Boa Care Sheet

Maria Zayas, DVM
By Maria Zayas, DVM on Aug. 18, 2023
Boa face close-up

In This Article

Species Overview

Boa Species Overview

The term “boa constrictor” is used to describe members of the Boidae family of snakes, which consists of over 40 species of nonvenomous constrictors. Boas can be found in South America, Central America, and the Caribbean. Boas that are native to Costa Rica, Belize, Panama, and Nicaragua tend to be smaller than species found in other areas.  

As their name suggests, boas constrict and suffocate their prey before eating them. Boas are usually calm, solitary snakes but will hiss loudly if they feel threatened. To detect prey, boas have heat-sensing pits on the sides of their heads and small, hook shaped teeth that help them hang on to prey while they constrict around them.

Male boas are smaller, averaging 4 feet in length, than the females which grow to an average of 5 feet long. They have thick bodies with arrow shaped heads that have distinct stripes running from their snouts to the back of the head. These snakes also have cream- to gray-colored bodies with markings including ovals, circles or diamonds which are red, green, or yellow with a black outline. These patterns serve as camouflage in the wild. 

When a boa sheds, their eyes turn a milky bluish gray over a few days and the skin over their bodies looks dull-colored and eventually develops a white sheen. Do not handle your boa while they are shedding as they become irritable and may bite. Boas are nocturnal (active at night) and must have consistent interaction with their pet parent to remain tame. 

Boa Characteristics 

Difficulty of Care 


Average Lifespan 

Up to 30 years with proper care 

Average Adult Size 

Up to 6 feet long, depending on species 



Minimum Habitat Size 

20+ gallons for juveniles; 75+ gallons for adults, depending on the length of the snake’s body 

Boa Supply Checklist

To keep a boa happy and healthy, pet parents should have these basic supplies on hand: 

  • Appropriately-sized habitat (20+ gallons for juveniles; 75+ gallons for adults, depending on the length of the snake’s body) 

  • Substrate 

  • Sphagnum moss 

  • Water dish 

  • Hideaway place 

  • Climbing décor 

  • Plants 

  • Heat light/emitter 

  • Heat fixture 

  • Under-tank heater 

  • Thermometers 

  • Humidity gauge 

  • Low-level UV bulb 

  • UV bulb fixture 

  • Separate feeding tank 

Boa Habitat

Boas need a well-ventilated habitat that's secured with a screened lid to prevent escapes. An appropriately-sized habitat will be large enough for a boa to stretch out fully and exercise comfortably. At a minimum, juvenile boas can comfortably live in a 20-gallon long enclosure (30” L x 12” W x 12” H). As the snake enters adulthood, the size of the habitat must be increased to accommodate its growth.  

A boa will reach its adult side within 3–5 years with proper care. Boas can reach lengths of up to 6 feet long in adulthood, and pet parents must be prepared to maintain an enclosure that’s at least the same length as the snake’s body. This means that a 6-foot-long snake needs an enclosure with 6 feet of horizontal floor space or more. Always provide the largest habitat possible. 

Recommended Products:  

  • Tanks for Juvenile Boas (20+ gallons) 

  • Tanks for Adult Boas (75+ gallons, depending on species) 

Setting Up Your Habitat 

Boas are solitary animals that should be housed alone. Keeping more than one boa in the same habitat can encourage stress, aggression, and competition. Pet parents should never keep different species of animals in the same habitat. 


Boas need a thermal gradient in their enclosure so they can warm up and cool down as needed. The recommended temperature for the warm end of a boa’s habitat is 90­–95 F, while the cooler/nighttime end should be kept around 75–80 F. Tank temperatures should not fall below 80 F at night. 

Pet parents must check the temperatures of their boa’s habitat daily. At least two thermometers—one in the warm area and one in the cool area—should be placed in the enclosure so that both zones can be checked at once. A digital point-and-shoot thermometer can also be used to read habitat temperatures instantly. 

