GonaCon™ Contraceptive Study
Over the past several years, studies led by Dr. Julie Levy (University of Florida Maddie’s Shelter Medicine Program), plus another small study conducted by the Center for Conservation and Research of Endangered Wildlife (CREW) at the Cincinnati Zoo, demonstrated a particularly promising contraceptive effect in female cats of a vaccine called GonaCon. To further evaluate this vaccine's potential to be the first long-term contraceptive commercialized for female cats, ACC&D sponsored a study which began November 2015.
The study utilized GonaCon in a “natural” non–laboratory environment, where cats could live indoors or out, experience seasonal variations in temperature and light/darkness, and were genetically diverse. Based on results from prior studies, the goal was for the vaccine to prevent pregnancy in the study’s treated cats for an average of over three years with a single injection. Dr. Amy Fischer (University of Illinois Department of Animal Sciences) served as Principal Investigator, and Dr. Julie Levy as Co-Investigator.
Dr. Fischer managed creation of a facility that was uniquely suited to the objectives of the study, and where cats enjoyed the highest standards of enrichment and welfare. They had free access to a specially built 2-story indoor home where they could snooze on comfy couches or in warm cat beds, relax on cat trees, or climb a two-story real tree made especially for them! And when they wanted some fresh air, they had access to a large outdoor yard that was enclosed with a predator-proof fence. Outside there were trees, climbing structures, and plenty of surfaces where cats could soak up the sun.
In addition to Dr. Fischer, a full-time Project Manager, and two part-time employees, multiple student volunteers came for daily visits. Their primary job was to love the cats—cuddle with them on couches, provide enrichment and play, and make sure that each individual got lots of positive human attention. The cats' environment was designed to help these once homeless cats transition easily into adoptive homes at the end of the study (they have all been adopted!).
The study provided a wealth of knowledge about the vaccine, cat behavior, and how to design and successfully conduct a breeding study with cat welfare as the utmost priority. We hope this progressive model of research will positively shape future studies intending to benefit free-roaming cats.
Though we designed the study to last three to five years, we decided to end the study at the one-year mark (November 2016) due to a higher rate of pregnancies than our benchmark for continuing the study.
The cats who participated in this study contributed greatly to cat-kind and deserve the wonderful homes they received. Given that a number of cats we rescued were found not eligible for the study, we were able to save the lives of 44 cats in total.
Please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions; we’re happy to provide additional information!
Thank you to the Morris Animal Foundation and John T. and Jane A. Wiederhold Foundation for generously funding this study and supporting new ways to humanely manage cat populations.