Have you ever wondered if your leopard gecko can undergo a neuter process like how easily cats and dogs would generally do? Would you want to consider having it done to your pet for whatever reason you have?
Leopard geckos can be safely neutered. Nonetheless, exotic veterinarians do not highly recommend performing the procedure unless it is the only resolve. It poses some risks like:
- Exposure to anesthesia
- Complications and infections
- Physical and mental stress
- Death during the operation
Keep on reading as we elaborate on the topic.
Neutering is the surgical operation through which male or female reproductive organs are removed. This leaves the gecko unable to reproduce.
Is neutering the same as castration, spay, or sterilization?
Other relevant terms you may encounter that are commonly (and often interchangeably) used by people when talking about neutering are:
- Castration (also orchiectomy or orchidectomy) refers to the surgical procedure to totally remove the testes or testicles. It is a male-specific term.
- Spay (also ovariectomy or ovariohysterectomy) refers to the surgical procedure to completely remove the ovaries, uterus, oviducts, and uterine horns. It is a term reserved for female animals.
- Sterilization is a medical term that refers to surgical procedures like spay or castration.
- A fix is a colloquial term that either refers to spay or castration.
Like other sterilization surgeries, neutering avoids unwanted reproduction.
As exotic pets like leopard geckos grow into popular household pets, owners like you may have thought of opting to avail neuter procedure, like how you would do for your cats or dogs.
You might have already known that cats and dogs undergo surgeries to modify aggressive sexual behavior. But did you know? Although less common, livestock animals like cattle and goats also go through the process to improve their commercial value.
In theory, smaller lizards—such as leopard geckos—can be neutered. The whole surgical procedure may not be as simple and typical as the ones performed on mammals, but reptile veterinarians specializing in exotic pets actually do it.
While the major abdominal operation is possible, trained herp veterinarians might inform you to take into consideration some risks to your gecko’s health like:
- Unavoidable physical and mental stress
- Unwanted complications and infections
- Unpreventable exposure to anesthesia
- Untimely death during the operation
Aside from the health hazards on your pet, you should also note the effects the medical procedure would have on your time or finance, such as:
- Expenses in pre-, during, and post-surgery
- Time investment for post-operative care
- Costs of medication and maintenance
- Mental and physical stress
The four reasons to neuter a leopard gecko are:
- Major infections or physical damage to the hemipenile area
- Diseases of the testes
- Pre-ovulatory stasis
- Post-ovulatory stasis
Although the surgery is doable, you cannot just straight up go to an exotic veterinarian to have your gecko fixed. As the process is considered a major surgery for reptiles, reasons such as reproduction control and alteration of behavior are deemed unessential.
One of the typical reproductive issues experienced by male geckos is vent prolapse. A hemipenes prolapse is the slipping out of a male gecko’s reproductive organ through the vent and failing to retract inside .
This condition is commonly due to improper husbandries, such as inappropriate temperature gradient and humidity levels, incorrect lighting, and small tank size. But some other fairly common causes are:
- Lack of calcium
- Copulation trauma
- Infected scent glands
- Metabolic Bone Disease
- Impacted smegma plugs
- Trauma from sex determination
- Bacterial/fungal/parasitic/viral infection
- Any space-occupying lesion within the area
Prolapses of the hemipenes can be amputated to settle the issue. This, of course, would render your gecko infertile. If the situation were not difficult, a professional could safely replace it, just like in the video below.
One of the testes diseases in reptiles is orchitis. Although uncommon to male geckos, orchitis is the inflammation of the testicles. It is often caused by:
- Cellular degeneration
- Infectious agents
When a gecko is currently infected with Mycobacterium spp. or Salmonella spp., the pathogen can also cause testicle inflammation. Surgery is often required with this reproductive disease to cure your pet.
Follicular stasis in geckos is not widely studied, unlike in other reptiles . While there is a lack of research, experts and professionals proposed the following as possible causes:
- Improper diet
- Lack of nutrition
- Absence of males
- Bacterial infections
What happens in follicular stasis is that follicles of mature females fail to ovulate. This situation results in an increase in follicle size. As the growing mass occupies more space, you would observe your gecko lose appetite. While the immune system is down, commensal bacteria may take this opportunity to cause other infections.
As the follicle growth continues to progress, they would reach a point of rupture—releasing the yolk. Inflammation, such as yolk coelomitis, could also happen. And if you leave the condition unattended and untreated for an extended period, the gecko could pass away.
Dystocia is commonly known as egg binding or egg retention . It can either be obstructive or non-obstructive.
Masses and tumors
Abnormally shaped eggs
Egg adhesion in the oviduct
Egg retropulsion into the bladder
Lack of calcium
Lack of nesting area
Improper tank temperatures
Comparison of the Obstructive and Non-obstructive Dystocia Causes
When your gecko has obstructive dystocia, the eggs cannot physically pass. So, these would be retained. If the condition is not immediately addressed, obstructive dystocia can lead to secondary problems such as infections.
