I was recently in Portland, OR attending to the 2014 SFT meeting. SFT stands for Society for Theriogenology, the North American society of veterinarians specialised in animal reproduction. They gather once a year to share knowledge & experience as well as discuss about the new breakthrough in this very specific field of veterinary medicine. For somebody like me who spent the first 7 years of his career working on canine and feline reproduction, that was definitely THE place to be!
What’s the point for shelters? Indeed when we speak about “theriogenology”, we often refer to fertility issues (always a major topic of discussion in this kind of meeting ) and one might wonder why I am writing a post about my experience there for shelters… The reason is quite simple: canine and feline reproduction is ALSO about contraception and population management. This is moreover a field that is being deeply studied at the moment (just visit any social network and you’ll quickly be convinced!). So we have everything to write a great post here for shelters: hot topic + interesting ongoing research projects. Let’s see what was discussed during my first day there!
Penile spines in feral cats
In all scientific congresses, there is always a short-communication session. This is always one of my favorite to attend, because this is usually where most interesting research projects (that might turn into future breakthrough in small animal reproduction) are presented. This year’s session was full of promises when I first read the program, and I must admit at the end of the day, I only had one wish: jump on my computer and start writing a post about how interesting these presentations were.
The first short communication was about penile spines in feral cats. Does not sound so interesting when you put it like that, I have to admit, but let’s dig in! In case you don’t know, penile spines in male cats (these little spines on the penis of the cat) are the reflection of testosterone secretion: if a tomcat has penile spines, it means that he produces testosterone, main source being obviously the testes (which usually means they are able to produce spermatozoa, also a great way to confirm if they are indeed neutered, check here). So why did they study this? The authors were concerned about the fact that, despite lots of efforts in spaying/neutering the feral cat population of their area, they did not really see an impact in terms of population control. Their hypothesis was that, if feral cats are so reproductively successful, maybe it is because they have reproductive adaptations that make them fertile earlier than “normal” domestic cats. They therefore compared presence of penile spines and sperm quality in juvenile feral cats (2-6 months of age) vs adult feral cats (>6 months). They did not find any evidence that feral juvenile cats were reaching puberty earlier than what is described in the literature for “normal” domestic cats. What I found extremely interesting however was that they highlighted that few juvenile cats, despite the fact had no penile spines, were already able to produce spermatozoa, and some of them had massive amount of viable sperm. This is an interesting finding because it shows us that even young “supposed” prepubertal cats can eventually impregnate females. Definitely something interesting to keep in mind when it comes to spay & neuter programs.
Nicotine as an alternative for chemical sterilization?
As I wrote earlier, chemical sterilization in canines and felines is a hot topic in shelter medicine and also in the veterinary world. To date we have few alternatives, but there are lots of research going on around the world at the time so I am sure we will soon here about new breakthrough in this area. This is topic I am definitely familiar with since I did my PhD on one of these alternatives… but I was blown away by one presentation that was given during this meeting. The approach was definitely unconventional because a group from the University of Tennessee presented preliminary results concerning the use of… nicotine (!!!) as a non-surgical contraception method. I learnt that nicotine was already used in other areas of veterinary medicine like cardiology and even dentistry, but I was not aware that previous studies had shown in other laboratory species that it could be used as a contraceptive agent, maintaining the animals receiving this treatment in anoestrus (=stage where there is no ovarian activity). Apparently there are nicotin receptors in the ovaries, which could explain the blockage of the ovarian function. Their preliminary results show that bitches receiving sustained-release nicotine pellets stay in anoestrus, without inducing side-effects. These are only preliminary results and they insisted on the fact that more studies are still needed to confirm the potential of this alternative, but that was somehow mind-blowing. Following the presentations there were obviously lots of questions by the audience. One of the main concern people raise was that it is definitely important to further investigate the chronic effects on the organs. Moreover, nicotine in humans is associated with lots of side effects and this might be a big obstacle for further development. Time will tell, but this was definitely an innovative and unexpected approach in the field of small animal contraception!
That’s all for today but stay tuned, more info to come in Part II, which will be posted soon!
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