are a must-read before use.
Harrell Graham says
Here is a good how-to video on using calcium chloride to sterilize: Calcium Chloride for Neutering, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j2MyZ5Q5qJs.
––Harrell Graham, author
The Dog Care Field Manual:
How to care for mangy run-down dogs in 2nd and 3rd world countries
(available as a 46-page free download at various web sites)
ruth steinberger says
Harrell––I just took a look at your manual and it is great!
Ivermectin adds only about eight cents to the cost of castrating a 40-pound dog. So if using calcium chloride, and also including Ivermectin and a rabies vaccine, the whole cost (including sedation) is under three dollars(depending on what sedation is used). What a bargain to provide care that is otherwise not within range!