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Boa constrictor diseases

Naturally, boas and can get a number of different health problems. We now wish to address the health problems that are most commonly encountered in captivity.

All information provided in this section should be considered as a report of experience, rather than as suggested method of therapy.

Naturally, a proper examination of a sick boa requires a vet, who then prescribes the necessary medications and conducts those treatment methods that are beyond the competence of the snake keeper.

Regurgitation Syndrome

This term describes the chronic regurgitation of a partially digested prey item, without an infectious disease being apparent. The regurgitation syndrome occurs mainly when raising young boas (especially in Boa c. constrictor) and recently imported wild-caught animals. It leads to a significant loss of fluids and electrolytes in the animal. Most of the time, the regurgitation occurs between the third and fifth day after feeding. The regurgitation syndrome is one of the most common causes of death in young boids, and is in most cases a result of an inappropriate feeding schedule.

Possible causes:

  • Insufficient digestion in young boas
  • Over-sized prey animals or overly frequent feedings (the main reason!)
  • Inadequate housing conditions (temperature/humidity)
  • Nervousness and stress due to handling or dominant specimens within the same enclosure
  • Dehydration, especially in recently imported wild-caught specimens or animals that were

         not well cared for

Measures:

  • Check housing conditions (temperature, humidity)
  • Implement a feeding break of at least 14 days, starting with the day of the regurgitation (crucial!)
  • After the break feed a very small(!) prey item (a pinkie mouse for neonate boas) and wait at least 10 days before the next feeding
  • Limit handling as much as possible and maybe cover the front of the enclosure
  • Separate the animals

Notice: If several regurgitations have already occurred, then the animals may be dehydrated. In that case, subcutaneous injections with sterile salt solution (up to 4% of the body mass daily or every other day) are necessary until the level of hydration has returned to normal.

Boa Impaction

When a boa suffers from impaction, a number of problems can be the cause of it. Parasites and oversized prey animals or inadequate housing conditions may be the root of the problem. Insufficient humidity and/or temperature in the enclosure are most often the responsible factors in boas that suffer from impaction.

This affects mainly young specimens. You can recognize an impaction by the animal not having had passed any feces or urinary calculus for a long period of time, and by the ventral side of the snake feeling hardened in the area around the cloaca.

This may be accumulated feces as well as urinary calculus.

The first measure to take in such a case is the adjustment and correction of the housing conditions (increase humidity and temperatures throughout the various temperature zones) and a long bath in lukewarm water or Camilla tea.

In many cases, the bath will trigger the desired effect, and the animal empties its intestine. Should this not be the case, carefully massage the hardened part back and forth for about five minutes. This stimulates the intestine and loosens the hardened feces.

It is followed by another bath, which may lead to the defecation this time. If this does not help again, you may try to carefully (!) massage the hard chunks out of the intestine, by slowly pushing it little by little towards the cloaca.

With a little bit of luck and skill, you may be able to massage the hardened feces out by doing so. However, attempt this only if you are confident that you have the right feel for it, as there is a great risk of injuring the snake involved!

Should all of these measures fail to produce the desired result, a trip to the vet becomes unavoidable.

Bacterial Infections of the Intestine and Respiratory Tracts

The usually low amount of airflow and moist warm climate in an enclosure creates ideal conditions for the vast growth of pathogenic bacteria. That way, boas are confronted with pathogenic bacteria that would be present in significantly lower amounts in the wild, if at all. When this is combined with a weak immune system of the snake, the bacteria in the body of the boa is able to multiply to a degree that causes the animal to get sick. This mainly affects the digestive tracts and the respiratory system. The most common pathogenic agents are germs of the genera Pseudomonas and Proteus.

Infections of the intestine can result in a refusal to feed, regurgitation of the prey, or in diarrhea, to name the most common symptoms. It is in the nature of the disease that it is associated with a significant loss of fluids, which must be compensated for.

Bacterial infections of the respiratory tracts result in slime around mouth, fluid running from the nostrils (also bubbles while breathing), and groaning sounds associated with breathing. In the further process of the disease, the animals lift up the front third of their body and/or open their mouths wide to get more air. This stage is also accompanied by a loss of fluids.

Measures:

Send a fecal exam/swab and request an antibiogram (antibiotic therapy) with resistance testing, followed by a treatment with the according antibiotic. In addition, subcutaneous injections with salt solutions are recommended.

Boa constrictor mouth rot

This disease is the herper’s nightmare, since it requires an enormous effort to treat and cure it. Mouth rot is an infectious, purulent process, in which the gums of the sick animal are destroyed. In the early stage, during which it can be treated most effectively, the mouth rot can be seen only if the mouth of the animal is opened. At an advanced stage, the disease is associated with a misalignment of upper and lower jaw, due to swollen mucous membranes and a purulent film. At this stage, the animal’s jaw and esophagus may be affected also. Pathogenic bacteria are the cause of mouth rot, and usually, the immune system of the snake is totally down when this disease appears. In such a case, mouth rot is likely not the only infection the animal is battling.

