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Can You Spay or Neuter A Tortoise?

Last Updated on October 7, 2023 by Samantha Harris

Spaying or neutering a pet prevents unwanted breeding, reduces the likelihood of certain cancers, and limits more aggressive behaviors.

However, tortoises vastly differ from the average cat or dog, leaving their owners wondering if they should get a tortoise fixed.

Tortoises can be neutered or spayed. For males, this entails a phallectomy, which removes the penis. For females, an ovariohysterectomy removes the ovaries and any eggs they contain.

This ensures that the female can’t produce eggs, preventing egg-binding.

Because spaying is more invasive than neutering, it’s also riskier. Males and females usually fully recover from these procedures, but infections and complications sometimes arise.

Difference Between Spaying and Neutering

Both spaying and neutering are surgical procedures performed on animals to limit sexual activity and prevent unwanted pregnancies. The difference between them is based on gender.

Spaying (ovariohysterectomy) involves removing the female’s reproductive organs (ovaries). Neutering is conducted on male tortoises to remove their testicles, thus rendering them impotent.

Each of these procedures results in the sterilization of the tortoise. However, spaying is usually more complex and carries more inherent risks.

If you opt to have your tortoise fixed, a reptile vet will conduct a physical examination to determine the health status of your tortoise and the best procedure for it.

Once the operation is completed, your vet will discharge the tortoise and provide information on looking after it while healing and recovering.

Should Tortoises Be Spayed Or Neutered?

There are benefits to spaying or neutering tortoises. Not only does this prevent two pet tortoises from multiplying, but it provides direct health benefits.

Spaying reduces the risk of ovarian cancer in females and prevents heat cycles. Females become aggressive, territorial, and stressed during the egg-laying season.

Even docile ones may fight with other tank mates or bite their owners. If your tortoise doesn’t want to nest due to spaying, its behaviors will be more consistent.

Similarly, neutering male tortoises reduces their chances of getting prostate cancer as they age.

According to the Lee Moffitt Cancer Center and Research Institute, turtles and tortoises are as likely as rabbits and birds to develop prostate cancer. While the odds are lower than in humans, a contributing factor is high testosterone.

Males who are neutered experience less aggression toward others. According to the Giant Tortoise Restoration Initiative, phallectomy (a neutering procedure) reduces traumatic mating behaviors in tortoises, which minimizes the risk of injuries, such as phallic prolapse in males.

can you spay a tortoise?

Can Tortoises be Neutered?

Male tortoises can be neutered to prevent them from fertilizing eggs from female torts during mating.

Neutering is essential if a male tortoise is dominant and lives alongside other females since the mating frequency is likely high.

Male tortoises in captivity tend to be particularly aggressive toward other males during the mating season. The high aggression males exhibit leads them to inflict injuries on other animals.

Even while breeding with females, who are less dominant throughout this period, their aggression may lead to injuries that can lead to health complications. This is one of the main reasons why neutering is recommended for owners with several tortoises.

Aside from injuries, impregnation is likely to occur if you have male and female tortoises living together. Perhaps you have no desire to care for their eggs and the hatchlings. If so, neutering might be the right option for you to keep fertilization from happening in the first place.

How Are Tortoises Neutered?

The process of neutering a tortoise involves the surgical removal of the phallus (penis). In tortoises, neutering requires cutting the shell to access the reproductive organs.

This has a certain level of risk since infections may occur, and the recovery process is lengthy. This is why neutering is less commonly performed on tortoises than other domesticated pets.

Reptile vets that perform neutering procedures use the least invasive method. The most common neutering procedure is a phallectomy, in which the tortoise’s penis is removed without cutting the shell.

Although this procedure is not pain-free, it’s less risky than other procedures that involve cutting into the shell. Also, this routine has a shorter recovery period.

The only downside to a phallectomy is that it doesn’t reduce the tortoise’s instinctual need to mate. So, the male tortoise might still mount females after the procedure.

Can You Spay a Tortoise?