Meanwhile, ineffective uterine contractions caused by non-obstructive dystocia would result in egg retention. Furthermore, failure to provide appropriate nesting areas, such as lay boxes, leads to another form of dystocia called behavioral dystocia.
While waiting for the urgent procedure, you could follow what the lady is doing in the video. This may help induce laying in your gecko.
Either way, both obstructive and non-obstructive would require surgery for removal when alternatives—including oral medications—do not work.
The two main effects of neutering in geckos are:
- Behavioral changes
- Lifespan changes
It is apparent that after the surgical procedure, you should have addressed the underlying medical issues of your gecko. While you are hoping for your pet’s speedy recovery, it may (or may not) experience either of the two controversial changes.
You may have read reports about reducing aggressive behavior and sexual activity in cattle after castration . But whether these observed behaviors are applicable to castrated male geckos is vague. However, two isolated studies performed on leopard geckos provide interesting results.
In research conducted by Sakata and his team last 2001, they studied the effects of social experience in territorial and reproductive behaviors in male leopard geckos . Surprisingly, they found out that:
- castrated, inexperienced male leopard geckos showed courtship behavior similar to the intact, experienced ones
- castrated, inexperienced male leopard geckos showed less sexual activity compared to the intact, experienced ones
In another research conducted by Schořálková and her team in 2018, they studied female sexual attractiveness and sex recognition in leopard geckos . What they found out was that:
- males courted toward castrated males
- males courted toward prepubertal females
- males attacked uncastrated males
- males attacked male hormone-treated females
Meanwhile, removal operations of the reproductive organ in other lizards give varying (and often contrasting) results. As reported by Dr. De la Navaree, the team found out that castration reduced the aggressive behavior in iguanas . Anecdotally, a bearded dragon owner has told me that her castrated male continued to show aggression during the breeding season.
Many advocates who sterilize their cats and dogs have research back-ups. This includes that performing reproductive organ removal surgeries increase the lifespan of their pets . But you should not assume for the procedure to have the same effect on your gecko.
Does neutering affect the gecko’s lifespan?
The lack of in-depth studies and data on the effect of neutering in geckos makes it difficult to claim whether such surgical procedure lengthens (and conversely shortens) the gecko’s life.
In a verbal account, a friend of mine had a female leopard gecko with dystocia. His pet underwent major abdominal surgery to remove the eggs. And while they were at it, the exotic veterinarian had advised spaying the reptile. My friend agreed to avoid multiple surgeries.
Even though the surgical operation was a success, the gecko had fallen seriously ill due to post-operative care complications. And this shortened his pet’s lifespan. While I have not heard of stories that medical surgery does increase a gecko’s life, it is still possible until proven otherwise.
You should be aware that female leopard geckos are more prone to internal reproductive issues than males .
In general, spaying female leopard geckos may be brought up and introduced by a veterinarian. While this can avoid future reproductive disorders, the risks of complications during and after major abdominal surgery are high. This makes the procedure unnecessary and the last resort.
On another note, you may have the notion that spaying is a good idea to prevent and stop your female gecko from laying eggs altogether. This is true if the procedure were conducted correctly—meaning all of the follicles are entirely removed. But looking for a trained and experienced veterinarian is a hurdle you might want to look into.
Just a thought, one of my friends has shared a terrifying experience. After a veterinarian conducted a spay on his gecko, the reptile laid two eggs! An explanation was given to him: this is normal if not all follicles were removed. But over time, the tissue will wear away until no more eggs are laid.
Properly taking care of your pet is an owner’s duty. Although there are empirical data on average lifespan, specific diseases, and the like, your gecko’s health has no complex rules on how it would progress. And any illness can develop at any time in its life.
You may not agree to perform a surgery that would totally remove the reproductive organs of your healthy leopard geckos. So, you are looking into possible alternatives similar to chemical contraceptives in cats and dogs.
Research conducted by Dr. Korste in 2019 may be interesting for you. The study focused on using a chemical contraceptive for cats and dogs to leopard geckos . It found out that:
- Deslorelin is safe to administer and implant in female leopard geckos.
- The chemical contraception implanted did not prevent them from laying eggs.
Though you may be disappointed with the results, science and veterinary medicine continue to develop, and having effective chemical contraceptives on leopard geckos could be sooner than you think.
Neutering a leopard gecko is possible but can be considered an invasive and major surgery.
Neutering a leopard gecko exposes it to health risks like 1) hazards of anesthesia, 2) complications and infections, 3) physical and mental stress, and 4) early passing.
As an owner, the medical operation performed on the gecko may affect you financially, physically, and mentally.
Medical emergencies such as hemipenile area damage, diseases of the testes, and pre- and post-ovulatory stasis are some of the valid medical reasons why leopard geckos must be neutered.
Behavioral and lifespan changes, whether anecdotally or scientifically reported, are often observed by owners and experts.
The area of alternatives for the complete removal of reproductive organs in geckos needs to be further explored. The study on deslorelin serves as a reasonable basis for future works.