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General Care of Boa Constrictors
By Robert Nathan DVM
Pictures by Susan Horton, DVM
4873 Richland Ave.
USA Provided by ARAV.org
Boas should be housed individually, except during breeding
for juvenile boas should be at least 61 cm (24 in) long and 38 to
61 cm (15 to 24 in) high.Adult
boas should be housed in enclosures at least 1.8 m (6 ft) long, 61
cm (24 in) wide, and at least 61 cm (24 in) high.Larger cages provide better opportunities for establishing
a proper thermal gradient.
Newspaper or butcher paper is the preferred substrate since
it is inexpensive and easy to change when it becomes soiled.Each also has the added benefit of allowing direct
visualization of the feces and urates.Artificial turf, mulches, and various wood shavings may
also be used, but lack some of the beneficial qualities of
wood shavings may inadvertently be ingested while feeding.
Dilute bleach water (
)is a useful
disinfectant for cages and artificial turfs.All organic matter needs to be washed away prior to using
the dilute bleach.The
bleach solution should be left on for ten minutes before washing
Providing the proper thermal gradient is critical to the
well being of the snake.The
preferred optimal temperature zone during the day is between 27-29
C (80-85F), with a basking spot up to 35C (95F).Night time lows can be between 21-27C (70-80F).Thermostatically controlled fiberglass heat mats are an
excellent way to provide the proper thermal environment.The mats are mounted ventrally and should be no largerthan 25 to 30% of the surface area of the cage.Flexwatt and plumbing heat tape may also be used, however
both require some wiring and should be assembled with a rheostat
Humidity is also important to enable normal ecdysis
(shedding) and respiratory function.Relative humidity should be at least 50 to 70%.Hide boxes that contain moistened sphagnum moss are an
excellent way to provide an area of locally increased humidity.
Pictured above is a Brazilian Rainbow boa having difficulty
Generally, boas should be fed prey items no larger than
their girth at mid-body.Juvenile
boas should be fed the appropriate sized rodent (s) weekly.As boas reach adulthood, it is acceptable to decrease the
feeding interval to every ten to fourteen days.Adult boas can be maintained on either adult rats or
appropriately sized rabbits.Either
frozen and thawed (warmed to body temperature) of freshly killed
prey is recommended.The
prey should be humanely euthanized using acceptable methods.Frozen prey should be used within six months of freezing.
Dumeril's Boa pictured below.
Sexing boas can easily be accomplished by probing.Juvenile boas may be sexed also by manual eversion
“popping” of the hemipenis.Either technique should be performed by an experienced
person or reptile veterinarian, since poor technique may result in
females probe a distance of two to four sub caudal scales and male
boas probe eight or more.Male
boids have larger cloacal spurs and thicker tails than females.Sexual maturity occurs between three and five years of age,
if appropriately fed and maintained. Pictured below is an
adult female Columbian red tailed boa
Boa breeders begin cycling in either November of December.Boas are not fed for two weeks prior to cooling.The temperature is gradually decreased to 21- 24C (70-75F).Some breeders keep the snakes at their preferred daytime
high temperature, but drop the nighttime low to 21-24C (70-75F).It is possible to utilize a combination of these two
the snakes carefully for any evidence of respiratory disease.Respiratory infection is most likely if the snakes are not
provided a basking spot in their preferred temperature range for
at least part of the day and, because of this, the first technique
is not recommended.Depending
on the breeder, males are introduced to females either at the
beginning of, during, or after cycling.Active courtship preceded copulation.Gravid females require access to adequate basking
temperatures for proper fetal development.Litter sizes range from 6 to 64, with 25 being typical.
Pictured below is a hatchling Brazilian rainbow boa.
Good husbandry is the best way to prevent many problems.Boas should be quarantined for at least three to six months
before being added to an established collection.
Respiratory tract disease is very common in captive boas.Difficulty breathing, discharges from the mouth, and
wheezing are common signs associated with respiratory tract
Vomiting/regurgitating is a common sign of many problems.Inadequate temperature, excessive feeding, and handling
after feeding are common causes.There are many medical causes for vomiting/regurgitating
and an able reptile veterinarian should be sought.
Snake mites are very common external parasites.The mites may cause significant disease and distress to the
infested snake. They also spread diseases such as IBD.
Inclusion body disease (IBD) is one of the most significant
diseases affecting boas today.It is thought to be caused by a retrovirus.Snakes affected by IBD may have neurologic signs,
regurgitation, pneumonia, various cancers, and other disorders.Currently no therapy is available for affected snakes and
euthanasia is recommended to prevent transmission to other snakes.
Other common signs of problems include loss of appetite,
loose stools, difficulty shedding, and lumps/bumps. Pictured
above is a very complex eye problem involving fluid accumulation
under the eye scale.A
competent reptile veterinarian should be sought out to diagnose
and treat any of the disorders that may affect your boa.
Speak with your reptile veterinarian about Salmonella and
what measures are recommended to limit the risk of transmission to
Feel free to contact us with any questions
847-329-8709. Thank you!!