Spaying is a sterilization procedure performed on female tortoises.

However, it’s a more complex procedure than neutering in males. Spaying in female tortoises controls reproduction and prevents eggs from becoming impacted inside the ovaries.

Egg binding (dystocia) happens when a female cannot lay eggs correctly or on time, so the eggs remain inside her. This can cause injury to the internal organs or even death if the issue is not resolved in time.

Spaying is performed to remove the ovaries and undeveloped eggs. Once removed, the female can’t grow and lay eggs, whether fertilized or not.  

How Are Tortoises Spayed?

Spaying is more complex than neutering because it involves making an incision on the tortoise’s shell to access the reproductive organs, increasing the likelihood of infection. However, new procedures have been developed that allow the removal of ovaries through incisions on the legs.

Nevertheless, this ovariohysterectomy procedure may not be possible for smaller tortoises because their organs are far tinier and more fragile.

Regardless of the procedure involved, sedation is required to keep the tortoise drowsy and numb any pain during the operation. This also involves significant risk, so tortoises that are young or in poor health aren’t recommended for this procedure. Sedation could be damaging or even fatal in these cases.

The spaying of female tortoises should be timed to coincide with egg production, as this ensures any impaction of eggs is identified and corrected promptly.

Furthermore, the procedure should be scheduled so there’s time for the tortoise to heal before brumation, as the tortoise’s metabolism will slow during this period.

If it hasn’t fully healed, the chances of infection or complications with the wound are higher.

Alternatives to Spaying and Neutering

Although beneficial, spaying or neutering a tortoise carries risks.

Infections may occur during or after the procedure, and certain tortoises may have deadly complications while they heal. The more invasive the process, the more likely this becomes.

Spaying or neutering is usually the last resort for owners, chosen only when other alternatives are not tenable. Neutering in males should be done only if the tortoise is particularly dominant and routinely mounts females, assuming the females are regularly producing eggs.

In females, spaying will be reserved for those who experience regular egg-binding or are at high risk of this condition. Although the dangers of spaying are considerable, dystocia can be more dangerous.

If all you want to do is limit breeding, there are alternatives to explore, including:

Keeping Different Sexes Separate

When males and females are kept together, the chances of mating and producing fertilized eggs is high. The easiest way to prevent unwanted hatchlings is to keep males and females in different enclosures.

This is important around mating season, but keeping the two separated at all times is recommended for safety reasons.

how much does it cost to neuter a tortoise?

Getting Rid of Eggs

You can intervene when the eggs arrive if you want male and female tortoises to share an enclosure. Once you find a nest of eggs, fertilized or not, you can remove or break the eggs.

This will prevent them from incubating, developing into baby tortoises, and hatching. Although this may seem unkind, allowing eggs to hatch when you can’t care for the hatchlings is worse.

Getting rid of the eggs before they hatch is the best way of handling the problem.

Rehome Excess Hatchlings

Of course, you can find a new home for hatchlings you can’t accommodate. This is a great way to keep your tortoise population low if you don’t want to spay or neuter them.

However, rehoming isn’t always easy unless you’re a licensed breeder. Even then, you might find it harder to rehome excess hatchlings.

How Much Does it Cost to Spay or Neuter a Tortoise?

The cost of neutering or spaying a tortoise varies, depending on the following:

  • Type of procedure
  • Size of the tortoise
  • Availability of an experienced vet

Spaying is more costly than neutering because the procedure is more complicated and carries a greater risk of injury and infection.

Likewise, sterilizing smaller tortoises is more expensive than larger ones. Their bodies are more delicate to operate on, leaving them more susceptible to injury.

Neutering or spaying tortoises is relatively uncommon. Because of the high risks of operating on tortoises, you may have difficulty finding a vet, and the cost may be higher.

Using alternatives to spaying or neutering is often preferred. Although you can get a tortoise fixed, it’s cheaper and safer than other ways to prevent unwanted breeding and reproduction.