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Red Tail Boa - Eating Issues/General Health Concerns

Discussion in 'Common/Red Tail Boa' started by poolmanjim, Oct 30, 2010.

  1. poolmanjim

    poolmanjim Member


    I posted awhile back when I rescued a Red Tail Boa from outside my apartment complex. He has been doing rather well until last week. My intent has been to sell him once he is rehabilitated and I have the time to arrange the sell. I will be the first to admit his enclosure is not the best and I haven't been the best owner (for this I am not proud but please don't beat me up over it).

    His enclosure is a little small and needs to be cleaned something fierce (20 Gal take, old ash bedding - I have been meaning to clean it out just haven't been able to do it), he doesn't have adequate light or heat (heating rock I had laying around and a spare lamp with a fluorescent bulb, small water bin,). I have made a few changes in an attempt to make his enclosure better (larger water dish changed as often as I remember). Again I repeat I haven't been the best due to school and my wife is afraid of him because he bit her once so she won't even go near him. I need to change his water more often, clean his take, add better heat sources, etc. I know I need to do better.

    My concern is that last week (Friday) was his feeding day. I went to feed him and realized he was in a shedding cycle and was 1-2 days from shedding. I decided to change his water, clean some waste and let him be for a few days. Unfortunately I didn't get around to being able to sit down and feed him until today. Normally he eats very well both live and frozen mice. He won't even bite at the mice he literally draws back.

    I pulled him out to examine him and his skin is kind of pale and brittle feeling (when I run my hand along his back I can feel the scales catching on my skin, normally he is pretty smooth), his skin wrinkles when he turns and he seem lethargic and low on energy. Note it has been 2 weeks since he has eaten and I haven't seen him drink water in awhile.

    I'm very concerned as he has never been like this in the 3ish months I have had him. I have checked online and he doesn't have any symptoms that I can say are 100% a particular disorder. He has never vomited or anything, his bowel movements have been somewhat regular throughout me owning him and he is usually very full of energy.

    My thoughts:
    1) Weather change. It has started getting rather cold outside and subsequently in the house (my wife and I are trying to save some money so we haven't turned on the heat) and I know his tank is low on heating. Maybe he needs more heat?

    2) The last two batches of mice (frozen - same purchase) have both been awkward smelling (stronger smell than usual frozen mice) and they didn't look as good as usual. Could he be just rejecting them because they are nasty? I'm going to pick up a live mouse (I know they arn't recommended but I have had luck in the past and I keep my eyes open).

    Any help is appreciated. Please do not judge me for being a poor owner. I feel bad about it already. What should I do? I have some spending money that I can throw at him to make things a little better and if necessary I would be willing to find a vet to look at him.
  2. jtwilson3

    jtwilson3 Elite Member

    If you have money for a vet why don't you get stuff to make his cage better? Its fairly simple stuff that can be bought cheap at walmart...
  3. Dragoness

    Dragoness Elite Member

    Cheap fixes:

    depending on the size of your snake, he probably needs a bigger enclosure. Go to wal*mart, and get the largest plastic storage tub you can find (I think they make them up to 55 gallon size) they run about $20 for that size. Some have latching lids, and wheels, etc. They hold heat and humidity like a charm.

    Drill a few small holes in one end for ventilation. Cut out a small circle on the other end the same size as your light fixture, and attach wire mesh (Hardware cloth ~$6 at hardware stores) to it to hold up the light.

    You may want to buy some industrial velcro (~$6) to secure any sides that do not have latches. The stuff really works, and is also stocked at most wal*marts, but hardware stores will have it for sure.

    You could also take towels and blankets and wrap the tank in them, or go get a panel of foam insulation for ~$13 (about an inch thick) and cut to the size of the walls of your tank, and tape it up around the outside, and along the bottom to help insulate. If the tank has a screen lid, most of it will need to be covered.

    The substrate can be replaced with newspapers or paper towels.

    The heat rock HAS TO GO. those are a serious burn hazard, and have killed a lot of reptiles.

    Go to Hardware store and get an appropriate wattage bulb. You can get a 100watt bulb for a couple bucks, and a fixture for $6-$9. 100 watts is probably sufficient for you cause, but you'll have to do a little trial and error to see what you need since your house is cooler. I use the bulbs labeled as "full spectrum reveal" simply because I think they bring out the colors of my snakes nicely. Boas do not have any special lighting needs, so any bulb that produces heat (not a fluorescent) will do. They make red and purple bulbs specifically for heat, that give off less light. Those work fine too.

