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Red Tail Boa Care

Instant Solutions for Common Problems
BOA CONSTRICTOR IMPERATOR

The following boa care information is intended to be a general, down to earth approach to the things we need to know to properly maintain our boa constrictors. These are Instant solutions to common problems that we face day to day in the husbandry of our boas.

I would like to take this opportunity, up front, to challenge you to find a qualified exotics veterinarian before your boa purchase is made. If you already have your pet boa, then I challenge you to locate one NOW. It is so important that you know of a qualified exotics vet BEFORE you need one. This should go without saying, but care guides are good information, but there is NO substitute for a quality veterinarian. Please do not overlook this basic requirement.


Shedding Problems
My boa attempting to shed its skin, but it is only coming off in pieces. What can I do to help finish the Shed and what should I do to prevent it from happening again?

Instant Solution

Your boa should shed in 1 continuous piece of skin! However, if it doesn't it is a problem that results from the lack of HUMIDITY in the enclosure. Humidity should be 50 to 60 % at all times. To avoid this problem in the future, you need to mist the snakes with a handheld spray bottle. Fill the spray bottle with HOT water, and by the time you spray the mist will only be lukewarm to the snake. Try this on your hand first. I mist any boas in the pre-shed cycle every day. Spray them down good, and they will generally shed perfectly, every time.

Environmental conditions greatly affect the level of humidity, and glass type aquarium enclosures are extremely hard to control the humidity, especially with a screen top. One way of helping to control the humidity is to keep the heat IN. Try cutting a piece of box cardboard, poke a few holes in it, and cover at least half of the top area. By keeping more ambient heat in place, you will help raise the humidity inside. If the heat is escaping out the top then so is the humidity.

Also try placing one of the water dishes closer to the basking area heat source. This will also help raise the humidity inside.

Now for the snake that has remaining skin after a shed. The quickest thing to do is to soak the boa in a tub of lukewarm water for about an hour. This will generally loosen any remaining skin, which you should be able to gently rub off. There are also products available, like Shed-Aide or Shed-Ease that can be purchased at your local pet store, and you just add this to the water to help with problem shedding.

It is also very important that you make sure the eyecaps are included in the shed skin. Eyecaps are the clear scales that cover the eyes. These eyecaps should come off with the shed skin every time the snake sheds. It is important to check every shed skin, even if you have to "unroll" it to visually check the eyecaps. Failure to shed the eyecaps can cause infections around the eyes. You can use a piece of masking/scotch tape and turn it inside-out, and gently roll it across the eye area. Most of the time this will safely "lift" the retained eyecap off.

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Regurgitated! Regurgitation Syndrome

My boa has regurgitated the mouse/rat that I fed him. What should I do to prevent it from happening again?

Instant Solution

The first thing you should do is NOT feed you boa again for 2 weeks (12 to 15 full days) after the regurgitation. This is a critical recovery time for the boa to "rebuild" the fluids in his stomach. Wait 2 two weeks. If you feed sooner you are asking for another regurgitation. This can lead to regurgitation syndrome in small boas.

Since regurgitations can be caused by several things you need to verify the proper environmental conditions are met. Make sure your temperatures are good and that they are in the proper gradient. Make sure the snake has clean fresh water everyday and that he's properly hydrated.

Some medical problems can cause regurgitation as well, and they include fungal or protozoal overgrowth. Fungal/Bacterial overgrowth can be treated by your Vet.

After the 2 weeks is over be sure to offer a SMALLER food item. You should keep the food items smaller for several feedings to completely avoid the recurring problem.

It may also be necessary to CHANGE the source of your rodents. Your current supplier may have rodents that are fed differently or that are not extremely healthy. After the regurgitation, if you check and verify all temperatures and other environmental conditions, it makes good sense to try a different source for the next food item.

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Sick / Lethargic / Not Eating

My boa appears to be Sick. What should I do?

Instant Solution

Raise the ambient temperature inside the enclosure to 86-88 degrees!

Probably the most important health requirement of your boa is the enclosures temperature. These are tropical animals and should be maintained at tropical temperatures of 82 - 92F. My enclosures are maintained at an ambient temperature of 82 ° F. This is the temperature reading on the side of the enclosure AWAY from the heat source. The basking area, side of the enclosure with the heat source, will be 90° to 92°. This allows our boas to thermoregulate. Unless you are breeding your boas, This temperature range should be maintained YEAR ROUND! Your boa should NOT feel cold when you take it out of its enclosure. MOST health problems associated with boas are temperature related.

Raising the ambient temperature to 88 degrees will help sick boas recover more rapidly.

Also the humidity level should remain between 50 and 60 % at all times. The difference between 50 and 60 % is actually geographical. Areas like Texas should be around 60%. California should be around 50%. This humidity level is extremely important to the health of our boas. It insures proper shedding and health.

Remember there is no substitution for a visit to your vet. Sometimes only a visit to the vet and the proper medication will allow your boa to fully recover.

