Mouth rot is a common, yet serious, condition for boa constrictors. The infection starts in the mouth, causing swelling and reddening of the mouth lining and gums. As the infection worsens, oozing sores erupt inside the mouth and necrosis sets in; destroying the teeth, gums, and jaw of the snake. If left untreated, mouth rot can spread to the intestinal lining, cranium, or blood stream -- all of which are potentially fatal conditions.
If you've got a boa constrictor and you're doing any of the following three things, you're increasing your pet snake's odds of developing a mouth rot infection.
You Aren't Adjusting The Temperature Of Your Snake's Tank
If you've set the tank's temperature to somewhere in the mid-80s and forgotten about it, you snake is not happy. Boa constrictors are native to areas with tropical and subtropical climates, where temperatures average in the high 80s during the day, but drop to the mid to high 70s at night. If you aren't lowering your tank's temperature a bit at night, your snake is going to get stressed out, and stress can lead to a weakened immune system, thus making your boa more susceptible to mouth rot.
It's important that you simulate your snake's native environment as closely as possible. Not only should you be lowering your tank's temperature at night, but you should also be turning off its light so your snake can experience nighttime. When the tank light is out, make sure your pet has an under-mat heating pad where he or she can go if they start to feel too cold.
You're Feeding Your Snake Incorrectly
If your boa is eating live prey, its food has the ability to scratch and bite it, thus creating lesions in your snake's mouth where the bacteria that causes mouth rot can enter. It's fine to give your pet snake the occasional live treat, but consider lowering its odds of injury by replacing most of its meals with pre-killed rodents. Your local reptile store likely stocks frozen mice and rats of all sizes. Frozen meals should be thawed and then warmed before feeding them to your snake.
Snakes take about 2 full days to digest their food, so if they regurgitate during this time period, they've got to pass their prey's sharp nails back through their esophagus and mouth. Discourage regurgitation by giving your snake plenty of time to rest after they eat. Their meal should be about the same width as their body, and they should be given a single food item at a time. Adults don't need any more than one properly-sized rodent every 10 - 14 days, while juvenile boas should eat about once a week.
You're Encouraging Your Snake To Strike Its Glass Enclosure
Have you ever wondered why your boa constrictor has a forked tongue? Your snake's tongue is forked because they use it to smell. And by having two tongue tips instead of one, their ability to smell and detect prey is doubled. And what do you suppose your boa does when it detects prey? Right, it strikes.
Boas also have relatively poor eyesight, and they don't recognize their glass tank as a barrier. What does all of this mean? It means that if you've been handling meat in the kitchen and you walk near your snake's enclosure while still smelling like it, your snake will likely strike and hit the glass in an attempt to capture whatever is giving off such an enjoyable aroma. Repeatedly striking the glass can cause injury to your snake's teeth, tongue, or mouth, providing an entry point for the bacteria that causes mouth rot to enter.
Snakes also strike when they feel threatened; don't move suddenly when approaching your snake's enclosure. Instead, gradually approach your snake's tank, and make sure they have plenty of hiding spots in the tank so if they can seek shelter if they feel threatened.
Lastly, don't ever tap on the glass in an attempt to aggravate your pet into striking. While it may be interesting to watch, you're putting your boa at great danger of developing a mouth rot infection.
Mouth rot is a very serious condition that can lead to death. Do everything you can to prevent your pet boa from developing the infection, and get them to an emergency veterinarian for antibiotics and oral care immediately if you notice any signs of mouth rot developing.
To learn more about your pet's oral health, go here for more information.