To spay or neuter bearded dragons is relatively straightforward however, it is riskier than for a pet cat or a dog. Reproductive disorders are common in bearded dragons and spaying is a potential remedy or prevention for some of them.
5 terms (and their definitions) used in this post:
- spaying refers to the removal of the females reproductive organs.
- orchiectomy refers to castration, the removal of testicles.
- neutering refers to desexing females or males (Latin word neuter means ‘of either sex’).
- sterilizing refers the desexing a female or male.
- fixing is the desexing of either the female or male.
Neutering Male Bearded Dragons
Neutering male lizards is considered a controversial practice for 2 reasons:
- The high risks of anaesthesia (Knotek et al, 2017).
- Considered unnecessary from an animal welfare perspective (Knotek et al, 2017).
3 Reasons to Neuter Bearded Dragons [male]
3 reasons to neuter male bearded dragons:
1. Testicular disease.
2. Severe damage to the hemipenes such as hemipenile prolapse with necrosis (dying) tissue. Irreversible damage will require the surgical amputation (phallectomy) of the tissue.
Amputation of the hemipenes is not technically sterilising as the testicles are not removed and it is not elective surgery, rather to resolve an extreme medical issue. However, clearly the outcome is the bearded dragon cannot breed and for that reason has been included.
3. Bring about behavioral changes such as reducing aggression. How effective neutering male lizards is in reducing territorial or aggressive behaviours is unclear.
Neutering lizards brings varying results and there are no specific reports for bearded dragons. Some experts and researchers have indicated reduced aggression in iguanas but so far there have only been inconsistent results.
Does neutering a bearded dragon reduce aggression and territorial behaviour?
Research and experts amongst different lizard species show varying results on the impact of behaviour after neutering lizards:
- Moore (1987) experimented desexing wild and free-living male lizards (Sceloporus jarrovi). Moore found that castration reduced sexual behaviors but it did not eradicate them. The experiment also found that territorial occupation was not affected which indicates that there are more than hormones at play in this behaviour.
- De la Navaree (2011) found that castration reduced the aggression of iguanas. However, there was no change to the behaviour of iguanas castrated during breeding season.
- DVM Margaret Wissman (n.d.) discusses neutering iguanas in the Reptile Magazine (which includes references to DVM Douglas Maders work) with no success in reducing aggression.
- DVM Douglas Mader (DVM) (discussion from Reptiles Magazine documented on Kaplan, 2014) found little to no changes in neutered iguanas.
There is no evidence that castrating lizards has any effect on male aggression or territorial behaviour and the risks are high. It is not recommended to neuter male bearded dragons as an elective procedure.
Bearded dragons are renown for being quite docile with humans and deservedly so however, this is not always the case. Rowland (2009) was presented with a case where a juvenile male bearded dragon was becoming progressively more aggressive to its owner, biting at any chance. A hormone implant (deslorelin) was used in an attempt to reduce the bearded dragons’ aggressive behaviour. At a review 2 months later it was noted that the aggressive behaviour of the bearded dragons was significantly reduced along with serum testosterone.
Spaying Female Bearded Dragons
Reproductive issues are common in female reptiles (Alworth et al, 2011). Spaying female bearded dragons may be recommended by your vet to prevent or resolve a reproductive disorder.
Outside of surgery, there are currently no other options to prevent a female bearded dragon from producing eggs. No medication or environmental adjustment has been proven to prevent egg production. This means that surgery is the only way to be sure that she will stop producing eggs.
When a bearded dragon is spayed, its entire reproductive tract is removed and it will no longer be able to breed.
It is not expected when a bearded dragon is spayed that there will be any behavioural changes. The risks of reproductive hormone induced cancers that we consider in mammals are incredibly rare in reptiles.
If considering surgery to remove retained eggs, it is advisable to discuss an ovariectomy with your veterinarian at the same time to avoid multiple surgeries.
During the surgery, the ovarian tissue is removed with or without the oviducts. Pre-anesthetic bloodwork is recommended, especially in those who are sick at the time of surgery.
Under general anesthesia, a specialized endotracheal tube is placed to assist in breathing during surgery, as the anesthetic drug will prevent the bearded dragon from breathing on her own. The absence of a diaphragm in the bearded dragon further necessitates assisted breathing.
A paramedian skin incision is used to avoid the ventral abdominal vein. Ovarian tissue is often readily identified, isolated, and removed. This opportunity should be taken to fully explore the area for retained eggs.
The reproductive organs in bearded dragons are closely associated with major blood vessels. The ovaries in bearded dragons are not encapsulated, meaning that the follicles develop on the outside of the ovary (picture a cluster of grapes as opposed to a bag of grapes). This presents the risk of ovarian remnant syndrome (where a small piece of the ovary is inadvertently left behind, and continues to produce active follicular tissue).
Most patients will go home the same day as their surgery to help minimize stress. Expect a long road to recovery – skin sutures should remain in place for a minimum of 3 weeks, but often closer to 6-8 weeks.
Even routine surgery can have complications. Common complications which may be encountered include infection and bleeding.
3 Reasons to Spay Bearded Dragons [female]
3 reasons a female bearded dragon may be spayed are:
1. Preovulatory follicular stasis. Preovulatory follicular stasis is where the ovarian follicles do not cycle as they should and become static.
