Boa constrictors are a favorite pet, but many people don’t know what they like to eat in the wild and captivity. The health of these reptiles depends on a suitable diet. All snakes are obligate carnivores, so they’re unable to survive on a diet of vegetables.
Throughout their life, you can keep a boa constrictor on a diet of mice and rats. Some snake owners choose to breed their own rodents to keep down the cost of feeding their pets. The only variables are how often you should feed them, and how much you should feed them at one time.
- 1 When Do I Feed a Boa Constrictor Hatchling?
- 2 What Does an Adult Boa Constrictor Eat?
- 3 Basic Boa Constrictor Feeding Regime
- 4 How to Feed a Boa Constrictor
- 5 My Boa Constrictor Won’t Eat
When Do I Feed a Boa Constrictor Hatchling?
After hatching, snakes take a little time before they first eat. Boas are no exception. The rule is that boas will first want to feed once they’ve had their first ever shed. This is roughly ten days after they hatch. During this time, don’t let it worry you that they aren’t eating.
In all animals, eggs are designed to provide sustenance to the young inside. Snakes often stay in their eggs for a number of days even when they don’t need to, to feed on the egg and keep developing.
What Does a Hatchling Boa Constrictor Eat?
As a rule of thumb, you shouldn’t feed a snake anything that’s bigger than one and a half times its head size. This rule scales, so while you feed a hatchling smaller food, you can feed a fully-grown specimen bigger food.
When they hatch, boas are roughly 20 inches long. This means that they’re already almost two feet long, right from birth. However, they’re quite thin for their length compared to a ball python, for example, and their heads are quite small. You should, therefore, start them off on pinkies or fuzzies. These are young mice that you can buy frozen, in bulk, on Amazon.com using this link.
As your snake grows, you can up the size of their prey. So, while they might start out just eating pinkies, you could upgrade them after a few months. Move up to full-size mice, or even rats once your snake reaches six feet.
Depending on the size and appetite of your snake, you could feed them either one or two prey items. Just make sure your snake doesn’t become overweight.
What Does an Adult Boa Constrictor Eat?
In the wild, boas eat a wide variety of food. You can find them eating small lizards, mongooses, bats, rats, squirrels, iguanas, and small mammals/rodents.
Of course, this kind of diet is difficult to replicate in captivity. However, it’s easy to switch them to a frozen rodent diet if they’re captive bred.
Once your boa constrictor is fully grown, you can move them on to rabbits if that’s something you’re comfortable with. Alternatively, you could feed them four or five rats instead.
This is a basic rodent diet, which is what almost all pet snakes live on. You can stock up on frozen rats on Amazon (click on this link) and store them away in your freezer.
You aren’t doing them any harm by giving them a diet low in variety, even if they eat lots of different things in the wild.
Snakes prefer having one staple prey item and, perhaps, just one occasional treat item. Otherwise, they might go off a certain kind of food and become too fussy.
Again, make sure that you aren’t making your boa overweight. Just like us, a snake will get bigger around the middle if they’re overweight.
Of course, a snake will always be big around the middle just after they fed, but if they’re always a little large, then they might be overweight.
You should also look out for stretched scales. This is where you can see visible gaps between your snake’s scales. You will see their skin underneath, a different color to their scales, usually pink.
Your snake will become overweight if you feed them too often. So how often should you feed a boa constrictor?
What Else Can a Boa Constrictor Eat?
A rodent-based diet is ideal for a boa. Unlike other snakes, they don’t require snacks. Let’s take a look at the various other foods you could consider feeding a boa, aside from rodents.
- Can boas eat eggs? They don’t in the wild, and they don’t need to in captivity either.
- Can boas eat fish? Again, they don’t in the wild. Even if they did recognize it as prey, it wouldn’t give them the right nutritional balance.
- Can boas eat chicken? Boas do eat birds in the wild. If you like, you can feed them chicks. Don’t feed them cooked or processed food, though.
- Can boas eat wild-caught food? This isn’t a great idea, because they can catch parasites from anything in nature.
- Can boas eat other snakes? Some snakes do, but boas don’t. If a snake eats other snakes, it’s called a kingsnake, e.g., a California kingsnake or a king cobra.
