Resource Center Menu

Red-Tailed Boa Care Sheet

Developed with and approved by a qualified veterinarian.

 

Overview 

The name “red-tailed boa” refers to a group of species—rather than a specific species—of snakes with red tails who originated in Central and South America. These snakes get very large (typically 8 to 10 feet long), so they require a large area for housing and need consistent interaction with humans to become and remain tame. 

Typical red-tailed boa appearance & behavior

  • This nonvenomous snake comes in shades of gray, brown and cream. The darker brown/red markings on their tail give them their name
  • When socialized properly with daily handling, red-tailed boas can become quite docile, and many seem to enjoy being held. When held, they typically move around initially and then settle down on their caretaker’s body to absorb heat
  • As a snake gets ready to shed, their eyes will turn a milky blue/gray over the course of a few days, and their body color will start to dull and develop a whitish sheen. As shedding occurs, some snakes become irritable and should not be handled. Snakes should shed skin all in one piece; if skin is shed in bits and pieces it indicates that their habitat humidity is likely too low
  • Appetite may vary depending on temperature and time of shedding. They often don’t eat while shedding

Characteristics

Care Difficulty Intermediate
Average Life Span Up to 20+ years with proper care
Average Adult Size Up to 10 feet long
Diet Carnivore
Minimum Habitat Size 20-gallon long tank for a juvenile

Habitat

Habitat size

These snakes get very large (up to 10 feet long and 50 pounds) and may grow 3 to 4 feet in their first year, reaching adult size in 3 to 5 years. A larger habitat must be provided as the snake grows. The habitat should be at least the length of the snake (or longer) to allow them to fully stretch out. Since these snakes are semiarboreal (like to climb trees sometimes), their habitats need some height for vertical climbing. Their tank should have a well-fitting screened top to allow adequate ventilation but prevent escape.

Building your habitat

Substrate

  • Paper-based bedding, reptile carpet, Aspen shavings or cypress mulch can be used as substrate. Aspen shavings and cypress mulch must be changed frequently, as these can hold water and tend to get moldy. Cedar shavings should never be used, as they contain oils that can irritate snakes’ skin

Décor

  • Provide hiding areas large enough for your snake to fit inside to help reduce their stress level and allow them to thermoregulate 
  • Ideally there should be one hide box on the cool side of the habitat and one on the hot side 
  • As these snakes like to climb (especially when they are younger), they should be provided with commercially available branches and/or shelves (safer for heavier snakes) to climb on 
  • Snakes should also have a rock or log resin décor with a rough surface on which they can rub to aid in shedding skin
  • Plants and a background can be added to complement the aesthetics of your habitat

Lighting

  •  While red-tailed boas do not require ultraviolet (UV) B light to survive, some studies suggest that UVB light may increase snakes’ activity levels and aid in their overall health. Providing snakes with a low-level UVB light helps provide the clear day/night cycle (with 10 to 12 hours of daylight) that boas need to perform their normal daily activities. UV bulbs should be replaced every six months, as their potency wanes
  • These snakes tend to be more active at dawn and dusk (crepuscular). At night, lights should be turned off, or a nocturnal or infrared light can be used 

Temperature

  • Boas are ectothermic reptiles, which means they rely on their environmental temperature to control their body temperature. To help them regulate their body temperatures, their habitat should have a temperature gradient (90 to 95°F at the warm end and 75 to 80°F at the cool end/nighttime)
  • Heat may be provided by a heat bulb, ceramic heat bulb or an under-tank heating pad 
  • Heat sources should be attached to thermostats to regulate temperatures
  • Thermostats are especially important with heating pads, which can get hot and cause burns through the tank floor if not regulated properly 
  • Hot rocks should not be used as a heat source, as they can burn reptiles
  • Temperature should be monitored with at least two thermometers (one in the hot zone and the other in the cool zone) 
  • Reptiles not kept at the appropriate temperature ranges are more likely to become immunosuppressed and get sick

Humidity

  • The habitat should contain a water dish large enough for the snake to soak in to help sustain humidity levels, maintain their hydration and aid in shedding 
  • Humidity may also be increased with damp sphagnum moss, which must be changed frequently to prevent mold growth 
  • Humidity levels should be monitored with a humidity gauge and should be maintained at 60 to 70%  
  • Snakes typically require higher humidity during shedding and will often soak before a shed cycle 

Cleaning your habitat

Spot-clean the habitat daily to remove droppings and discarded food. Thoroughly clean and disinfect the habitat at least once per week:

  • Place snake in a secure habitat
  • Remove all substrate and habitat décor
  • Scrub the tank and furnishings with a reptile habitat cleaner or 3% bleach solution
  • Rinse tank and furnishings thoroughly with water, removing all traces of habitat cleaner or bleach smell
  • Dry the tank and furnishings completely
  • Add clean substrate and put furnishings back into the tank
  • Put snake back into their clean, dry habitat

Feeding 

What to feed 

A well-balanced red-tailed boa diet consists of:

  • Appropriately sized frozen rodents, thawed or warmed to above room temperature
  • Small mice may be fed to juveniles; rats are typically fed to adults
  • Live rodents should not be fed, as live rodents will bite snakes who are not hungry and can cause life-threatening injuries. If, under any circumstances, you must offer live rodents to a snake, never leave them unattended in the tank with the snake because of the potential risk for injury to the snake