    If his temperature is too low, that might be why he is skipping meals. Temps too low means he cannot digest his food, and many snakes just won't eat if they can't digest it.

    Get yourself a thermometer with a hygrometer (Cheapest ones run about $5, but nice ones can be had for about $12-$15, which include a probe so you can watch the temps at multiple locations)

    If he is living in his own filth, he might be sick - snakes can get a whole host of different diseases from unclean cages - and they are expensive to treat. I'd recommend taking him out, and doing a thorough bleaching and scrubbing of his cage, then returning him with paper substrate.

    He may want or need places to hide. This can be accomplished easily with some appropriately sized cardboard boxes (he should fit snugly in them - not too big)

    This is our caresheet - take a look over it, and try to get your setup to provide what's listed here:

    Hope this helps.
  4. poolmanjim

    poolmanjim Member

    First, I didn't want to buy a lot for him since I was going to sell him soon. I didn't expect to have him this long to begin with.

    Second, I have the money for a vet because I have some emergency money lying around in case I need to see a Dr myself or something. If he needs to see a vet I can take him using that.

    As far as his enclosure goes - the 20 Gal is small but not super small. He is still a baby (1 year old maybe 1.5 years). He does have some hiding stuff (1 log and a half log cave thing). I decided to clean his tank last night when I read that paper towels can make decent bedding (again i don't want to buy a bunch of "snake only" stuff since I intend to be selling him). I cleaned the tank really well and rinsed off anything that was in there with him. I also gave him a bath in warm water which seemed to perk him up a lot. The lethargy died in a second. I also tested him for some known neuro issues (turned him upside down, checked his eyes, etc) and everything seemed normal.

    I was planning on picking up an under-the-tank heat source because of the temp outside and some live food to encourage him to eat some. I'm trying to revise his enclosure and rehabilitate him as well as I can.
  5. mld

    mld Subscribed User Premium Member

    If you are unable to give him the necessities of life, then I would suggest giving him to a retile rescue so they can get him back to health and re home him where he can have what he deserves. Selling may not be an option if he is unhealthy and not getting the proper care

    Kansas City Reptile Rescue in Merriam, Kansas (KS)
    Name: Kansas City Reptile Rescue
    Street: 6002 Mastin St
    Postal address: Merriam, KS
    Phone: (816) 868-4087
  6. jtwilson3

    jtwilson3 Elite Member

    Oh poolman I was not trying to be mean. I was just asking. Dragoness did what I was about to last night. They are just cheap fixes that are super good. I was just suggesting those. But ya don't try and make money. The ones that will buy the snake after improper care will more than likely not care for it properly. The ones that will want to nurse it back will take it for free because they will have to pay a lot to get it back to health. I would also suggest taking it to a reptile rescue.

    Again I am not trying to be mean. I just want to make sure the animal does not get malnutrition or stunted growth because of a small tank. If he does that, it will never go back to normal.
  7. Dragoness

    Dragoness Elite Member

    You really aren't going to get much for the snake - it isn't a particularly rare species. This is not a venture that is likely to return all of what you invested. I have been re-homing and rescuing and rehabbing reptiles since I was about 12. I have yet to make a single penny of profit from it. Rehabbing an animal isn't cheap, though if you invest in the necessities for the snake, they can be sold with him when he goes.

    As for Under Cage Heaters, go to CVS and get their brand of human heating pad (I think they run about $15 - it's usually the cheapest one they have) Make sure you get the kind without the 2 hour shutoff. Those are not only (usually) cheaper than the pet store pads, but much more stable with regards to temperature.

    Pet store heat mats are also known to cause severe burns, and sometimes fires. You pretty much have to use a thermostat with them (which will up the cost considerably.) Mats work well for heating substrate, but you'll still need to heat the entire cage in order to keep your boa from getting an RI. You'll need ambient heat, not just surface heat. You'll need a lamp, CHE, light bulb, or Heat projector of some type.