- Can boas eat crickets? No, they can’t. They’re not a part of their natural diet.
- Can boas eat frogs? You bet! Try and source some that aren’t wild-caught to minimize the risk of parasites.
- Can boas eat vegetables? No, they can’t. No snake can eat vegetables. If you want a reptile that can live on a vegan or vegetarian diet, try an iguana.
Other than that, please avoid ever feeding your snake processed foods. Anything like bread, hamburgers, hot dogs, deli meats isn’t suitable food for a snake. Even if they recognize it as something they could eat, you have to be a responsible owner.
Think of them as your child. If you’ve got a kid, you know full well that they’d eat nothing but candy all day if they could—but because you know what’s best for them, you stop them. That’s the attitude you have to have when owning a pet like a boa.
Basic Boa Constrictor Feeding Regime
Here’s a basic boa constrictor feeding regime. It isn’t intended to be gospel, but will be suitable for the majority of snakes. The list is divided into sections based on size.
- Hatchlings: 1 pinkie every 5-7 days.
- Snakes between 2 and 3 feet long: 2 pinkies every 7 days.
- Snakes between 3 and 4 feet long: 2 fuzzies (slightly larger mice) every 7 days.
- Snakes between 4 and 5 feet long: 2 rat pups (bigger than mice) every 10 days.
- Snakes between 5 and 6 feet long: 3 rat pups every 10 days.
- Snakes longer than 6 feet: 1 rabbit every 3 to 4 weeks.
It’s crucial that you spot the signs that your snake is hungry and adjust this regime to suit. If you notice that your snake is more active than usual for two or three days before their feed, it’s a sign that they want to eat.
Don’t worry, they don’t get ‘hungry’ like humans, so they aren’t suffering. But take it as a sign that you should up the amount you’re feeding them. The same applies if they don’t seem interested in what you’re offering.
How Often Should You Feed a Boa Constrictor?
If you have a hatchling boa, you should time your first ever feed to be immediately after their first shed. You can then feed them a mouse or rat pup every five to seven days. If you want them to grow big and long, you can try feeding them two mice on the same schedule.
Once they reach six feet long, they’re no longer a hatchling, and should start eating more. Feed them either one or two larger prey items. Crucially, though, the older they get, the more infrequently you should feed them. At this stage of their lives, feed them once every ten to fourteen days.
As we said above, once they’re fully grown, you should be feeding a boa either four or five rats or a rabbit each time you give them food. You can space out their feedings at this point to once every three weeks to a month.
It’s crucial to work out your feeding schedule and guidelines based on your snake. Genetics and snake personality matter, so there’s no one-size-fits-all answer. If your snake appears hungry, decrease the amount of time between each feed.
If you have to tempt them each time they feed, then increase the amount of time between each feed. Ultimately, there’s no right or wrong answer, so long as your snake is healthy.
How to Feed a Boa Constrictor
Feeding a boa constrictor usually is quite easy. They tend to have a strong feeding response. Below, we’ve got a list of guidelines that should make feeding quick and painless.
Start Them Young on Frozen/Thawed Prey
The sooner you start feeding your snake frozen and thawed prey, the better.
If you are looking to buy a hatchling, talk to the breeder or pet shop before you do. Make sure that they’ve had their first feed, and that they were given frozen/thawed prey. This is going to give you a much easier time when it comes to feeding your boa constrictor. For the sake of clarity, there are three main ways that people feed boas (or any snake):
- Frozen and thawed prey, which was killed by the manufacturer and sent to you frozen.
- Live prey, which you buy live, but kill just before feeding to your snake.
- Live prey which you feed to your snake alive, which isn’t a great idea. Live prey can hurt your snake, even if they only have tiny claws and teeth. If you were to leave your snake in its enclosure with a mouse for a number of days, and the snake didn’t want to eat it, the mouse would start to eat the snake.
Frozen and thawed is the easiest for you to feed to your snake. It’s also the cheapest, and in terms of health, it’s perfectly fine for them. It should, therefore, be your first choice. The only problem is that sometimes the snake doesn’t recognize it as prey. If this is the case, we have a section on feeding problems at the end of this guide.
Use Snake Feeding Tongs
To feed your snake, you should use tongs. We find that the Zoo Med feeding tongs are excellent.