Recommended Products: 

Light & Heat Sources 

Pet parents should install an over-the-tank basking lamp with a heat bulb to supply radiant heat in their snake’s habitat. The wattage needed for the bulb depends on the size of the enclosure, the distance of the bulb from the snake, and the ambient temperature of the room iwhere the enclosure is kept. Adjust the wattage of the bulb to maintain the recommended temperature gradient within the tank.

Note: Some light bulbs provide not only light to the tank but also heat and/or ultraviolet (UV) light.

When adding heat support to their boa’s tank, pet parents should keep a few things in mind: 

  • Heat sources should be attached to a thermostat to keep temperatures within a safe and comfortable range.  

  • In some climates, under-tank heating pads can be used with over-tank heating bulbs to maintain appropriate tank temperatures. Under-tank heat mats must always be attached to a thermostat to help ensure that pets sitting on them do not get burned. 

  • Never use hot rocks as a heat source, as they can burn reptiles. 

  • Lightbulbs should never be placed inside a snake’s habitat and should instead be suspended above the enclosure with a light fixture. Otherwise, the snake may try to curl itself around the bulb, causing severe burns.

Recommended Products: 

  • Light Fixtures & Hoods 

  • Heat Support 

  • Thermostats 

Although boas are nocturnal animals, studies show that daily exposure to UVA/UVB light can improve immune system function and promote normal behavior in all reptiles. As a rule of thumb, pet parents should provide their boas 10–12 hours of UV light daily to imitate natural sunlight. 

UV lights should be placed about 12–18" from where the reptile sits. Replace lights every six months as their potency wanes over time. 

Recommended Products: 

  • UV Light Emitters 

White lights should not be left on continuously, as it will disrupt the snake’s natural sleep cycle and negatively affect its overall health. At night, turn off lights inside the snake’s enclosure, or switch to a nocturnal or infrared light to ensure the snake can rest. 

Recommended Products: 


Boas need humidity in their environment to stay hydrated, support their respiratory systems, and encourage healthy shed cycles. The ideal humidity range for a boa’s habitat is 40% to 60%. During shedding cycles, pet parents should increase the enclosure’s humidity to around 70%. Use a hygrometer (humidity gauge) to measure the enclosure’s humidity every day. 

During shedding, pet parents should add a humid hide packed with moistened sphagnum moss to their boa’s habitat to boost humidity levels in the enclosure. Be sure to change the moss frequently to prevent mold growth. 

Recommended Products: 


Ideally, there should be enough substrate at the bottom of a boa’s enclosure to allow for digging, burrowing, and hiding. Paper-based bedding, cypress mulch, coconut husk, and Aspen wood shavings are all suitable choices for substrate. Pine and cedar chips should not be used, as they have oils that can irritate a snake’s skin and cause respiratory illness. Reptile carpet should also be avoided, as it is too abrasive and will prevent the snake from digging and burying. 

If aspen is used as a substrate, it must be replaced weekly to prevent the bedding from getting excessively wet or soiled.  

If wood shavings, mulch, or coconut husk bedding of any kind is used, the snake should be fed in a separate enclosure without any substrate. Otherwise, the snake may accidentally consume bedding particles that are indigestible and can cause gastrointestinal obstruction. 

Recommended Products: 

Décor & Accessories 

Hiding area: Pet parents should provide their boas with at least two hiding areas—one kept on the warmer side of the enclosure and one on the cooler side. Aside from offering the snake some privacy, hideouts can help boas regulate their body temperature, as they give the snake a space away from their enclosure’s direct basking area. 

Monitor your snake's behavior to be sure they are not hiding constantly, as they won’t have a chance to benefit from UV exposure. 

Synthetic or natural wood hiding logs are recommended. Hiding logs should always be large enough for the snake to fit inside comfortably. Pet parents need to increase the size of their hideout boxes as their boa grows. 

Recommended Products: 

Climbing branches and/or shelves: Some boa species are “semi-arboreal,” meaning that they enjoy climbing trees in their natural habitats. Climbing branches and shelves can be installed in their habitat to enrich the snake’s environment and encourage exercise. 

Ensure that any branches installed in a boa’s habitat are sturdy and strong enough to support the snake’s body weight. Otherwise, the branch could topple over and potentially cause injury. 