    If you can't provide for the basic needs of this snake, he will get sick. Fixing the problem is much more expensive than preventing it. All of the supplies I listed can be obtained for under $100. I guarantee you won't get out of a vet's office for that same amount if your snake gets a respiratory infection (which is very common if they are not kept warm enough.)
  8. poolmanjim

    poolmanjim Member

    Until after my next pay check I tapped out on what I can do for him right now beyond more food. He still hasn't eaten for me but I'm still working on the heating thing. I picked up a 10-20 Gal heat pad that was on sale and have it on the side of the tank (I don't have a proper stand for the tank yet (working on that) so it has to be on the side. I also picked up a 75W nocturnal heat bulb (it was $8) which seems to be doing the most good. My concern with it isn't the bulb as much as the lamp. The lamp is an old desk lamp I found shoved in a box that doesn't really stand well on its own. I don't trust leaving it on while I'm out of the house so the temp drops because I have to turn the lamp off. I'm looking at swinging by lowes and picking up a reflecting one and leaving on 24/7 since I will know it is safe and using the spare one for extra day time heat. I also picked up a better water bowl for him that he can actually get into should he want to. And I got a digital thermometer that I could move around the tank. With both heat sources running I got the temp to 82 at the coldest part of the tank with the house thermo saying it was 75 in house.

    As far as rescues go, I know the ones in KC are maxed out on reptiles. The Petcos in the area sell plenty of cute boas that moms and dads buy not knowing the growth factor. I don't expect to make any profit as I plan on using the money to buy a better enclosure and buy a snake that isn't so intensive and one that I can "learn on" should I ever decide to get a tropical snake.

    So far his breathing seems fine, his mouth isn't infected and his lethargy is declinging now that I have heat for him. I am hoping he will eat soon because beyond that and his somewhat dry skin (I attribute that to the cold/bad humidity because of inadequate heat) he is seems to be in decent health still.

    I found someone who wouldn't mind buying him and they are knowledgeable. I just don't want to sell a sick snake. Judge me as you may but I feel responsible and I'm going to do my best to fix it.

    Thanks for the heating pad idea I may give that a go soon.

    Also, I know heating rocks are bad juju. Is there anyway I could put it in the tank just to raise ambient temp some?
  9. jtwilson3

    jtwilson3 Elite Member

    Wait so you want to sell this to BUY another snake? THEY ARE ALL GOING TO BE EXPENSIVE AND REQUIRE WHAT THIS ONE DOES... no reptile is cheap. And you found someone who is willing to buy a snake, give it better care, and make it healthy and you plan to keep it in inadequate home and make it more sick? Give it to the person who will make him better....
  10. mld

    mld Subscribed User Premium Member

    Why don't you try to sell the heat rock? Try craigs list! In Canada we have Kijiji not sure if you do, but its free to post ads.
  11. poolmanjim

    poolmanjim Member

    First off, I have made vast improvements in its enclosure. I'm new to this and I made some mistakes, but I won't make this mistake again.

    Second, the selling is not to BUY ANOTHER SNAKE as you put it, it is to create value for a critter that isn't to just be given away. By assigning it some value, it creates some value.

    Third, I don't plan to sell this snake one day and buy another one the second day. I want to save between 300 and 400 bucks to ensure that the enclosure, lighting, etc. is all adequate before I go off on another venture. It will be some time before I accomplish this.

    Fourth, I want to fix my wrongs and I'm willing to do what it takes to accomplish that. I'm picking up some more supplies tonight that should make things work until I get paid next. The guy won't buy a sick or a dead snake, he isn't dumb and the shelters around here are full. Its either me or the cold for this guy right now so I'm trying to make it better.

    Fifth, please don't be so harsh and spend your time telling me how awful I am for this snake. Yeah I don't get a gold star or owner of the month award but I'm putting effort into it which is more than be said for the original owner (snake looked worse than he does now before I got him). I'm not selling him to buy another snake, I'm selling him to apply value to him so only the serious and equipped will be interested in purchasing him. I don't want some 6 year olds mom showing up wanting a snake that will grow big enough to eat the family cat and dog.

    Look, I'm aware that his enclosure needs work that is why in the past week I have spent $70 upgrading it and adding to it. Currently, the largest problem is temperature control. The cold spots in the tank are 6-8 degrees colder than they should be. Tonight I'm picking up the last batch of hardware to make this thing a lot better.

    I was cheap before, I'm not cheap now. I'm doing this right and by the time I am done things will be better.

