Before getting involved with a Boa Constrictor, you should really be certain that you are prepared to deal with a pet that will grow to be 10 feet long, weigh over 50 pounds, urinate and defecate like a St. Bernard, will live more than 30 years and for whom you will have to kill mice, rats and, eventually, rabbits and chickens to feed. Boas require a very large commitment on your part and you should consider this before taking one on as a pet.
Select an enclosure especially designed for housing snakes, such as the Critter Cottages with the combination fixed screen/hinged glass top. All snakes are escape artists; Boas are especially powerful and can easily break out of a tank sealed with a board and a couple of bricks. A good starter tank for a hatchling is a 20 gallon tank. After the first couple of years, you will have to build your own enclosure out of wood and glass or plexiglass or purchase a tank made by producers of large reptile enclosures. Be prepared – big snakes need lots of room, not the least of which is room enough for you to get in and clean their enclosure out!
Use paper towels or newspapers at first. These are easily and quickly removed and replaced when soiled and, with an import, will allow you to better monitor for the presence of mites and the condition of the feces. Once the animal is established, you can use more decorative ground cover such as commercially prepared shredded cypress or fir bark. Pine, cedar and aspen shavings should not be used as they can become lodged in the mouth while eating, causing respiratory and other problems. The shavings must be monitored closely and all soiled and wet shavings pulled out immediately to prevent bacteria and fungus growths. The utilitarian approach is to use inexpensive Astroturf and, later, linoleum. Extra pieces of Astroturf can be kept in reserve and used when the soiled piece is removed for cleaning and drying (soak in one part bleach to 30 parts water; rinse thoroughly, and dry completely before reuse). Remember: the easier it is to clean, the faster you’ll do it!
A hiding place can be provided for smaller Boas. A half-log (available at pet stores), an empty cardboard box or upside-down opaque plastic container, both with an access doorway cut into one end, can also be used. The plastic is easily cleaned when necessary; the box can be tossed out when soiled and replaced with a new one. Many Boas enjoy hanging out on branches; provide clean branches big enough to support the Boa’s weight. If you use a found branch, soak first in bleach-water, then clean water to thoroughly rinse; place in cage only when completely dry.
Proper temperature range is essential to keeping your snake healthy
The ambient daytime air temperature throughout the enclosure must be maintained between 82-90° F, with a basking area kept at 88-95° F. At night, the ambient air temperature may be allowed to drop down no lower than 82-85° F. Special reptile heating pads that are manufactured to maintain a temperature about 20o higher than the air temperature may be used inside the enclosure. There are adhesive pads that can be stuck to the underside of a glass enclosure. Heating pads made for people, available at all drug stores, are also available; these have built-in high-medium-low switches and can be used under a glass enclosure. You can also use incandescent light bulbs in porcelain and metal reflector hoods to provide the additional heat required for the basking area. All lights must be screened off to prevent the snake from burning itself. All snakes are susceptible to thermal burns. For this same reason do not use a hot rock. Buy at least two thermometers – one to use in the overall area 1″ above the enclosure floor, and the other 1″ above the floor in the basking area. Don’t try to guess the temperature – you will end up with a snake that will be too cold to eat and digest its food. Once your snake is bigger, invest in a pig blanket, a large rigid pad for which you can buy a thermostat to better control the temperature.
No special lighting is needed. You may use a full-spectrum light or low wattage incandescent bulb in the enclosure during the day. Make sure the snake cannot get into direct contact with the light bulbs. Snakes are prone to getting serious thermal burns.
Allow your snake to acclimate for a couple of weeks to its new home. Start your hatchling off with a single pre-killed 7 to 10-day old “fuzzy” rat. A smaller sized hatchling may require a small mouse. Larger Boas may be fed larger pre-killed rats. The rule of thumb is that you can feed prey items that are no wider than the widest part of the snake’s body. While Boas will often gladly eat prey that is actually too large for it, they will generally regurgitate the prey item one or more days later. Not a pretty sight. If you have not had any experience force feeding a snake, you may not want to try it yourself until you have seen someone do it. It is very easy to overfeed captive snakes as they do not get the exercise and calorie burn in captivity that they do in the wild. Be judicious – you will end up with a big snake soon enough. Just feed enough to keep it healthy, not obese.
Provide a bowl of fresh water at all times; your snake will both drink and soak, and may defecate, in it. Check it often and change it as needed.
Routine veterinary screening for newly acquired snakes is very important. Many of the parasites infesting Boas and other reptiles can be transmitted to humans and other reptiles. Left untreated, such infestations can ultimately kill your snake. When your snake first defecates, collect the feces in a clean plastic bag, seal it, label it with the date, your name and phone number and the snake’s name, and take it and your snake to a vet who is experienced with reptiles. There it will be tested and the proper medication given.
Handling your new snake
After giving your Boa a couple of days to settle in, begin picking it up and handling it gently. It may move from you, and may threaten you by doing tail lashings and hissing. Be gentle but persistent. Daily contact will begin to establish a level of trust and confidence between you and your snake. When it is comfortable with you, you can begin taking it around the house. Don’t get over-confident! Given a chance and close proximity to seat cushions, your Boa will make a run (well, a slither) for it, easing down between the cushions and from there, to points possibly unknown. Always be gentle, and try to avoid sudden movements. If the snake wraps around your arm or neck, you can unwind it by gently unwrapping it from around you starting from its tail end – not the head.
Some things you should have on hand for general maintenance and first aid include: Novalsan (Chlorhexidine diacetate) for cleaning enclosures and disinfecting food and water bowls, litter boxes, tubs and sinks etc. Betadine (provodine/iodine) for cleansing scratches and wounds. Set aside a food storage bowl, feeding and water bowls, soaking bowl or tub.