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Pender Veterinary Centre

Caring For Your Pet Boa or Python

Snake sitting on a branch inside a room

Basic Husbandry

General Information

Vital Statistics

  • Body Length

    • Boas: 8 to 12 feet

    • Pythons: 17 to 18 feet

  • Life Span: 20-30s

  • Reproductive

    • Females weigh more than males

    • Males have longer anal spurs and a smaller head

Behavior and Handling

  • These species have been known to cause harm to people due to ignorance and improper handling.

  • Daily contact will help to establish a level of trust and confidence between you and your snake.

  • Begin by allowing your snake to explore and discover your scent, making sure to avoid sudden movements.

  • When the snake is comfortable with you, it will spend some time wrapped around your hand or arm, actively interested in its surroundings as evidenced by tongue flicking and alertness to movement.

    • Be sure to keep these sessions relatively short (10-20 minutes) as the snake cannot maintain its body temperature outside of its enclosure and may be stressed by handling.

  • These snakes, like all constrictors, should not be handled around your neck.

  • Never handle your snake without washing your hands after handling their prey, the scent can confuse them and lead to accidental injury.

  • Boas and pythons are primarily nocturnal or crepuscular (active at dawn and dusk).


  • Snakes are amazing escape artists and suitable housing capable of containing them must be provided.

    • Make sure the top of the terrarium fits tightly, and is secure.

    • Both boas and pythons can push quite hard with their heads and lift most tops (even those held down with bricks or weights) up enough to slip through.

  • Select a habitat especially designed for housing snakes, such as glass tanks with a combination fixed screen/hinged glass top. Larger species will require custom designed snake enclosures which you can build yourself or purchase through a specialty store.

  • Tanks made of glass, plastic, wood, and plexiglass have all been used successfully.

    • Avoid untreated wood or other porous materials as they are difficult to clean.

    • Wire cages do not maintain temperature control and predispose to injury and escape.

    • Size varies greatly depending on the species of snake you plan to house.

      • A 30-gallon aquarium can be sufficient for a ball python, while a Burmese python will require something more in the neighborhood of six to eight feet in length by two to four feet in width by three to four feet in height.

      • In general larger is better, especially as you want room to provide hiding areas and landscaping.

  • Semi-arboreal species such as some of the carpet pythons will require a more vertical type enclosure with multiple branches for climbing and elevated hide boxes.

  • Make sure to provide a hiding place for your snake to retreat to.

    • A plastic container or cardboard box turned upside down with a cutout for access works well, as long as you make sure there are no sharp edges on which your snake can injure itself.

    • For smaller snakes a hollowed out half log can be used.

  • Climbing structures incorporating branches, rocks, and various platform levels can be constructed as enrichment for your snake.

  • Make sure they are capable of supporting your snake’s weight and affixed firmly in place.

  • Boas and pythons are very strong, and can easily topple flimsy structures when moving about, leading to injuries.


  • Preferred substrates include newspaper, butcher block paper, paper towels, and Astroturf like reptile carpeting.

    • The papers are cheap, readily available, and easily changeable substrate sources, while the Astroturf is more attractive although must be kept dry.

  • Decorative ground cover such as commercially prepared shredded cypress or fir bark can also be used.

  • Pine, cedar and aspen shavings should not be used as they can become lodged in the mouth while eating, as well as cause respiratory and skin problems.

  • Avoid corn cobs, moss, and alfalfa pellets as these are prone to hold moisture and promote bacterial growth, and are non-digestible.

Lighting and Heating

  • Appropriate heat is essential for the survival of your snake.

  • Warm and cool areas in the enclosure is important because it allows for the proper regulation of body temperature.

  • Under tank heaters are a good way to heat your snake’s enclosure. Heat only one side of the enclosure to allow for variation in temperature.

  • Heat rocks tend to become too hot for snakes and should be avoided due to the risk of burns.

  • A blue, red, or ceramic heat bulb can also be used in combination with the under tank heating

    • This is important for larger cages where achieving and maintaining an ideal temperature can be difficult.

  • The following POTZ (Preferred Optimum Temperature Zone)is very important for snakes.

    • Hot side: 82-88 F

    • Cold Side: 76-83 F

    • Humid Hide/Basking Area: 90-95

    • Ambient air temperature of the room should be above 88F

  • An infrared thermometer with a laser pointer is a great tool to assess the temperature gradient of different areas of the enclosure.

  • Snakes have evolved to live underground and have no outright requirement for full spectrum/UV lighting

    • A full spectrum light or low wattage incandescent bulb may be used during the day but should be turned off at night

    • Make sure the snake cannot get into direct contact with the light bulbs

  • Boas require a 12 hours on, 12 hours off photoperiod


  • Regular cleaning is very important.

  • Uneaten food should be removed daily.

  • The cage and all items in the cage should be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected every few days to weekly

    • A mild soap solution can be used as well as disinfection with 1 capful of Clorox bleach to 1 gallon of water.