    As a record of my progress here is what I've done since I identified the problem:

    1) Moved his enclosure as far away from doors and windows as I can. He is located unneath the house's main heating vent for the living room.
    2) Cleaned the enclosure put down paper towels as substrate.
    3) Removed the heat rock and added a heat pad and a lamp with a 75W nocturnal bulb in it.
    4) Replaced his water bowel with one that is better.
    5) Added a thermometer to the enclosure to track temperature better.
    6) Bathed the snake once
    7) Looked for help

    Now to rephrase my last question: is there anyway I can include the heat rock in this whole thing as an added means to increase the heat in the enclosure without harming the snake?
  12. jtwilson3

    jtwilson3 Elite Member

    Not generally. The heat rock will just attract the snake and then burn in. The only thing I would think is put it on top of the enclosure? But seriously...I would sell the snake to the guy that wanted to buy it? Like did he have the right enclosure? And did he know it was sick? Cause if so I would do that. Its best for you, him and the snake.
  13. jtwilson3

    jtwilson3 Elite Member

    Sorry for being harsh that post just seemed like thats what you were saying.
  14. poolmanjim

    poolmanjim Member

    I would love to but he already has several herps and can't really ensure a quarantine for this one.

    I haven't determined the snake is "sick" he just isn't eating like he normally does. I'm assuming he doesn't feel well. They guy will not buy him if he is in poor health and I will not just "give" the snake away - that is senseless, and devalues a very awesome animal.

    Let me be honest, I love this snake. He has been fun to have around and I have grown fond of him. I would not feel right sending him off without making sure he was going to be okay. Maybe that is selfish but I'm willing to invest whatever I can into it to make it work.

    Wouldn't moving a sick snake to a new enclosure and location put him at more risk due to stress?

    I'll just sell the heat rock or save it for something else (wife likes lizards). I like herps and I plan to have them as pets and I want to do it right. Honestly, this all did not transpire the way I would have wanted it to. I didn't go for a walk intending to find a boa constrictor that needed aid. My plan was to someday buy a smaller snake and start there to see if it was something I could do and liked.

    I'm committed to doing this right.
  15. mld

    mld Subscribed User Premium Member

    If I was in the exact same situation as you, I would give the snake to someone who has everything needed to properly take care of the snake before it gets any worse.

    I don't mean to sound like I am being rude towards you, I'm being honest and trying to give you some ideas. Once you have everything that is needed for owning and keeping a snake healthy, then you can do some research on what type you want and then purchase a snake. But don't let pride get in the way of what is best for the snake.
  16. Dragoness

    Dragoness Elite Member

    In a pinch, you can tape towels and spare blankets around a tank for extra insulation (any fabric actually). Any layer helps. Also, pay special attention to the top of the cage (You can use tin foil here, from your kitchen) just tape it down everywhere but where the lamps are, it will help keep the heat and humidity in your cage where it belongs. Most of your heat and humidity exits through the top is you have a screen lid. Cover as much of it as you can.

    As to bulbs, don't let the pet store milk you for fancy stuff. You can get good bulbs at lowes, or wal*mart, in the regular lighting section. Fixtures as well. It has been my general experience, that whatever the pet store tries to sell you, you can find twice the quality at half the price elsewhere.

    No, no and no. The heat rocks are a hazard for ALL reptiles. They are drawn to the heat, and will sit on the rocks, even when it's too much heat, and will burn themselves. SEVERELY. they do not realize it is happening, and might sit on it for HOURS while their scales literally melt. I really cannot emphasize this enough.... No hot rocks. The hot rocks also have no built in thermostat, and therefore, no method of regulating temperature, and have been known to reach temps in excess of 200 degrees. Burns of this nature, if they do not kill the animal, will usually result in a very nasty infection, often septicemia (Blood poisoning) which will require several rounds of antibiotics, and will take MONTHS to heal properly.

    If you want to put the hot rock to good use, cut the cord off, and use the rock to decorate your garden. Save the cord for wiring your own heat tape, if you want to make a heat mat yourself.
  17. poolmanjim

    poolmanjim Member

    Thank you all for your help. I am sure I haven't been easy to work with and for that I am sorry. I'm trying really hard. I will try contacting some people in the area to see if they would be willing to take the snake.

    Most of the herp rescues in the area are overloaded on herps currently and cannot willingly take another animal. For the moment, at least, I'm all this guy has. I'm doing my best until I can figure something out.