Here is a quick link to learn more about at home treatments.
http://www.redtailboas.com/at_home/at_home.html

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Burns

My boa has been burned. What do I do?
Instant Solution

You should treat the burn area immediately with Polysporin, even before the skin comes off.

Burns can be the result of coming into contact with a "high-heat" device such as any light bulb, CHE, or spot light. The first sign of a burn is that the skin looks hard and stiff in the area of the burn. The skin will remain this way for several days. Then the skin will completely come off the burnt area, either with a shed or by movement of the boa. This will leave a RAW exposed area that often will bleed.

You should continue to treat the burn area by cleaning it with a 50/50 hydrogen peroxide/water solution. Use a swab to clean the area. Then apply Polysporin or Neosporin to the affected area twice a day.

Consult your veterinarian as soon as possible.

Examples of a burn to a boa constrictor.

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Bites and Cuts

My boa has been cut or bitten by the mouse/rat. What should I do?

Instant Solution

Clean cuts and gashes with a 50/50 hydrogen peroxide/water solution. Use a swab to clean the area.

Apply Polysporin or Neosporin to the affected area twice a day.

Consult your veterinarian as soon as possible.

Bites by rats can be severe, and sometimes fatal. Here are examples of severe rat bites.

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Mouthrot / Swollen Mouth / Sores/ Nose Rubs

My boa has a swollen mouth or has sores on its mouth. What should I do?

Instant Solution

Immediately raise the ambient temperature of the enclosure to 88 to 90 degrees

Clean mouth area with a 50/50 hydrogen peroxide/water solution or a diluted Betadine Solution.

Repeat this process twice a day. You may also treat the external mouth area with Polysporin or Neosporin to the affected area twice a day.

Consult your veterinarian as soon as possible.

Mouth Rot (Infectious Ulcerative Stomatitis) is a bacterial infection that invades the mouth area. It can prevent the mouth from closing properly and cause difficulty in breathing. Signs of mouth rot include salivation and bleeding, pus pockets, and distortion of the mouth. The oral lining becomes inflamed and pus can appear in the mouth. Bad cases left untreated can rot the gums, teeth, and jawbone, and eventually cause death.

Dirty enclosures, screen tops, rough substrate and other objects act as irritants to the mouth rot and should be removed in order to aide in the recovery time.

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Feeding Frozen/Thawed Problems???

My boa will not eat frozen/thawed mice/rats. What should I do to help the boa eat frozen/thawed prey?

Instant Solution

The first thing you should do is remember the two P's, Patience and Persistence. The hardest part is convincing yourself. The boa WILL come along. If not immediately, it will very soon. Here are some ways to convert your boa.

Remember these following suggestions to aide in converting to a frozen/thawed feeding boa.

If your boa is in good health, you should offer only frozen/thawed rodents for several weeks, at different times of the day/night. Remember it is important to realize that it will not hurt a boa to miss a meal every once in a while.

Try rodents of different sizes/colors etc. Make sure the rodent is warm. This is the biggest mistake that I find. Soak the rodent in very warm water just prior to feeding. Generally this strong smell developed by "heating" the rodent is all they need to eat.

Using long tongs or hemostats and shake the warm, thawed rodent in front of the boa, this is often all that is needed to help "jump-start" the boa to feed.

Use the hide box method. Let your boa get inside some hideaway and remain there for a while. Then using the tongs, wiggle the warm, thawed rodent in the entrance to the hideaway. Sometimes this is just too tempting to the boa, and they will often eat this way.

Leave the thawed rodent in overnight. A picky eater may wait a long time to eat even though it is "aware" of the rodent. Leaving this at night, with lights out, is often the time boas are active and this may be the time the boa will eat.

One of the last methods to try is to feed a small live prey item and follow it immediately with a warm, thawed item. This has been know to work for many people. BUT, next time start over with warm, thawed rodent only.

Hopefully these are some tricks that will help your boa get started. Once started the boas become easily conditioned to taking only frozen/thawed rodents.

Also want to mention here that we do not want to endanger or weaken your boa just to get it eating frozen/thawed rodents. If several attempts at feeding f/t rodents fails, then you should offer a live, hopefully stunned, rodent to get the boa eating again. Then return to the f/t rodent for the next feeding attempt.

I have a dedicated care guide just for this occasion. Please read http://www.redtailboas.com/frozen_thawed/frozen_thawed.html

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Belly Rot/Scale Rot

My boa has sores on its belly or it has raw places on its scales or belly . What should I do?

Instant Solution
Clean the entire affected area by swabbing with a 50/50 hydrogen peroxide/water solution.

Must be thorough to treat the entire area because the damaged tissue could be in multiple places.

Apply Polysporin or Neosporin to the affected areas twice a day and work it in and under the scales.

Immediately clean the enclosure thoroughly. Raise ambient temperature to 88-90 degrees.

Consult your veterinarian as soon as possible, antibiotic injections may be required.