Feeding tongs are exactly what they sound like. They help you to hold the prey item and get it close to your snake. You can also use them to move the prey item around, as if it were alive. By doing so, you can get your snake to eat even if they’re a bit suspicious of what you’re offering them.
Another benefit to using feeding tongs is that you won’t ever get nipped. Your boa wouldn’t mean to, but it’s possible that they could bite your fingers by accident.
They have a very strong feeding response, and they bite in the blink of an eye. Of course, this means that they might accidentally get you when they don’t mean to. Using tongs avoids this issue altogether.
How to Feed a Boa Constrictor
You should prepare what you’re going to feed your snake. This means leaving it to thaw to room temperature. This is normally enough to convince them that it’s the real thing. Make sure that the prey item isn’t partially thawed, and still frozen inside, before you feed it to your snake.
Take the prey item in your tongs. Hold it over your snake and see how they react. This is the crucial part of the process. If your snake flicks their tongue repeatedly at the prey, it’s a sign that you’ve got their attention. They’re flicking their tongue because this helps them to smell the prey.
Your snake should start moving towards where you’re holding the prey. Hold it a few inches away. This gives them room to strike at the prey, which is what they prefer to do.
If the snake doesn’t flick their tongue at the prey, they might not be interested. This isn’t a problem, because sometimes a snake isn’t hungry on a certain day.
This could be because they’re about to shed, for example. Do boas eat when they’re shedding? Like all snakes, they take a break from eating at this time. This isn’t a cause for concern.
If they do want the prey, however, they’ll strike. This is a very quick movement that you can see the snake preparing for. They’ll be coiled up, but a moment later, they will have shot out and got their jaws around the prey.
At this point, their feeding instincts will have kicked in. You can let go of the prey item and allow your snake to do the rest. They’ll coil up around the snake, as they do in the wild, constricting it and trying to ‘kill’ it.
My Boa Constrictor Won’t Eat
Of course, try as you might, sometimes your boa won’t want to eat. If this happens, don’t worry. There are several things that you can try which will most likely get their appetite back.
Mimic Natural Mouse Movements
If your snake is struggling to take to frozen and thawed prey, try using feeding tongs.
Feeding tongs can help you mimic the movement of a real mouse. This helps your snake recognize that it’s something they should eat.
Don’t hold the mouse by its tail, because this won’t result in realistic movement. Hold them by their middle, and wiggle them backward and forwards. This may encourage your snake to strike.
If F/T Doesn’t Work, Try Braining
If your snake doesn’t want to try eating frozen and thawed prey, try them with brained mice. This method isn’t for the faint of heart.
You may have seen or heard the expression ‘braining’ a pinkie. This is a technique to use when a snake won’t eat frozen and thawed prey.
You take a knife, toothpick or similar and poke a little bit of the mice/rat’s brain out of their skull. While this doesn’t sound too appetizing to us, it is to a snake. They recognize the smell and will be much more likely to feed.
Heat Their Prey
A snake is unlikely to want to feed if their prey isn’t at its normal temperature.
Imagine if you went to a restaurant and ordered spaghetti bolognese. When it’s brought out, you go to take a bite, but it’s stone cold. Not only would you not want to eat it, but you’d also be a little disgusted. Well, snakes aren’t so different.
This exact scenario can happen to your snake, where you accidentally try to feed them prey that’s not fully defrosted, by accident. If you were to try and feed them a half-frozen mouse, they would turn their nose up at it. It’s not right—it’s not natural.
Try warming up prey before feeding it to them. You don’t need to cook it in the oven, defrost it and then put it under a heat lamp for a little while. This should be more than enough to get it warm. It doesn’t need to be hot, just a normal temperature that a snake might expect from wild prey.
Take Them to a Vet
If your snake refuses to eat, this could be a sign of an underlying problem. You can tell that a snake is underweight when they aren’t plump and round, but have a triangle shape.
Both their sides will be curved inwards, with a ridge running along their back. If your snake looks like this and still isn’t eating, take them to a vet. They will be able to figure out what’s wrong, and can hopefully help. If the worst comes to the worst, it might be best to put them to sleep.
And there you have it. If there’s anything else you need to know about boa constrictors, be sure to check out our helpful guide on boa care.