To Spay or Not to Spay
©2000 Melissa Kaplan
Anytime you put an animal (including humans) under general anesthesia and cut them open, there are inherent risks. Reptiles, being "cold blooded" (ectothermic), are able to utilize the oxygen in their blood more efficiently than are humans, which is why gassing them to euthanize them doesn't work and why it takes so long to get them under and keep them under, meaning they take more anesthetic gas than a mammal and are under longer than a mammal. (Example: we needed to anesthetize one of my females to be able to work on some plaques in her mouth, including in her tongue. It took almost 40 min to get her under enough using a mask so that the vet could quickly get a tube down her to administer the anesthetic that way so that her mouth was free to be worked on.)
Couple that with the normal risks of going in with sharp instruments and rearranging internal organs to get where you need to go, and you increase the risk of something happening you didn't want to happen.
Finally, there are post surgical complications. In the short term, there is keeping the incision clean, watching for infection, keeping the iguana less active during the initial weeks of healing (not a lot of fun with out heavy sedation yours or theirs!), follow-up visits back to the vet to check on her progress, get the stitches out, etc.
In the long term, there are other post-surgical complications:
Since the hormones related to reproduction are produced elsewhere in the body, many spayed females still go into a form of season at the same time they used to every year. Properly spayed females (all ovarian tissue removed) may exhibit the same or similar color changes and behaviors she did prior to the spay, including restlessness, digging behavior, drop or increase in appetite, etc. If you are in part doing the spay to avoid her (or you) from having to go through these behaviors every year, be advised that removing the ovaries and ducts is no guarantee that the behaviors won't still occur.
You can't even be assured that no eggs will develop after a spay: If even a tiny bit of ovarian tissue is left behind during the spay, the ova can develop. Since the oviduct were removed during the spay, there is no place for these eggs to go, and they either rupture through to the abdominal cavity, or rupture themselves, or start to rot. Whichever happens, it can cause severe pain and fatal egg peritonitis (rapid onset of infection that can lead to death if not caught and treated appropriately within 24 hours or so of onset). So, spayed females have to be watched closely and checked by a vet during their season.
Finally, we are only just beginning to scratch the surface of what happens hormonally, and what affects the altered hormone state has, in human females, both those who are spayed (have partial or complete hysterectomies, or salping-oophorectomies/ovariectomy). We do know that hormones, including those associated with sexual behaviors and reproduction, play other important roles throughout the body. Post-menopausal women, for example, are at higher risk for heart disease, bone density loss, and other changes. No such research as been done on female iguanas, so we have no idea what kinds of long-term health problems may arise from spays.
In general, some unmated iguanas never develop eggs. Others may do so once or twice. If their owners are well prepared in advance and make sure their iguanas are in good physical and nutritional shape, their iguanas can breeze through the gestation and laying (not counting driving you crazy with their incessant nest searching and digging and the normal risks associated with gestation and laying). To spay an ig who has never developed eggs or who has never had a problem getting through gestation and laying is, for most iguana keepers, more of a risk then they want to take with a healthy iguana and something that needs to be carefully thought about, and the short- and long-term health risks discussed with a knowledgeable vet.
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