    • Cage cleaning solutions may also be available at the local pet store (Betadine and Nolvasan are also acceptable)

    • Make sure to rinse the habitat well and dry it thoroughly before returning the snake


  • Feed prey items that are no wider than the widest part of the snake's body.

    • Smaller pythons (such as the carpet and ball) can be fed adult mice and smaller rats every 10-14 days.

    • Larger snakes (such as the boa and burmese python) can be offered larger rats and small rabbits.

    • Full-grown adult burmese pythons will require large rabbits.

  • Hatchlings and juvenile snakes should be fed more frequently, about every 4-5 days.

    • Start off feeding pinky or hopper mice (hatchling burmese pythons can eat a small adult mouse as their first meal.)

    • Adult mice and pinky rats can be offered as they continue to grow.

  • Previously killed frozen prey is recommended to eliminate the risk of injury to the snake as well as to help eliminate parasites that the prey item may be carrying.

  • Always thaw the prey before feeding.Wild prey is not recommended as they can have toxins, diseases, and parasites to which your snake has no immunity.

  • Fresh water should be provided at all times.

Dietary Supplements

  • Calcium must be regularly supplemented 2-3 times weekly for your boa/python’s health.

    • If you are using a UVB source, this calcium should NOT contain Vitamin D3 as this will mess with the calcium and phosphorus balance.

  • Multivitamins also should be supplemented weekly. Many commercial products are available.

  • Dusting the prey items is a good way to deliver these supplements.


  • A shallow water dish with fresh water must be available at all times.

  • This should be stable so it cannot be spilled.

    • The cage substrate should be kept dry, so be careful about spillage.

  • Vitamin drops SHOULD NOT be added to the water.

Common Medical Conditions

Conditions Requiring Veterinary Attention

Anorexia (not eating for a prolonged period of time)

  • Anorexia is NOT specific to any one disease process and it is a symptom of many snake diseases.

  • Some common diseases that may cause anorexia in pythons/boas include intestinal parasites, substrate impactions, reproductive development/disease, and inadequate setup/husbandry among others.

Dysecdysis (Retained Shed)

  • This is commonly observed in animals with inappropriate humidity.

  • Retained shed in the eyes can cause infection and inability to hunt.

  • If left unattended, this may cause tissue damage under the retained shed which may make them vulnerable to bacterial/fungal infections.

Bacterial Infections (“scale/skin rot”, “mouth rot”, “tail rot”)

  • If the temperature is not appropriate, reptile metabolic processes are interrupted. This means they have a delayed or impaired response to infection.

  • Please notify your veterinarian if you notice any discolored spots, swelling, bleeding, or discharge.

  • If untreated, these infections can become systemic and life threatening.


  • Trauma, including bite wounds from dogs and cats, or getting stuck/scratched on sharp areas in the enclosure, are common and potentially fatal injuries.

  • Boas/pythons can also be injured through handling, falling from heights, or being stepped on.

Reproductive Disease

  • Females

    • Egg binding/dystocia - the egg is too large or misshapen and is unable to be delivered appropriately

    • Coelomitis - a ruptured egg releases yolk into the body cavity resulting in a severe bacterial infection

  • Males

    • Hemipene plugs - dehydrated, waxy material around the hemipenes becomes impacted around the hemipenes causing swelling, tissue damage, and infection


  • This is the everting of the cloacal, GI, or reproductive structures through the cloacal opening.

  • Some of the many causes of prolapse include GI parasites, reproductive disease, and tumors.

  • If noticed, we recommend applying a dilute sugar solution to help reduce swelling, and contacting your veterinarian right away.

  • If untreated, this can cause damage to the exposed tissue where surgical intervention or quality of life may need to be assessed.


  • Obesity is common in many captive boas/pythons fed a diet too high in fat or those not provided sufficient space for exercise.

  • Obesity can lead to diseases of the heart, liver and joints.

  • Treatment consists of increasing exercise and change in diet.

Emergency / Critical Care

  • There are few true emergencies in reptiles, however reptiles often hide illness until it may be too late.

  • All emergencies require veterinary assistance. If you are unsure whether this may be an emergency, we recommend contacting your veterinarian to get the best recommendations on when to have your pet examined.

Health Recommendations

Annual Physical

  • Always have an initial physical exam performed on any newly acquired snake. During the exam, the doctor will check, eyes, ears, heart, lungs, and body cavity (coelom). The doctor will also check the skin for shedding problems or evidence of infection.

  • You should have your pet’s fecal sample checked for internal parasites.

  • Your snake should have an annual physical done by a veterinarian every year.

Over-the-Counter Medication

  • Over-the-counter topical triple antibiotic ointments or any other types of over-the-counter medications are not recommended without first consulting your veterinarian.

  • Productions such as triple antibiotic ointment (for the use of minor skin injuries) can cause digestive problems if ingested and can cause digestive problems if ingested and can potentially become toxic over time.