Scale Rot (Neocrotic Dermatitis) appears as enlarged, discolored (rust or reddish-brown), fluid filled scales.

Possible ulceration and breakdown of the skin and underlying tissue. Generally appears on the ventral scales (belly), and can be in one long continuous area or in separate spots. This is a bacterial infection that can be caused by damp substrate, inadequate temperatures, and dirty enclosures. Bad cases will also have blisters, and will require draining by your vet. Serious cases are life-threatening.

You must keep your boa warm and dry during the recovery process. If your boa tends to soak in the water bowl, it may be necessary to remove the larger bowl and replace it with a very small dish that would not allow soaking but still provide drinking water.

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Respiratory Problems - Wheezing/Whistling/Popping Sounds

My boa makes whistling/wheezing/popping sounds when it breathes. What should I do?

Instant Solution

Immediately raise the ambient temperature of the enclosure to 88 to 90 degrees. Lowering the humidity will also aid in possible Respiratory Infection (RI) recovery. Consult your veterinarian as soon as possible. Antibiotic medication may be needed to combat bad cases. Tylan has proven to be the "miracle" drug in treating RI in boids.

Respiratory Infections (RI) are caused by a bacterial infection in the lungs. The general causes of RI are due to inadequate and improper environmental conditions. Stress, low temperatures, dirty enclosures, mistreatment, lack of food and water can all cause RI. These conditions will surely prolong any RI condition.

Symptoms include breathing problems including wheezing, whistling, clicking sounds, gaping open mouth, even an audible noise during exhalations. You will notice bubbles and mucous around the mouth and nostrils. The position of the head may be held in a raised position to make breathing easier. Overall lethargy, possible weight loss, and even a swollen or bloated body can be noticed.

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Handling

How soon can I handle my boa after feeding? I have heard 24 hours, 48 hours and it just does not matter?
Instant Solution

This is a common question that is asked very often. The two situations we face are those in which;
(1) people feed in the enclosure that the boa lives in (Not Recommended), and
(2) people remove the boa from their permanent enclosure and place them in a temporary enclosure or container just for feeding. (Recommended method)

First of all, Why do we even recommend waiting to handle our boas after they have eaten? This is strictly based on adequate time for the boa to properly "settle" the food item into it's stomach. This waiting time will help in the prevention of regurgitation, especially in baby and young boas.

If you are feeding in the same enclosure then just leave the boa alone for 48 hours before you get the boa out for regular handling.

If you are following the recommended method of feeding outside the permanent enclosure, just follow these steps.

1) Remove the boa and place in the temporary feeding container/enclosure.
2) Feed the boa an appropriately sized food item.
3) Wait one complete hour after the boa has swallowed the food item.
4) Simply pick up the boa and place back in the permanent enclosure.
5) Now wait 48 hours before regular handling.


Do not mistake or confuse the word HANDLING with the word TOUCHING. There is nothing wrong with temporarily touching the boa in order to pick it up and place it back in the permanent enclosure. I define handling as getting the boa out for exercise and allowing it to be held with both hands and allowing it to crawl around you and on you.

I wanted to mention here that some people may feed and immediately handle their boas after the feeding. Some people may have never had a problem with this. However there are an equal or greater number of people that have had problems, and this is where the recommendations come from. I think a simple 48 hour waiting period is just like insurance.... It just makes sense.

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Defecation/Urination.

How often should my boa defecate/urinate?

Instant Solution

Completely irregular best describes how often a boa will defecate/urinate.

While babies may poop after every couple of meals. Adult boas may average once a month or longer. Do not expect boa constrictors to eat and poop, eat and poop like we are used to with pets like with a dog or cat.

Boas are masters at maximizing and utilizing all the nutrients in their food items and they get everything they can out of it. This is why they poop infrequently. Boas may eat several meals before they defecate once.

If your boa has gone a long time without defecating, you can try to soak the boa in some lukewarm bath water. This will tend to cause the boa to defecate.

I wanted to mention here that boas can defecate and pass urates at the same time or more commonly at completely different times. Defecation is the brown/black stools that we are used to seeing. Urates (Snake pee) are the white chalky substance/ with water that you find in the enclosures.

An interesting note is that boa constrictors love to defecate and pass urates in their water dishes. This is why it is extremely important to check their water supply daily.

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This concludes the Boa Constrictor Care Guide. I would appreciate any comments, suggestions, corrections, etc etc.

Please let me know how I can make this care guide STAY the ULTIMATE Instant Solution Guide..

Copyright 1998-2007 - Clay English - www.redtailboas.com - cenglish@redtailboas.com

Other Resources

I also recommend the following books for extended reading.                  

The Boa Constrictor Manual Philippe de Vosjoli / Jeff Ronne Herpetocultural library
Boas, A Complete Pet Owners Manual Doug Wagner Barron's
The Guide to Owning a Red-Tailed Boa Glen Drewnowski TFH Publications


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