2. Postovulatory stasis (dystocia), also known as egg binding or egg retention. Dystocia occurs where formed eggs cannot be passed and are retained in the oviduct (reptiles version of the uterus).
3. Prevention of reproductive problems.
Also note that neutered bearded dragons still could not be housed together given there is little to no change in behaviour expected.
Is it Safe to Spay a Bearded Dragon?
Spaying a bearded dragon is not always safe due to anesthetic complications which are common.
Spaying a bearded dragon requires an operation under anaesthesia. Yarmouth Vet Center estimates that issues occur for between 5-10% of bearded dragons being spayed.
Going to the extremes, a study of 7 bearded dragons undergoing routine ovariectomy resulted in 4 deaths immediately following the surgical procedure.
The deaths occurred during anesthetic recovery – the surgeries were routine and uncomplicated. The surviving individuals in this study were found to have smaller, less active follicles, indicating that performing surgery while the ovaries are less active may be safer.
There are many spaying surgeries that go perfectly well. Discuss your specific case and concerns with your vet.
Caring for Bearded Dragons after Neutering
After your bearded dragons neutering it will likely be able to go home with you assuming no complications have occured.
Sutures will often be shed during normal shedding. Otherwise they are removed at around 6 to 8 weeks.
Before taking your bearded dragon home you need to prepare its housing. Here are 5 things you can do to prepare your bearded dragons house and help it through its post neutering surgery recovery:
- Clean your bearded dragons house and accessories thoroughly. Now is the time to be super fussy about your cleaning practices.
- If you don’t have a steam cleaner or veterinary grade disinfectant, now is a good time to get them.
- Remove any loose substrate even for a dig box while the surgery wound heals. Use newspaper on the bottom of the enclosure to make it easier to keep up with daily cleaning while your bearded dragon is healing.
- Remove branches from the enclosure or anything that could risk catching a suture or pierce the fresh wound. Rocks are perfect for basking in this situation and easily cleaned.
- Remove water dish from the enclosure. Once the wound is healed the water dish can be returned. Keep your bearded dragon hydrated by misting or dropping water on its snout and mouth. (more on ways to get your bearded dragon to drink here.)
How much does it Cost to Spay or Neuter Bearded Dragons?
At a guesstimate (so many variables involved) the cost for spaying your bearded dragon may be in the vicinity of $1000 US.
Costs would include initial examination (often free if surgery is elected), surgery, hospitalisation, x-rays, ultrasound, blood works and post-surgery medications. Speak to your vet for an accurate cost assessment.
Neutering Bearded Dragons Conclusion
In conclusion, neutering male bearded dragons or spaying females is invasive and major surgery.
Spaying female bearded dragons is often done due to a reproductive disorder but may also be performed as a prevention.
Neutering male dragons is possible but due to the great anesthetic risk, castration of bearded dragons is not recommended except where there are underlying medical conditions it is expected to alleviate.
Where male bearded dragons are desexed, the behavioural changes will not be significant enough to allow them to live together. Desexing is not expected to reduce aggression in a bearded dragon or decrease territorial behaviour.
Can you spay or neuter a bearded dragon?
Both male and female bearded dragons can be neutered. Neutering bearded dragons is invasive surgery with higher risk than cats and dogs.
Dr Mandi Maimone (Animal Medical Center in Illinois) shares her experience with a 2 year bearded dragon who was presented with heavy breathing as the egg mass grew large filling her little body. (Link goes to Dr Tonys website).
- Alworth, L. C., Hernandez, S. M., and Divers, S. J. (2011)Laboratory Reptile Surgery: Principles and Techniques. Journal of the American Association for Laboratory Animal Science : JAALAS, 50(1): 11–26.
- Christiansen, E. F., Stoskopf, M. K., and Harms, C. A. Pre- and Post-Surgical Evaluation of Bearded Dragons Undergoing Sterilization. Journal of Herpetological Medicine and Surgery 23(3), 83-90, (1 September 2013).
- De la Navarre, B. (2011) Behavior and morphological adaptations of reptiles (Proceedings)
- DVM360 (Nov, 2008) Clinical Exposures: Preovulatory stasis and dystocia in oviparous lizards.
- Jekl, V. (2017) Reproductive Medicine, An Issue of Veterinary Clinics of North America: Exotic Animal Practice E-Book. Elsevier Health Sciences.
- Kaplan, M. (2014) Neutering Green Iguanas. Herp Care Collection
- Knotek, Z., Cermakova, E., and Oliveri, M. (2017) Reproductive Medicine in Lizards. Veterinary Clinics of North America: Exotic Animal Practice, Vol 20(2): 411-438.
- Moore, M. C. (1987) Castration affects territorial and sexual behaviour of free-living male lizards, Sceloporus jarrovi. Animal Behaviour, Vol 35(4): 1193-1199.
- PetMD (n.d.) Egg Binding in Reptiles. Reptile and Amphibian Center.
- Rowland, M. (2011) Use of a deslorelin implant to control aggression in a male bearded dragon (Pogona vitticeps). Veterinary Record 169:127.
- Wissman, M. A. (n.d.) Neutering An Aggressive Iguana Lizard. Reptiles Magazine.
- Yarmouth Veterinary Center. Bearded Dragon Spay. Maine, US.