Are Garter Snakes Good Pets? Are They Friendly?

by | Sep 22, 2023 | Garter Snake

Garter snakes, with their vibrant patterns and docile nature, have slithered their way into the hearts of many reptile enthusiasts. But are they the right pet for you?

Garter snakes are excellent pets, especially for beginners. They’re docile, easy to care for, and have a diverse diet. Their small size and minimal maintenance requirements make them suitable for various living spaces.

In this article, we’ll delve deep into the world of garter snakes, exploring their behavior, dietary needs, and the pros and cons of keeping them as pets.

We’ll also touch on essential safety precautions and answer some frequently asked questions. Whether you’re a seasoned snake keeper or just curious, this guide aims to shed light on the captivating world of garter snakes.

Behavior: Are Garter Snakes Friendly?

Behavior: Are Garter Snakes Friendly?

Their Docile Nature

Garter snakes have a reputation for being one of the most docile snakes in the reptile world. Unlike some of their slithery counterparts, garter snakes are typically non-aggressive and are less likely to strike or show defensive behaviors.

This makes them a popular choice among reptile enthusiasts, especially those who are just starting out in the world of snake keeping.

Interaction with Humans

Now, let’s talk about their interaction with us, the giant two-legged creatures! Garter snakes, especially those bred in captivity, often become accustomed to human presence.

Over time, with regular, gentle handling, they can even begin to recognize their owners. Imagine having a little snake buddy that slithers up, curious to see what you’re up to!

Handling and Bonding

Bonding with a garter snake is a unique experience. While they might not fetch a ball or purr like our furry friends, they do have their own way of showing trust. When handling a garter snake, it’s essential to be gentle and avoid sudden movements.

With consistent handling, many garter snakes become more relaxed and may even explore your hands and arms with curiosity. It’s like having a living, moving bracelet!

Diet: What Do Garter Snakes Eat?

Diet: What Do Garter Snakes Eat?

Natural Diet in the Wild

In the wild, garter snakes are opportunistic feeders. This means they’ll eat almost anything they can catch! Their diet primarily consists of small amphibians, like frogs and toads, as well as fish, earthworms, and even small rodents.

Their adaptability in diet is one of the reasons they thrive in various habitats, from grasslands to marshes.

Suitable Food for Captive Snakes

When it comes to our pet garter snakes, their diet can be a tad more controlled. Captive garter snakes do well on a diet of earthworms, fish (like guppies or goldfish), and even the occasional pinkie mouse for larger garter snakes.

It’s essential to ensure that the food is appropriately sized, especially for younger snakes. And here’s a pro tip: if feeding fish, make sure it’s free from any potential parasites!

Feeding Frequency and Portions

Young garter snakes have a faster metabolism, so they’ll need to eat more frequently, typically every 4-5 days. As they grow, this can be reduced to once a week. It’s essential to monitor their weight and adjust the feeding frequency accordingly. Remember, a well-fed garter snake is a happy garter snake!

Pros of Keeping Garter Snakes as Pets

Pros of Keeping Garter Snakes as Pets

Easy to Care For

One of the top reasons garter snakes are a favorite among reptile enthusiasts is their ease of care. They don’t require specialized lighting or heating, unlike some other reptiles. A simple heat pad and a light bulb can often do the trick.

Plus, their hardy nature means they’re less susceptible to common reptile ailments, making them a great choice for both beginners and seasoned snake keepers.

Affordable and Space-Efficient

Garter snakes are relatively small, which means they don’t need a massive enclosure. A standard terrarium can comfortably house a garter snake, making them perfect for those with limited space. Additionally, setting up a garter snake habitat won’t break the bank.

The initial setup, including the terrarium, substrate, and heating, is quite affordable compared to other pets.

Seldom Bite When Handled Properly

While any animal with a mouth can bite, garter snakes are less likely to do so when compared to other snake species. With regular and gentle handling, they become accustomed to human interaction, reducing the likelihood of defensive bites.