Therapy:

First, it has to be determined which bacteria are responsible for the sickness, and which antibiotic proves to be effective against these. Therefore, this means: Take a swab, send it in, and have a resistance test with antibiogram performed. The proper antibiotic is then subcutaneously administered over the period of time advised by the vet (usually 7 to 10 days). However, this by itself would not likely be sufficient to lead to a full recovery. The film in the mouth and the loose teeth are to be removed, after which the area has to be cleaned with a 3% hydrogen peroxide solution, and the antibiotic has to be applied locally, in addition to the injections. It is crucial to continue with the injections until a full recovery has been accomplished. Additional doses of vitamin A (do not overdose!) and vitamin C aids the healing process.

In especially tough cases, a 30% hydrogen peroxide solution may be used also, BUT ONLY APPLIED BY A COMPETENT VET.  He or she can moist a cotton swab with this and gently spread it over the regarding area. This faint acid must be allowed to affect the diseased gum for a few seconds only, and has to be rinsed with lots of clear water. Also, an antibiotic will be administered here as well. The “contaminated” tissue is literally dissolved. Again, we strongly recommend having a competent vet perform such a massive procedure, as it is of almost surgical character.

Actually, the effect is activated due to the disintegration of hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) to water (H2O) und oxygen (O) (FRANK MARKER, personal information).

The advantage of this method is that the infected tissue is removed along with the pathogenic bacteria more thoroughly than it would be possible with any other method. An additional dose of Echinacea compositum ad. us. vet. is helpful here as well.

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Boa constrictor Skin Diseases

Skin fungus and bacteria can cause abnormalities on the scales. In order to determine the proper course of treatment, a swab (what else) is taken from the affected area. For this, you simply rub the cotton swab on the affected tissue, place it in the shipping container, and send it off to a competent vet. Even diseased abnormalities on scales that are already loose can be removed with scissors or tweezers, and can be send to a vet who will probably consult an appropriate lab. By performing a histopathology and/or culture, it can be determined within a few days whether fungus or bacteria is the cause of the problem.

The medication of choice in the case of a fungus is the broadband antimycotic Canesten®, which is available as powder, crème, or liquid. Depending on the character of the affected area (dry or moist), crème or powders are to be applied. An application of once or twice per day is recommended until a complete recovery has been reached. The same also applies with a bacterial skin infection.

The old and trusted home remedy Gentianaviolet does not differentiate between the natures of the pathogenic agent. This 0,1% solution, which is available in pharmacies and is applied twice a week, is effective against fungus as well as bacteria.

But: The nice purple color of this substance is a welcome sight only until it gets on your clothes or hands. You will never again in your life come in contact with another colored substance that attaches itself to the skin as stubbornly as this one does. Clothes that come in contact with the Gentiana can be discarded regardless, since no stain remover can get it out. You should therefore take great care to avoid spilling (carpet!!!) and wear disposable gloves.

The enormous staining capability of this substance does not concern the snake, as the stains disappear with the next shed. The administration of vitamin A can again be helpful to trigger more frequent sheds, promoting a faster healing of skin diseases. Utmost care has to be taken here, because vitamin A is soluble in fat, and is therefore retained in the tissue of the animal. The result of an overdose can be shedding intervals of 4 weeks for over a year. A competent vet should therefore establish the dosage for this.

Boa constrictor lumps under the skin

We want to address this problem, because it is not a rare occurrence that the boa keeper suddenly discovers a small or large knot under the skin of the animal. Naturally, the keeper does not feel too good about that. What could this be? Is it bad? Does it have to be operated? Will it disappear on its own? Upfront: If something like that occurs, a trip to a competent vet becomes a necessity. Based on experience and an examination of the regarding area, the vet can decide whether surgery is necessary or if there is time to observe any further development. It does not always have to be something really bad.

Sometimes, it is simply a scarring that formed after the bite by a prey animal. Also, nematodes and tapeworms of various stages, which are not a rare occurrence in wild-caught specimens, can form such bumps under the skin. This also causes no need for special concern, since the snake can well live with these.

Should these things bother you, a small operation with local anesthesia is sufficient to remove them. Abscesses, on the other hand, are more harmful. They occur with a relative frequency and are the result of bacteria that gain access underneath the skin through a wound (usually a bite wound).

The so-called “injection-abscess”, which can result from a lack of proper hygiene in the administration of injections, is not uncommon. In the case of an abscess, surgery is definitely recommended, since pathogens may be transported through the blood to other parts of the body otherwise. In that case, chances are good that your snake enclosure will soon be empty.

