Homeopathy in the treatment of diseases in Boa constrictor

The authors have so far been rather skeptical of homeopathy, especially in regard to the treatment of animals, because the principle, “if you believe in it enough, anything will work”, does not apply for obvious reasons. However, the amazing effectiveness of some homeopathic substances has lead us to reconsider our opinion. We even determined that, in some cases, longer lasting effectiveness can be achieved with alternative medications than with chemical ones.

Since the question of whether homeopathic medications are equally effective in reptiles is currently being debated, it would be desirable for veterinarians and institutions that have dedicated themselves to the treatment of diseases in reptiles to place an increasing emphasis on research in that area of study.

But now to our own experiences in this area:

The most common health problem in boids is bacterial infections, which can affect various organs, as discussed earlier. Since pathogenic agents occur in snake enclosures at almost all times, forcing the inhabitant to be in daily contact with them, the animal ought to be sick all the time. The reason why that is not the case is because of the effective immune system of the snake. If the same is weakened for any reason (e.g. stress), the pathogenic agents in the animal can multiply readily.

The result: The boa or python gets sick. It is crucial for the further course of the therapy how the condition of the snake is to be evaluated. If the animal is doing very badly within a short period of time, you are dealing with a massive infection.

In that case, there is no way around the administration of antibiotics, which then eliminate the pathogenic bacteria. However, the problem of the weakened immune system is still present. Plus, antibiotics do not protect the animal from other infections. In the worst case scenario, since the natural germ spectrum (the so-called “useful bacteria”) has also been devastated, there may be no competing germs abundant that could hinder another infestation of the pathogenic bacteria from taking place.

This means that any pathogenic germs that are able to invade the snake shortly after the antibiotics have lost their effectiveness, have green lights. Preventing this would normally be the responsibility of the immune system, which however, in many cases is still weak despite the successful treatment of the disease. That way, it often occurs that animals that have been treated with antibiotics get sick again shortly thereafter.

Therefore, it makes sense to administer a substance that strengthens the immune system in addition to the antibiotics. The purple coneflower (Echinacea) is known to activate the body’s immune system and to increase the power of resistance of the whole organism. Echinacea compositum ad. us. vet. is manufactured by Heel in Baden-Baden (Germany) especially for the application in animals. It is available in 5ml vials for subcutaneous injection.

We therefore administer Echinacea compositum in addition to the antibiotics in order to strengthen the immune system of the sick animal. Obviously, the amount that is to be administered depends on the body weight of the sick snake (it makes little sense to inject 5ml into a 100g snake). We have had good results with the following guidelines:

  • up to 100g (~4.0oz) bodyweight: 0.25 ml
  • 100g to 500g (~20.0oz) bodyweight: 0.5 ml
  • 500g to 1kg (~2.2lbs) bodyweight: 1 ml
  • 1kg to 2kg (~4.4lbs) bodyweight: 1.5 – 2 ml
  • 2kg to 5kg (~11.0lbs) bodyweight: 2 – 3 ml
  • 5kg and more bodyweight: 3 – 5 ml

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In our experience, a further increase in the doses is not necessary, even if the bodyweight of the sick boa or python is significantly larger. We keep the contents of opened vials in the refrigerator, stored in syringes. Obviously, this is not entirely adequate. To be particular, a new vial should be used each day, which is the only way to assure the sterility of the content. Depending on the condition of the animal and the successful course of the therapy, we administer Echinacea compositum once a day over a period of 7 to 10 days.

This is followed by a break of 2 days and another injection on the third day. The last one is administered after another break of 4 days. That way, it is assured that the immune system of the sick snake is regenerated over a sufficient period of time.

An outstanding (and highly recommended) addition to Echinacea compositum for treating a respiratory infection is the compound Gripp-Heel, which is available in 1.1ml vials and is also injected subcutaneously. It can be combined with Echinacea without any problems. The composition of the homeopathic substances in Gripp-Heel specifically targets the airways.

In contrast to Echinacea compositum ad. us. vet., Gripp-Heel is not marketed as a medication for animals, but rather for humans. The author actually recently successfully used this himself, which gave him the idea of giving it a try in the treatment of a sickened snake. However, in our experience, the combination of both substances is necessary in order to successfully treat respiratory infections in boas.

We administer the combination of Echinacea compositum and Gripp-Heel parallel to the antibiotics. The dosage of this homeopathic medication also depends on the bodyweight of the sick animal:

  • up to 500g (~1.1lb) bodyweight: 0.25 ml
  • 500g - 1000g (~2.2lbs) bodyweight: 0.5 ml
  • 1 kg - 2.5 kg (~5.5lbs) bodyweight: 0.75 ml
  • more than 2.5 kg (~5.5lbs) bodyweight: 1 ml

We administer Gripp-Heel over a period of time similar to Echinacea compositum. So far, the administration of these homeopathic medications was regarded as an addition to the antibiotics. However, it has been our experience that Echinacea compositum strengthens the immune system of the animal to such a degree that under certain circumstances, the administration of antibiotics can be omitted in the case of a mild infection.

Of course, in the case of a mild respiratory infection, Echinacea compositum ad. us. vet. is used in conjunction with Gripp-Heel. Ideally, the sickened animal will be able to fight the infection on its own without the administration of additional chemical substances, due to its increased power of resistance.

However, this should be attempted only if the condition of the sick snake allows doing so. It would be negligent to renounce the use of antibiotics if the animal was already hanging in the ropes.

Another application aspect for Echinacea compositum is prophylaxis. As mentioned in the first section, situations occur, in which recently acquired boas get sick, because they are not handling the transition well.

A treatment with Echinacea compositum, beginning about 5 days before the change in location, will have a positive effect as well.

Every breeder dislikes the thought of administrating antibiotics to a sick animal that is gravid. Echinacea compositum does not harm the potential offspring, and with a little luck, the condition of the expecting snake mother can be stabilized to a degree that makes more severe measures obsolete until after she lays her eggs.

We were quite surprised by the positive effects that this substance had on our animals, and are determined to continue to do further research on this. We thank the department of veterinary medicine of Heel in Baden-Baden (Germany) for the patience and knowledgeable advice.