    I will try contacting the guy who wanted to buy him before and see what we can work out. He has been helpful in getting the snake in better health since I took him in. He is willing to pay but if he doesn't want to, as long as he has the facilities, I will let him have him for free at this point.

    Considering the enclosure upgrades I picked up a reflective lamp from lowes for 11 bucks that is housing the nocturnal heat source. I have another lamp that is the day time heat source and it has a standard 60W bulb. I also have a heating pad on the side of the tank that is only being run during the night (the nocturnal lamp is not enough to heat on its own) which is keeping the night time temp around 78 to 81 degrees in the spots in the tank that are not receiving direct light. The shaded spots will obviously be cooler. During the day the temp is averaging 89 - 92, give or take. It is a bit warmer than I would like so I'm trying to figure out how to regulate that some. I'm still working on the temps during the interm.

    His behavior changed some today. He is more mobile moving to different parts of the tank to regulate his temp some (I have a hot side and a cold side, currently. I will be working on correcting that once I get more loot but for now at least he isn't in a 71 degree tank). When I tried to feed him (live - smallish female) he would hiss and strike at her but never actually start to kill her. He was also acting very aggressive towards me hissing at me as I moved around the outside of the tank. I made sure and used my tongs to interact with him in the mouse just in case.

    He has never been this aggressive and I'm trying to figure out if I'm doing something wrong or if he's sick or if he has a wound I'm unaware of (physical exams show negative - maybe a broken tooth?). I gave up on the mouse because torture is not an activity I want to subject the mouse to. Any ideas?

    It has become obvious to me that I'm not prepared to take care of him any longer and I will be pursuing a proper home for him. However, I have him for now. I have more or less resolved the heating issue; only minor tweaks are needed to ensure it is proper. I need to figure out why he isn't eating.

    Any suggestions? Here is what I have tried...
    1) Live mouse vs his normal frozen - strikes sometimes but no go
    2) Thawed mouse - Seems disinterested
    3) Left live mouse with him for awhile to see if he would go for it in his own time. He would only hiss if it came close to him.

    Any help? Thanks everyone for your help and support. I'm trying very hard, understand that.
  18. Merlin

    Merlin Administrator Staff Member Premium Member

    To be honest it DID sound like you were trying to make money off of the snake so you could buy something else.
    The behavior change is because of the warmer temperatures. Since he is warmer, he is acting like he should. Baby snakes are nippy because everything that comes along in the wild would eat them! It takes gentle handling to get them to settle down. And since you found it outside there is no telling what had been done to it.
    I am not sure what you mean. There is supposed to be a hot side and a cold side.
    The behavior regarding the mouse is defensive. He is not trying to feed but to make the mouse go away and leave him alone.
  19. poolmanjim

    poolmanjim Member

    I understand that my original phrasing was off. I don't want to make profit off this guy - I'm trying to help him. I would prefer to sell him but if he is at risk I'm not going to worry about it.

    In regards to my concerns with a hot and cold side, some articles I read suggested against and some were in favor of hot and cold sides. The only thing I need to correct is the variation.

    I actually had a breakthrough last night: he shed. I was surprised by this because I thought he had shed a week ago (his eyes were cloudy and the next day they weren't) and at the time he had a aspen substrate. Normally he sheds under his bedding overnight and has never given me any problems eating before/after a shed hence my concern. The fact that he shed last night tells me his behavior yesterday was defensive and sensible.

    This morning he was acting like the snake I remember. Hiding under his log instead of sitting in the open corner with the largest view of the room. I may try and feed him tonight or I may give him a day or so to rest.

    I also did some looking and there is a reptile show in two weeks a few miles from where I live. I am sure I can find someone there who wouldn't mind taking him off my hands. I have also located a couple of vets in the area if he continues not to eat.

    Again thanks for all you help!
  20. Merlin

    Merlin Administrator Staff Member Premium Member

    The shed would definately explain the warning off of the mouse. Most snakes will not feed when they are in shed mode.
    Not sure where you got your info but there really is no debate regarding a hot and a cool side. It's a requirement. The hot side allows them to warm up if necessary and then they can move to a cooler location to keep from over heating.

    Check with the show before you go carrying the snake down there. Many shows do not allow people to bring outside animals in with them due to the potential for spreading a disease or parasites to all the animals on display.
    Of course even in those you can leave the snake in the car(suitably housed for warmth) and talk to the vendors there and make arrangements.

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