For larger/heavier snakes, shelves can be a safer and sturdier option than branches. 

Recommended Products: 

Moss: Add moistened sphagnum moss to the inside of a hideout box kept on the warm side of a boa’s enclosure to create a humid hide. Moss holds moisture well and can aid in healthy shedding. Moss should be replaced often to prevent mold from forming. 

Recommended Products:  

Plants and terrarium background: Adding plants and a terrarium background to a snake’s enclosure can enrich the snake’s environment and add some aesthetic flair. Make sure that any live plants added to the enclosure are non-toxic.

Recommended Products: 

Cleaning & Maintenance for Boas

A boa’s habitat needs to be cleaned and disinfected at least once a week with either a habitat cleaner or a 3% bleach solution. Pet parents should always wash their hands before and after handling their snake or its habitat’s contents, as all reptiles are potential carriers of infectious diseases. 

Recommended Products: 

To clean a boa’s habitat, take these steps: 

  1. Move the snake to a secure environment. Remove any old substrate, décor, and accessories from the habitat. 

  1. Scrub the empty tank and any furnishings with a reptile habitat cleaner or 3% bleach solution. The bleach solution should stay on the habitat for at least 10 minutes to ensure that the surfaces are disinfected properly. If using a commercial habitat cleaner, follow the manufacturer's instructions. 

  1. Rinse the habitat and accessories thoroughly with water, making sure to remove any trace amounts or residual smells left by the cleaning agent or bleach solution.  

  1. Allow the habitat and its contents to dry completely before placing new substrate and clean accessories into the habitat. 

  1. Return the snake to the clean habitat. 

Boa Diet & Nutrition

Boas feed on whole, thawed frozen rodents, such as mice and rats. Boas should always have access to fresh, clean water. Because boas are nocturnal feeders, pet parents should offer food at night and use feeding tongs rather than fingers. 

A nutritious and well-balanced boa diet consists of: 

  • Appropriately sized frozen rodents. A boa’s ideal feeding schedule will depend on its age, size, and activity level. Juvenile boas should be fed once a week, while adults only need to be fed every one to two weeks. Baby snakes can be fed every other day. 

  • Pet parents should begin baby snakes on a diet of “pinkies,” or young and nearly hairless mice. Juveniles can be fed “hoppers,” which are about half the size of adult mice. As the boa grows into adulthood, they can be transitioned to a diet of larger mice and rats. 

  • Prey should be around the same size as the snake’s width at mid-body. For example, if the snake’s midsection is 1 ½” in diameter, its prey should also be no wider than 1 ½”. 

Recommended Products: 

Fresh, clean water; water should always be available and replaced daily.  

Since reptiles absorb water through their skin to stay hydrated, especially during shedding periods, their water dishes should be large and shallow enough to allow them to soak.

Recommended Products: 

Boa Feeding Guidelines 

Live prey should not be fed. While still alive, rodents can become aggressive and deal severe wounds that lead to life-threatening infections. If the pet parent chooses to feed live rodents, they must supervise the snake closely and not leave them unattended. 

Ideally, feeding sessions should take place in a separate enclosure. That way, the snake will not learn to associate its pet parent’s hand or the opening of its usual habitat with feeding. Instead of their fingers, pet parents should use long feeding tongs to offer food to their snake. 

Recommended Products: 

How to Thaw Frozen Prey 

To thaw frozen prey, take these steps: 

  1. Remove the needed number of food items from the bag. 

  1. Put the frozen food in a sealed plastic bag and place it in a thawing container filled with cold water. The thawing container should only be used for preparing your reptile’s frozen meals. 

  1. Keep the food in the water until it thaws. Discard the cold water. 

  1. Refill the thawing container with warm water. 

  1. Place the thawed prey, still in the sealed plastic bag, in the warm water. Allow it to soak for 10-15 minutes before discarding the water. 