Just like all other living beings, boas can get cancer. If the vet surgically removed a tumor, a tissue sample of it is send to a suitable laboratory for histopathological examination.

That way, you find out whether this was a harmless swelling or a malignant tumor. A few years ago, a Boa c. constrictor from our collection had to have a growth of the size of a small hen egg removed. Most of the time, such malignant tumors grow back. If such is the case, the sick snake should not be operated on again, but instead be euthanized.

Boa constrictor Nematodes

Now we are getting to the endoparasites. Nematodes infest the stomach/intestine tract and live off of the blood and tissue of the host. Pathogenic germs attack the affected areas, causing infections and further worsening the condition of the snake. An animal that feeds regularly, but loses weight rather than gaining it, displays an alarming signal for the keeper of the reptile. This once again demonstrates the importance of periodically weighing the boa and recording this data accordingly.

The simple daily observance of the snake does not provide a timely recognition of such a problem, as only periodic weighing supplies that type of information. The eggs of the nematodes can be traced in the feces of the animal. You must therefore send a fecal sample to an appropriate lab in order to diagnose or eliminate the possibility of the animal harboring these parasites.

In most cases, a single administration of the substance Fenbendazol (brand name: Panacur®, manufactured by Hoechst) in a dosage of 30-50mg per kg of bodyweight of the snake is sufficient to eliminate these parasites. The pills are solved in lukewarm water inside of a disposable syringe, and then administered through a catheter as described earlier.

The pills are easily cut into two, four, or eight pieces with a razor blade, if necessary. Lastly, it should be mentioned that Panacur® is generally very well tolerated.

Boa constrictor Cestodes

Tapeworms can lead to chronic enteritis (infection of the intestine). Similar to an infestation with nematodes, the animals barely gain any weight, even though they feed regularly (assuming that they still feed at all). However, the loss of weight is not as significant as is the case with nematodes.

Tapeworms are also diagnosed through a fecal analysis. You can eliminate these parasites with the substance Praziquantel (brand name: Droncit®, manufactured by Bayer AG). The recommended dosage is 25 to 40mg per kg of bodyweight of the snake as a one-time administration.

Droncit® is available in the form of pills. The administration is also done through a catheter, as described earlier. In contrast to the relatively harmless Panacur®, cases of fatalities resulting from the treatment with Praziquantel have been reported (Schnaller, 1984).

Nevertheless, our animals have always tolerated this substance without any problems, and we have yet to hear about any negative experiences with this substance from other breeders as well. We believe that these deceased animals were likely wild-caught specimens that were already in bad shape.

Amoebas in Boa constrictors

Luckily, an infection with Entamoeba invadens does not occur very often. However, due to the potentially fatal results that amoebas can lead to, we will discuss this topic nevertheless. Amoebas are protozoa that settle in the large and small intestine of the snakes, causing enteritis with bleedings. Additional pathogenic bacteria then settle in this environment, contributing to a fatal result in most cases.

The sick snakes display symptoms, such as regurgitation of the prey, admixtures of blood and mucus membrane in the feces, as well as a low tolerance to pain in the lower end of the last third of their bodies.

Also noticeable is an increased demand for fluid, which is caused by the fact that the regarding intestine can no longer sufficiently absorb fluid, thereby leaving the animals constantly thirsty. The physical appearance of these animals is blunt and dull. They often lay with the front part coiled, while the rear third is stretched out.

In the final stage of the disease, they refuse food entirely and do not coil anymore. At that point, it is usually too late to save the animal.

A sure way of diagnosing these protozoa is through an amoeba culture, which is performed from a fresh fecal sample. Amoeba is a highly infectious disease, the transmission of which occurs through prey animals that have been offered repeatedly, drinking water, excrements and tools. Even the keeper himself can transmit the disease if he or she does not wash his/her hands after handling a diseased animal.

Entamoeba invadens has eliminated entire collections of zoological institutions, and an acquaintance of ours lost half of his collection within a few weeks.

As you can see, amoebas are not to be taken lightly. The medication of choice for the treatment of this disease is the substance Metronidazol (brand name: Clont®, manufactured by Bayer). This is administered with a dosage of 100mg per kg of bodyweight of the snake over a period of 6 days.

It also comes in form of pills that are to be solved and subsequently administered through a catheter. After a break of 14 days, the treatment should be repeated to make certain that all amoebas have been eliminated (ISENBÜGEL and FRANK, 1985).

Since amoebas are usually associated with a bacterial infection, the consistent administration of an antibiotic is necessary. It is highly recommended to treat all snakes that were housed with or in the proximity of the diseased snake.

This is valid even if the other animals display no symptoms at all. After the completion of the treatment, several fecal samples must be sent in for analysis in intervals of several weeks, in order to confirm the successful treatment. You can be certain that the treatment was successful only if the test results are negative.