It’s a win-win: they get used to you, and you get a friendly, slithery companion!

Terrarium Design Possibilities

The world is your oyster when it comes to designing a garter snake’s home. From aquatic setups with small ponds to woodland themes with logs and plants, the possibilities are endless. This allows snake owners to get creative and design a habitat that’s both functional for the snake and aesthetically pleasing for the owner.

Dietary Flexibility

As we touched on earlier, garter snakes aren’t picky eaters. This dietary flexibility means you have a range of options when it comes to feeding time. Whether it’s fish, worms, or the occasional rodent, garter snakes are pretty content as long as they’re fed.

Aesthetic Appeal

Garter snakes are undeniably beautiful. Their slender bodies adorned with stripes and patterns come in a variety of colors. From vibrant greens to deep blues, there’s a garter snake for every aesthetic preference. Their active nature also means they’re often on the move, making them a joy to watch.

Cons of Keeping Garter Snakes as Pets

Cons of Keeping Garter Snakes as Pets

Mild Venom Production

While garter snakes are non-venomous to humans, they do produce a mild venom to subdue their prey. In rare cases, some people might experience a mild reaction to a garter snake bite, such as itching or swelling. It’s always a good idea to wash the area thoroughly if bitten.

Frequent Feeding and Waste Production

Garter snakes eat more frequently than some other snake species. This means more feedings and, consequently, more waste. Regular cleaning of their habitat is essential to keep it sanitary and odor-free.

Musk Release When Frightened

When threatened or scared, garter snakes might release a musky odor as a defense mechanism. While it’s not harmful, it’s not the most pleasant scent. Regular handling can reduce this behavior, but it’s something potential garter snake owners should be aware of.

Risk of Bacterial Infections

Like all reptiles, garter snakes can carry salmonella. While the risk is low, it’s essential to practice good hygiene, like washing hands after handling the snake or cleaning its habitat. This ensures that both you and your snake remain healthy.

Safety and Precautions

Safety and Precautions

Handling and Interaction

Handling a garter snake requires a gentle touch. Always approach your snake slowly, avoiding sudden movements that might startle it. When picking up your garter snake, aim to support its body, distributing its weight evenly across your hands.

This ensures the snake feels secure and reduces the risk of injury. If your snake is new or hasn’t been handled for a while, start with short sessions and gradually increase the duration as it becomes more accustomed to you.

Health and Hygiene

Maintaining a clean environment is crucial for your garter snake’s health. Regularly clean the terrarium, removing waste promptly, and replacing the substrate as needed. This not only keeps your snake healthy but also reduces odors.

After handling your snake or cleaning its habitat, always wash your hands thoroughly. This minimizes the risk of transmitting any potential bacteria, like salmonella, ensuring both you and your snake stay healthy.


In your journey through this article, you’ve uncovered the fascinating world of garter snakes. From their friendly behavior and varied diet to the pros and cons of keeping them, you’re now equipped with knowledge to make an informed decision.

Remember, every pet, including garter snakes, requires commitment and understanding. With the insights you’ve gained, you’re well on your way to providing a loving home for these captivating creatures. Embrace the adventure ahead, and may your bond with your slithery friend be a rewarding one!


Do garter snakes like to be held?

While garter snakes don’t have emotions like humans, they can become accustomed to handling. With regular, gentle interaction, many garter snakes tolerate and even seem to enjoy being held.

Can you tame a garter snake?

Yes, with consistent handling, garter snakes can become more docile and used to human interaction. It’s all about building trust over time.

Do garter snakes need a friend?

Garter snakes are solitary by nature and don’t require a companion. However, they can coexist with other garter snakes if the terrarium is spacious enough and there’s no competition for resources.

What does a garter snake eat?

Garter snakes have a varied diet, including small amphibians, fish, earthworms, and occasionally small rodents. Their dietary flexibility is one of their unique traits, making feeding relatively straightforward.

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