  1. Just before feeding, run nearly hot water over the thawed food to warm it above room temperature. 

  1. Remove the thawed food from the container and plastic bag.  

  1. Using feeding tongs, offer the food to the pet right away. 

Remember: Pet parents should never use a microwave to thaw or warm frozen rodents, and never offer food that's still frozen to a pet. Frozen food that is not consumed should never be re-frozen for future use, as this encourages bacteria to form in the food.  

Avoid preparing frozen rodents in the same area that used to prepare food for personal consumption. If this is unavoidable, be sure to disinfect the area thoroughly after use. 

Boa Grooming & Care

Shedding: Boas shed their skin regularly. Healthy snakes should shed their skin in one complete piece. 

During shedding periods, pet parents should keep their boa’s tank at a suitable humidity level (70%) to encourage a proper shed. 

A snake’s eye caps, also called its spectacles, should come off with the rest of its shed skin. If the eye caps do not fall off, pet parents should not try to remove them and instead consult a veterinarian. 

Boas may become irritable and lose interest in eating while shedding. They should not be handled during shedding. Boas can soak themselves in a shallow, open water dish to help them shed. Damp paper towels and moistened sphagnum moss should be placed in the snake’s enclosure to encourage healthy shedding. If they aren’t soaking on their own, pet parents should soak their snake for 10–15 minutes, 2–3 times a week. Pet parents should mist their boa daily to support proper hydration. 

All reptiles are potential carriers of infectious diseases, so pet parents should always wash their hands before and after handling their snake or its habitat’s contents.

Boa Veterinary Care

Annual Care

Boas should be seen by a veterinarian once annually. They can be transported using a ventilated plastic lidded bin, with or without a snake bag. These can be purchased or designed from materials in your home. It is recommended to take pictures of their enclosure, diet, heaters, and lights so your veterinarian can evaluate their husbandry as part of the exam.

Signs of a Healthy Boa

  • Clean, clear, bright eyes

  • Intact skin

  • No swellings, lumps, or bumps

  • Regular flicking of the tongue

  • Relaxed demeanor

  • Good muscle mass throughout body

  • Ability to hold weight by wrapping around appropriate items

  • Clean vent

When to Call a Vet

  • Eyes that are cloudy, dull, swollen, sunken, have discharge, or have stuck shed

  • Pink blisters, ulcerations, or other lesions on the skin

  • Stuck shed

  • Lumps, bumps, or swellings

  • Lethargy

  • Decreased appetite or anorexia

  • Paralysis of any portion of the body

  • Muscle atrophy

  • Discharge, staining, or protrusions at the vent

Common Illnesses in Boas

  • Stomatitis (mouth rot) or other oral infections

  • Burns

  • Inclusion Body Disease

  • Skin infections

  • Internal and external parasites

  • Respiratory infections

  • Dystocia (stuck eggs)

  • Trauma

  • Dysecdysis (stuck shed)

  • Bite wounds from prey

  • GI obstruction

  • Constipation

  • GI infection

Boa FAQs

Are boa constrictors easy to care for?

Boas can be tricky to care for because they grow so large and live for so long. It takes a large commitment to keep these animals, though their daily upkeep is simple if it’s within your skillset.

How do you take care of a boa?

Boas need special care taken to maintain the temperature and humidity levels of their enclosure, proper diet, and design of the enclosure. Their space needs to be secure, give them room to move, climb, and settle, in addition to having several hiding areas.

What do boas need in their tank?

Boas need a heavy water bowl large enough to soak in but not tip over, maintained humidity and temperature levels using sensors, substrate, hide boxes, objects to climb, and heat bulbs to create a temperature gradient for basking.

What temperature should a boa be kept at?

A boa enclosure needs to be about 80–85 F with a basking area of about 90–95 F.

Do boa constrictors like to be held?

Most boas do like to be handled, especially with practice.

How often should I handle my boa?

Boas can be handled once daily, but nervous or new boas would prefer should be left alone initially, with handling practice only a couple times a week.

Featured Image: clemares expósito

Maria Zayas, DVM


Maria Zayas, DVM


Dr. Zayas has practiced small animal and exotic medicine all over the United States and currently lives in Colorado with her 3 dogs, 1 cat,...

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