Things to remember when feeding your red-tailed boa:

  • Do not use a microwave to defrost frozen rodents, as microwaved rodents can have hot spots that can burn snakes’ mouths when they eat them 
  • Do not prepare frozen rodents for feeding in the same area that you prepare human food. If it is unavoidable, be sure to thoroughly disinfect the area. See the Feeding Frozen/Thawed Foods Care Sheet for more information
  • Feed juveniles once a week, adults every one to two weeks
  • Feed in an empty tank, separate from the habitat, so that the snake doesn’t associate your hand or the habitat lid opening with feeding and doesn’t accidentally ingest bedding off the habitat floor when eating
  • Fresh, clean water should be available at all times in a bowl large enough for the snake to soak in

Care

  • Snakes will regularly shed their skin and the covering over their eyes (called the “eye cap” or spectacle); ensure humidity of habitat is at appropriate level to allow snake to shed properly. Skin should be shed in a single long piece
  • Never try to remove retained eye caps by yourself, as you can easily cause damage. Seek veterinary care if eye caps are retained

Where to buy

Red-tailed boas are available for purchase at your local Petco location. Please call ahead to check availability.

Red-Tailed Boa Supplies

Tank mates 

In general, red-tailed boas are solitary animals who prefer being housed alone unless they are being bred.

Health 

Signs of a healthy snake

  • Active and alert
  • Clear eyes (except when shedding)
  • No discharge or bubbles from eyes, nose or mouth
  • Eats and passes stool regularly
  • Supple skin without lesions, swellings, scabs, parasites (mites, ticks) or discoloration
  • Regularly sheds skin in one complete piece
  • Moves by slithering on their abdomen with their head held slightly off the ground

Red flags (If you notice any of these signs, contact your veterinarian.)

  • Unusually frequent or infrequent shedding
  • Vomiting
  • Lethargy or reluctance to eat
  • Abnormal feces or lack of feces
  • Lesions, swellings, scabs, discoloration or parasites (mites, ticks) on skin
  • Labored breathing/breathing with open mouth
  • Difficulty shedding/shedding in numerous pieces/retained skin after shed
  • White, cheesy discharge or redness or scabs in mouth
  • Laying on back, unable to turn right-side-up, or prolonged staring (“star-gazing”)

 

Common red-tailed boa health issues

Health Issue Symptoms or Causes Suggested Action
Health Issue Dermatitis Symptoms or Causes Blisters, red skin, scabs or rapid shedding caused by skin infections from bacteria, viruses, fungus or parasites or an unclean habitat or one that has inappropriate temperature or humidity. Suggested ActionConsult your veterinarian, clean the habitat, and ensure proper temperature and humidity.
Health Issue Respiratory disease Symptoms or CausesLabored breathing/open-mouth breathing, stretching neck out, mucus or bubbles in mouth, eyes or nostrils. Can be caused by infections with bacteria, viruses, fungus, parasites or a habitat that has inappropriate temperature or humidity. Suggested Action Consult your veterinarian and ensure proper temperature and humidity.
Health Issue Stomatitis Symptoms or Causes Red, swollen or scabbed gums and/or white, cheesy discharge in the mouth, loss of teeth, decreased appetite, weight loss. Can be caused by bacterial, viral or fungal infections or inappropriate temperature or humidity. If untreated, can be fatal. Suggested ActionImmediately consult your veterinarian and ensure proper temperature and humidity.
Health IssueTicks and mites Symptoms or CausesParasites on skin causing itchiness, red skin and hyperactivity; can transmit disease. Suggested ActionConsult your veterinarian. Empty habitat and thoroughly disinfect it.

FAQs

  • Is a boa constrictor a python? Boas and pythons are all snakes but are two different families of snake that originated in different locations. Boas are mainly from North, Central and South America, while pythons are from Africa, Australia and Asia. 
  • Is a boa constrictor a reptile? Yes. They are snakes, and snakes are reptiles.
  • How long do red-tailed boa constrictors live? Red-tailed boas can live up to 20+ years with proper care. 
  • Where do red-tailed boa constrictors live? Red-tailed boas are native to Central and South America.
  • How big do red-tailed boas get? Red-tailed boas can grow up to 8 to 10 feet long.
  • How fast do red-tailed boas grow? They may grow 3 to 4 feet in their first year, but their growth rate is dependent on how often and what they are being fed.
  • How often do red-tailed boas shed? Typically, once a month; more frequently when they are growing.

Additional care sheets

Notes & sources 

Ask a Pet Care Center employee about Petco's selection of products available for the care and happiness of your new pet. All products carry a 100% money-back guarantee.

Because all reptiles are potential carriers of infectious diseases such as salmonella, always wash your hands before and after handling your reptile or habitat contents to help prevent the potential spread of disease. Pregnant women, children under the age of 5, senior citizens and people with weakened immune systems should contact their physicians before purchasing or caring for reptiles and should consider having a pet other than a reptile.

Go to the Centers for Disease Control at cdc.gov/healthypets for more information about reptiles and disease.

 

The information on this Care Sheet is not a substitute for veterinary care. If you need additional information, please contact your veterinarian as appropriate.