The birth control drug known as FeralStat (megestrol acetate) used to be available to individuals and groups as the most practical and economical method to manage stray and feral cat colonies. It was working, but it is no longer available. Even the FeralStat website has disappeared.
Why is birth control for cats so controversial? What is the controversy?
On the one hand, we have large numbers of people complaining about the overpopulation problem, so clearly, we’d like to see fewer cats being produced.
On the other hand, there is great disagreement as to how to accomplish that. Some would like to see the eradication of all cats – period – a concept explored in a recent article cited on my blog (see below). The reality is that it’s not feasible, even if it were possible.
Since humans have interfered with the natural order of everything, the balance has been upset and we find ourselves faced with seeking ways to control those things we have “unbalanced.”
If we kill predators we don’t like, their prey populations usually mushroom, causing new problems. Then someone feels they must be eradicated also. Poison is the typical method of choice. Then the predators we do like eat the poisoned creatures, and they die, too. You can’t get rid of coyotes and cats and keep the eagles if you poison their shared food supply.
Destroying the links one by one in a chain we don’t understand is both ineffective and overarchingly destructive, because the chain isn’t linear… it’s a complicated network.
Another concept that no one in charge of the killing seems able to grasp 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, by simply killing them. So why do we still have them?
One explanation might 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 food to local stray colonies because they feel sorry for them, to those who work hard to implement trap and neuter campaigns.
As for cat haters, not all of them are inhumane monsters who catch and torture the unfortunate victims we hear about on the news. Many cat haters simply don’t care what happens to them, as long as “someone” gets them out of their yard or neighborhood. It doesn’t work, of course, because more appear, 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 away, thinking they will be fine, because of 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. From those who live long enough, more are born and now you have a feral population.
Another source of strays is the unneutered, night-roaming pets that belong to people who believe cats need their freedom, and who also believe it’s not nice to alter them. So they go forth and multiply all night.
But the more 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 a while now. If all owned pets were altered, they at least would not be able to reproduce if they escaped or were abandoned.
But the stray and feral colonies are an ongoing problem for which local agencies seldom provide assistance. Most of them are still of the kill mentality, a concept proven not to work.
Many communities have dedicated volunteers who work hard to manage these colonies, trapping, treating and neutering thousands of cats every year. But that is extremely difficult and expensive work with no government grants or programs to help. Loose knit and underfunded, just how long can this volunteer approach last?
A more useful idea is that of oral birth control products. It’s much less costly, less risky because the cats don’t need to be handled one at a time, and easier to implement because it’s not complicated. One person can manage a fairly large colony alone.
But a new controversy has appeared: Some (not all) veterinarians are against low cost birth control by any method because they feel it cuts into their income with routine care. In fact, two vets specifically told me they “don’t do spay days” because it means less income. Thus, they are also opposed to birth control drugs.
However, this isn’t the objection that gets publicized. Most prefer to say that the drugs are risky because the long term effects have not been mapped out, and that victims could die a painful death from tumors or other side effects later.
Oh please! Long term effects? How many strays get a long term life? And how many die a painful death now, from starvation, injuries, fatal diseases and giving birth at 5 months old to non-viable young? And if officials just want to kill them, why would they care if they have side effects from birth control drugs years later? If they were truly concerned, why not work on the formula to make it safer? If they are waiting for permission or money, it will never happen.
Granted, birth control by drugs is not the optimum answer. Certainly, side effects can be a real concern. Another one is the difficulty of vaccinating for rabies, typically done during the spay or neuter, though an oral vaccine could work in the field, too. Also, injured and sick ones may not get the care they need, although they might more easily be captured.
However, neither is surgical sterilization the optimum method. In a “spay day” atmosphere, I’ve witnessed overworked personnel, rushing to get through the day’s patients, miss actions that ensure a completely sterile environment or attention to detail by the end of a long day. In my own experience, many of the cats did not survive this “routine procedure.”
For now, however, birth control drugs may be our most useful and cost effective alternative until better options are developed.
So here’s my call to action:
We need to contact veterinarians and pharmaceutical companies to re-release the drugs that were available for more than 30 years. Please go to my web site to learn how to contact them.