Feeding your boa may sound simple, but there's a lot to consider.
This page is broken up into several sections. You can click on any of the topics below to be transported immediately to that section.
It is NOT necessary to feed live prey to your snakes. Snakes eat dead animals in the wild all the time. Some snakes can be more difficult to transition to f/t than others, but it's an extremely rare snake that will only take live prey for its entire life.
The main reason not to feed live prey is the risk of injury to your snake. If you don't believe that the cute little feeder mouse can hurt your boa, look at this picture:
*Image used with permission*
This ball python obviously had to be euthanized. Based on what the owner of the snake said, he left the mouse in the cage with the snake overnight with no food for the mouse. This is obviously an extreme example of what can go wrong, but it illustrates the risk very well. Anything with a mouth can bite.
If you raise your own rodents and can offer fresh killed (f/k), I applaud your dedication to raising your animals and feeders! I believe f/k to be slightly superior to f/t.
I created a video to show how I thaw my rodents.
Wild boas eat an array of prey in the wild, but in captivity, we are somewhat limited in what we can feed. Most boas will live their entire lives eating nothing but mice and rats. Some larger boas may need rabbits. Some owners opt to feed birds such as chicks, chickens, and quail. One thing to keep in mind is that boas do not process fat well. For that reason, it is best to feed your boa the least fattening prey item available. Feel free to reference this chart as needed to answer your questions.
Feeding regimens will differ based on age, size, sex, and sub-species/locality.
The size of the prey item you feed to your boa should be no bigger around than the largest portion of your boa at mid-body on an empty stomach. THIS IS A MAXIMUM SIZE.
This can be short and to the point. It's NOT a good idea!
As much credit as we give our animals for being intelligent, the fact is, their brains are TINY! They operate mostly off of instinct. Sometimes when feeding your snake, their teeth can get caught on the paper towel, or the rodent can get wrapped up in it, and they can swallow the paper towel too. This ends in three ways:
- They pass the paper towel. I've heard of this happening before, but I've never seen proof that satisfied me.
- The snake regurgitates the paper towel and then either lives, or dies.
- The snake does not pass, nor regurgitate the paper towel and then dies.
Need proof? You know it's coming!
*Image used with permission*
This poor boa didn't make it. So, don't feed on paper towels! Check out this section of the site for alternative substrates with less risk than paper towels
A boas first meal in your care should take place no sooner than 7 days after arrival in your collection and should be noticeably smaller than normal. You should not observe a large lump in your boas stomach after eating their first meal in your care. The subsequent 2-3 meals should also be smaller than usual. Once your boa demonstrates good health, it's more than likely safe to begin a normal feeding schedule and prey size.
My general rule for feeding is every 7-10 days until 6 months old, then every 10-18 days until adulthood. As adults, I generally feed males smaller and less frequent meals than females. I usually wait until all signs of a meal have disappeared plus an additional 2-5 days to feed another meal, sometimes even longer for adults. BCC and island BCI are towards the conservative side of this feeding regimen and sometimes even less.
I had one proven adult male in my collection (since sold him) that eats about 10-15 small meals per year and is as healthy as can be. He'd eat more if I offered, but there would be no benefit to him. You should always be on the lookout for an overfed or underfed boa. Boas should be very muscular with little to no obvious fat on their bodies. Their tails generally store fat and should be full in shape, but not wrinkled with fat rings, or conversely, thin and emaciated.
Prey item choices are up to you, but this is my recommendation, based on the chart above. I recommend frozen thawed mice until one large mouse (25-30 grams) is no longer a suitable meal for your boa. At that time, switch your boa to frozen thawed weanling rats (approximately 35 grams). Boas do NOT do well with high fat content meals and baby rats are loaded with fat. Side effects as mild as runny stools or severe as regurgitation or very severe as death can occur from meals with a fat content too high. Mice have less fat than rats of similar size and also, mice wean at a comparatively earlier size than rats do and therefore don't have bellies full of moms high fat content milk. Mice have more hair than their comparatively sized rat counterparts and that hair acts as roughage for boas. Switch to weaned rabbits if desired, when appropriate. They have the best crude protein to fat ratio of any rodent commercially available. A half-pound, small rabbit approximately equals an extra large (225g) rat. Cost is generally higher for a rabbit.
I recommend The Mouse Factory for your frozen mouse and rat needs. Do not use Rodent Pro. Their animals are fed low quality food. Garbage in, garbage out. They also supplement their rodent supply with lab rodents and rodents from other suppliers so who knows what your snakes will eat. These feeders usually arrive at Rodent Pro frozen into a solid block and have to be unfrozen and separated, then refrozen and shipped to you. Boas will often refuse food from Rodent Pro as they smell horrible too. I found this information out first hand.
I do not recommend live prey for your boa, as it offers no advantages. The disadvantages are numerous but the main problem is that live prey can fight back and hurt your boa.
If you use frozen prey for your boa, thaw it (slowly) before feeding and get it to room temperature or slightly warmer. It will take several hours to do this. I do not recommend using hot water to warm the prey faster as it reduces the nutritional composition of the prey item by slightly cooking the rodent. This also reduces the elasticity of the skin causing some rodents to rip open. Just place the rodents on a paper towel and let them sit. Turn them occasionally if you'd like them to thaw a little faster.
Another method is to place your frozen rodents in a ziplock bag, press the air out and seal it up. Be careful of little frozen rodent claws puncturing the bag! Then submerge the bag in hot water. The plastic acts as an insulator and this method does not cook the rodents. This is the method I use (see the video above).
I highly recommend using small 10" hemostats to feed all but your largest boas. They, in my opinion, are another necessary husbandry item. Use longer hemostats for your larger boas as they have a much longer reach to accidentally strike you instead of the prey item!
Regurgitation can be caused by many factors. High fat content meals, feeding too much food at one time or feeding too often, handling too soon after a meal (I give 5 days minimum except when moving them quickly to clean their cage if necessary), parasites, stress, lack of heat or excessive heat, etc., can cause regurgitation in boas. If your captive born and bred (CBB) boa regurgitates its meal, check your husbandry practices first. Then take it to a qualified and knowledgeable reptile vet to check for obstructions, parasites, etc. Boa forums can also be of great help in situations like this, so use them! In the case of regurgitation, I always skip the next feeding as well as reduce the size of the prey item and I follow that method for at least the next few meals until the GI tract of the boa has repaired itself.